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Empowerment Through Knowledge
No.23: Belbin’s Nine Team Roles

If you have ever worked with a team, chances are that you’re familiar with the many issues that can come up along the way if there is an imbalance in skills and character types. You may have found yourself doing all the work yourself, or arguing with others due to there having been too many specialists on board. You may even have been left with no tasks that lay within your strengths, feeling as though you had little to contribute.

For a team to perform at its best, there should be a healthy balance of nine different roles performed across its team members. That being said, this does not mean that a team should have nine members. Depending on the project at hand, more or often less members will be needed to maximise productivity. The likelihood is that several people will fit several different personality types, and that you can get all roles covered with less people.

 

Best Practice

It is by identifying the strengths of each team member that you can allocate tasks more effectively and even possibly reshuffle teams to maximise efficiency. Keep in mind, that although Belbin’s Team Roles provide useful guidelines for balancing skills, it should not be used as a hard and fast rule to create teams. Each individual can act differently when put into different teams and will excel at different things depending on the other members within the team. Therefore, it is often best to first put your team together (keeping the nine roles in mind) and to then do a more thorough analysis when you begin to allocate tasks. This way, each team member can do what they are best at and fulfil their role/roles effectively. Of course, if you find that all members only fulfil one or a fraction of the nine roles, then you may need to seriously rethink how your team works. Having too many individuals fulfilling only one role can lead to competition, rather than cooperation within the team, besides failing to achieve other crucial team characteristics.

Knowing someone’s role in a team is not only good for management, but also for the individuals themselves. When they have a clear understanding of their objective, they can focus on further developing their strengths while becoming more aware of their weaknesses; the first step to overcoming them. Their weaknesses are often acceptable if responsibilities are assigned effectively.

 

Belbin’s nine team roles can be grouped into three categories:

 

Action Oriented Roles
Shaper

A Shaper is an individual who is particularly good at fuelling betterment within the team. They never let things get boring and see challenges as exciting obstacles that need to be overcome. They will make sure that every possible solution is considered, even if these lay outside the norm, continuously challenging others. Their ‘can do’ attitude means that they will keep being persistent about solving problems while others would feel like giving up. This can raise motivation in the team although some downfalls of Shapers may be their argumentativeness through which they might offend others.

 

Implementer

People who fit this role tend to be the ones getting things done. They work well with systems and processes and can turn concepts and ideas into action. They help the team stay organised through their discipline, which can sometimes lead to inflexibility and resistance to change. Therefore, they hit the ground running when an idea has been decided upon, but may not have much to contribute when bouncing ideas back and forth.

 

 Completer – Finisher

These are people who are focused on the best possible and timely outcome of the task at hand. They pay extreme attention to detail and ensure that inaccuracies are fixed while being highly conscious of deadlines. They are sometimes described as perfectionists, which can become a weaknesses when taken to an extreme as they will find it hard to delegate or to work with others on a task.

 

People Oriented Roles
Coordinator

Coordinators tend to naturally take on the role of team-lead. They are excellent delegators and listen carefully to the needs and strengths of each member on the team. They set the overall objectives and guide the team towards reaching them. Once again, taking this to an extreme, coupled with their ease when talking to others, can lead the Coordinator to delegate too many tasks that may be best performed by themselves.

 

 Team Worker

These are individuals who keep the team together and ensure that the doors of communication between team members are kept open. They take all opinions into consideration and ensure that everyone is heard, recognising that team spirit is an important factor in keeping motivation high and maintaining a sense of purpose. They don’t like taking sides which can be a weakness when needing to engage in decision making.

 

 Resource Investigator

These innovative and outgoing individuals will excel at making the best connections with external stakeholders and negotiating the best outcome for the team’s objectives. After exploring the feasibility of options, other members on the team tend to be receptive to their feedback due to their thorough work and good communication. They are optimistic but may lose motivation easily once arrangements have been made or if things take too long to get going.

 

Thought Oriented Roles
 Plant

People who fit this role will come up with all sorts of creative ideas and approaches that others may never have thought of. Due to the ‘outside-of-the-box’ nature of their thinking they may find it hard to work closely with others, finding themselves struggling to communicate their ideas clearly. Although their ideas may be impractical at times, ignoring parameters and limitations, they can add a lot of value to the team when others are stuck for ideas, making them indispensable in problem-solving situations or the seed phase of an idea.

 

 Monitor – Evaluator

These individuals will assess and analyse the feasibility of ideas put forward by others. They excel at quickly identifying the benefits and downfalls of a possible way forward and the likelihood of an idea driving the team towards its goals. Monitor-Evaluators are critical thinkers who can seem cold and detached. Their top priority is effectiveness and not the emotions of others. Therefore, their main weaknesses tend to be their lack of compassionate communication and independent motivation, reacting to the energy of the team rather than bringing positivity to it.

 

Specialist

Specialists bring a very specific set of skills or particular knowledge to the table. They take pride in their specialisation. After all, it often took a number of years to gain the knowledge or skills that make them valuable. Therefore, they are very careful with keeping up to date about advancements in their field of expertise and ensure that the team is executing things according to best practice. On the downside, this can cause them to become obsessed with technicalities over and above the greater goal.

 

Using Belbin’s Nine Team Roles

Belbin’s Team Roles were devised as guidelines for team management by Meredith Belbin while he was a faculty member at Henley Business School. They are frequently used today in the starter workshop of the Henley Executive MBA when our learning teams begin their journey to becoming highly effective managers.

You can use Belbin’s Team Roles to analyse your team by observing your team members over a period of time. List down the strengths and weaknesses you identify within each team member and compare these against the descriptions above. If an individual seems to fit many roles, try to narrow them down to about three predominant roles.

Once you have analysed all the characters within your team, you may find that some roles are missing, or others too prevalent. If one roles lacks, then you may be able to identify a team member who had many other strengths that just weren’t predominant. Can you assign the role to them with purpose? They may be able to take on the desired role due to their versatility, understanding the importance of its fulfilment. If you have too many individuals who are particularly strong in a certain role (this often happens in teams made up exclusively of people from one department), they may get nothing done due to each individual wanting to fulfil the same role in a different way. Try to have a serious conversation with those who could bring other strengths to the table and be very clear about the roles that you need each of them to develop into. As the saying goes; ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’.

 

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