Belbin Team Roles
R Meredith Belbin published "Management Teams - why they succeed or fail" in 1981. Driven by the increasing importance of team-working in organisations at the time, Belbin set out to identify what made a good team, based on research in the UK and Australia. Although the book offered a number of important factors, it's the team roles that became famous. Belbin found that in successful teams all eight roles could be seen in operation, and concluded that when selecting people for a team, filling the eight roles was as important as choosing technical skills or experiences.
Belbin's ideas continue to be used by thousands of organisations because they make sense and they work. You can buy all sorts of tools to identify individuals' preferred roles, and help teams to make the best use of each role. Although your preferred roles are relatively unchanging over time, most of us can happily perform two or three of the roles, thus filling any gaps in the team's profile. That also means that one person can cover more than one role - clearly important if you have a team of less than eight people!
The concept works best when used openly within a team or across an organisation. Individual preferences are only useful if they're known to others, so teams can assess who can best fulfill each role. You can use role identification as a form of team-building: it reinforces the fact that everyone is bringing something to the team, so you all need each other if you are to be successful.
The eight roles are follows. The brief descriptions are of the "pure" roles that you're unlikely to find in practice: what you'll see depends on the mix of preferred roles in each individual. The abbreviations after each title are the common shorthand used when describing and charting the roles.
- outward looking people whose main orientation is to the world outside the group, and beyond the task(s) in hand.
|The Innovator. Unorthodox, knowledgeable and imaginative, turning out loads of radical ideas. The creative engine-room that needs careful handling to be effective. Individualistic, disregarding practical details or protocol - can become an unguided missile.|
|The extrovert, enthusiastic communicator, with good connections outside the team. Enjoys exploring new ideas, responds well to challenges, and creates this attitude amongst others. Noisy and energetic, quickly loses interest, and can be lazy unless under pressure.|
|Calm, self-confident and decisive when necessary. The social leader of the group, ensuring individuals contribute fully, and guiding the team to success. Unlikely to bring great intellect or creativity.|
|Energetic, highly-strung, with a drive to get things done. They challenge inertia, ineffectiveness and complacency in the team, but can be abrasive, impatient and easily provoked. Good leaders of start-up or rapid-response teams.|
- inward-looking people principally concerned with relations and tasks within the group.
|Unemotional, hardheaded and prudent. Good at assessing proposals, monitoring progress and preventing mistakes. Dispassionate, clever and discrete. Unlikely to motivate others, takes time to consider, may appear cold and uncommitted. Rarely wrong.|
|Socially-oriented and sensitive to others. Provides an informal network of communication and support that spreads beyond the formal activities of the team. Often the unofficial or deputy leader, preventing feuding and fragmentation. Concern for team spirit may divert from getting the job done.|
|The Organiser who turns plans into tasks. Conservative, hard-working, full of common sense, conscientious and methodical. Orthodox thinks who keeps the team focussed on the tasks in hand. Lacks flexibility, and unresponsive to new ideas|
|Makes sure the team delivers. An orderly, anxious perfectionist who worries about everything. Maintains a permanent sense of urgency that can sometimes help and sometimes hinder the team. Good at follow-up and meeting deadlines.|
Different roles are important at different times, and the effective team will be aware of who should be 'centre stage' at a given time. You can of course link Belbin roles to personality types, where you'll find common words like 'Extrovert' and 'Analytical', but remember that Belbin roles are less definitive. A sales team might apparently be full of extrovert, expressive and energetic people, but someone will still be able to act as the Company Worker or Completer Finisher.
Belbin's original book ("Management Teams - why they succeed or fail") is still in print and is a good place to go to understand his concept. Following the wide acceptance of the Team Roles concept, he later published "Team Roles at Work", exploring the practical application of his ideas in more detail. You can also buy team games that bring out each person's roles, as well as electronic or paper-based questionnaires.
© Chimaera Consulting Limited 1999.