Nine roles to rule them all
Meredith Belbin‘s book “Management Teams” presented conclusions from his work at at Henley Management College where he was studying how members of teams interacted during business games run. Amongst his key conclusions was the proposition that an effective team has members that cover nine key roles in managing the team and how it carries out its work. This may be separate from the role each team member has in carrying out the work of the team.
These roles are:
- Doing / Acting
- Thinking / problem-solving
- Monitor / Evaluator
- People / feelings
- Resource / Investigator
Based on Belbin’s model of nine team roles, managers or organizations building working teams would be advised to ensure that each of the roles can be performed by a team member. Some roles are compatible and can be more easily fulfilled by the same person; some are less compatible and are likely to be done well by people with different behavioral clusters. This means that a team does not need not be as many as nine people, but it suffices to be with 4 to 5 people. Note that anything less shouldn’t be considered a team in Project Management terminology.
While comparisons can be drawn between Belbin’s behavioral team roles and personality types, it is important to remember that the roles represent tasks and functions in the self-management of the team’s activities. Tests exist to identify your ideal team roles, but this does not preclude an extrovert from being a Completer Finisher, nor an introvert from being a Resource Investigator.
In short: Belbin team roles show the preferable team role people will fall back to in stress situations. Role remains a preferable team role, and is not exhaustive towards personality profiles.
The Implementer takes what the other roles have suggested or asked, and turns their ideas into positive action. They are efficient and self-disciplined, and can always be relied on to deliver on time. They are motivated by their loyalty to the team or company, which means that they will often take on jobs everyone else avoids or dislikes. However, they may be seen as close-minded and inflexible since they will often have difficulty deviating from their own well-thought-out plans.
Disciplined, reliable, conservative and efficient. Turns ideas into practical actions.
Somewhat inflexible. Slow to respond to new possibilities.
Shapers are the dynamic whip-crackers who provoke their team into action. They thrive on pressure and challenge, charging through obstacles and challenging others to do the same. They will furthermore always say what they feel needs to be said to reach their goal. In their zeal to achieve their objectives, Shapers sometimes forget to be sensitive to the feelings and perceptions of others. They enjoy it rough and aren’t afraid to play around.
Challenging, dynamic, thrives on pressure. The drive and courage to overcome obstacles.
Prone to provocation. Offends people’s feelings.
The Completer Finisher is a perfectionist and will often go the extra mile to make sure everything is “just right,” and the things he or she delivers can be trusted to have been double-checked and then checked again. The Completer Finisher has a strong inward sense of the need for accuracy, rarely needing any encouragement from others because that individual’s own high standards are what he or she tries to live up to. They may frustrate their teammates by worrying excessively about minor details and refusing to delegate tasks that they do not trust anyone else to perform.
Painstaking, conscientious, anxious. Searches out errors and omissions. Delivers on time.
Inclined to worry unduly. Reluctant to delegate.
Plants are creative, unorthodox and a generator of ideas. If an innovative solution to a problem is needed, a Plant is a good person to ask. A good plant will be bright and free-thinking. The Plant bears a strong resemblance to the popular caricature of the absentminded professor-inventor, and often has a hard time communicating ideas to others.
Creative, imaginative, unorthodox. Solves difficult problems.
Ignores incidentals. Too pre-occupied to communicate effectively.
Monitor Evaluators are fair and logical observers and judges of what is going on. Because they are good at detaching themselves from bias, they are often the ones to see all available options with the greatest clarity. They take everything into account, and by moving slowly and analytically, will almost always come to the right decision. However, they can become excessively cynical, damping enthusiasm for anything without logical grounds, and they have a hard time inspiring themselves or others to be passionate about their work.
Sober, strategic and discerning. Sees all options. Judges accurately.
Lacks drive and ability to inspire others.
Specialists are passionate about learning in their own particular field. As a result, they will have the greatest depth of knowledge, and enjoy imparting it to others. They are constantly improving their wisdom. If there is anything they do not know the answer to, they will happily go and find it. Specialists bring a high level of concentration, ability, and skill in their discipline to the team, but can only contribute on that narrow front and will tend to be uninterested in anything which lies outside its narrow confines.
Single-minded, self-starting, dedicated. Provides knowledge and skills in rare supply.
Contributes on only a narrow front. Dwells on technicalities.
A Coordinator often becomes the default chairperson of a team, stepping back to see the big picture. Coordinators are confident, stable and mature and because they recognise abilities in others, they are very good at delegating tasks to the right person for the job. The Coordinator clarifies decisions, helping everyone else focus on their tasks. Coordinators are sometimes perceived to be manipulative, and will tend to delegate all work, leaving nothing but the delegating for them to do.
Mature, confident, a good chairperson. Clarifies goals, promotes decision-making, delegates well.
Can be seen as manipulative. Offloads personal work.
A Teamworker is the oil that keeps the machine that is the team running. They are good listeners and diplomats, talented at smoothing over conflicts and helping parties understand each other without becoming confrontational. The beneficial effect of a Teamworker is often not noticed until they are absent, when the team begins to argue, and small but important things cease to happen. Because of an unwillingness to take sides, a Teamworker may not be able to take decisive action when it is needed.
Co-operative, mild, perceptive and diplomatic. Listens, builds, averts friction.
Indecisive in crunch situations.
The Resource Investigator gives a team a rush of enthusiasm at the start of the project by vigorously pursuing contacts and opportunities. He or she is focused outside the team, and has a finger firmly on the pulse of the outside world. Where a Plant creates new ideas, a Resource Investigator will quite happily steal them from other companies or people. A good Resource Investigator is a maker of possibilities and an excellent networker, but has a tendency to lose momentum towards the end of a project and to forget small details.
Extrovert, enthusiastic, communicative. Explores opportunities. Develops contacts.
Over-optimistic. Loses interest once initial enthusiasm has passed.
Teams work best when there is a balance of primary roles and when team members know their roles, work to their strengths and actively manage weaknesses. To achieve the best balance, there should be (at least):
- One Co-ordinator or Shaper (not both!) for leader.
- A Plant to stimulate ideas.
- A Monitor/evaluator to maintain honesty and clarity.
- One or more Implementer, Team worker, Resource investigator or Completer/finisher to make things happen.
Know thy self, know thy neighbor
There are a lot of websites that offer (free) online tests to determine what your favorable Belbin role is. Just google for it? 😉 But the most important asset is being able to judge others; your co-workers. So that you know what their strengths and weaknesses are in a team. Let’s say you would team up a plant and a shaper. The outcome would be that the plant would be ‘bulldozered’ by the shaper. That isn’t the thing you would like?