Thursday, 31 March 2011

Belbin's perfect team

Dr Meredith Belbin put forth a hypothesis that for every problem to be solved by a team of people, there exist nine distinct roles that each team member would have a natural psychological leaning towards a subset of. Furthermore, Belbin postulated that for a given problem type/complexity and known make up of a team, the success of the team could be predicted.

Belbin's roles are:

  • Plant: Creative, Unorthodox.
  • Resource Investigator: 'Fixer', gets the team what they need to succeed.
  • Co-ordinator: Seeker of fairness & equality within the team, Encourager of input to all team members
  • Shaper: Dynamic and loving of a challenge. Usually thrives under pressure.
  • Monitor-Evaluator: Strategist. Contributes balanced emotionless opinion after careful judgement
  • Team Worker: Fosters team co-ordination and relationships.
  • Implementer: Practical, do-er. 
  • Completer Finisher: Concerned with the details. Good at spotting flaws and monitoring progress
  • Specialist: Brings 'specialist' knowledge to the team.

I've been in many teams where the people have been individually brilliant, and yet have struggled to perform as a team. Have a look at these team scenarios and see if they look familiar:
  • The team sets off at a pace and before you know it there are well facilitated, in-depth analysis sessions, plans, and chunks of work flying out of the team. The pace is maintained and all seems well until right near the end of the task (for me usually post-live!), when from nowhere, something has been missed. Some aspect of the problem has not been addressed, or if it has, it is not fit for purpose.
  • The team seems to drift organically into sub-teams, with smaller groups of people working together on discreet aspects. Problems arise when each sub-team tries to marry up their work with the other team and it is apparent that communication and cohesion has been lost.
  • The team spends too much of its time deciding who will do what, and struggles to reach consensus. Ideas coming out of the team are often impractical or the delivery of them slips.
Belbin's work offers us (I think) some insight into why these teams might struggle. Consider the first team; could it be possible that the team was missing a person to fulfil the role of completer-finisher, someone with a natural predilection towards ensuring the finishing touches are applied? 

What about the second team? Is it possible that no-one had the group's cohesion at the top of their priorities? Would the addition of a natural co-ordinator have fixed the issue?

The third team may have been full of dynamic shapers, plants and specialists - strong characters each with a vocal opinion, but really lacked a practical implementer who just had a burning desire to get the job done.

As with (I imagine) all of the stuff I'll write in this blog, I don't follow Belbin's perfect team as a gospel. It is not a fix-all for teamwork. What I get from it, is a way of organising my thoughts around the balance that I think is important in a team. in my own experience, putting together a team of all-stars who share the same strengths often leads to poor performance. Personalities tend to clash rather than compliment, and important facets of teamwork suffer.

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