Belbin's Team Roles
Finding Your Team's Balance With Belbin's Model
When a team is performing at its best, you'll usually find that each team member has clear responsibilities. Just as importantly, you'll see that every role needed to achieve the team's goal is being performed fully and well.
But often, despite clear roles and responsibilities, a team will fall short of its full potential.
How often does this happen in the teams you work with? Perhaps some team members don't complete what you expect them to do. Perhaps others are not quite flexible enough, so things "fall between the cracks." Maybe someone who's valued for their expert input fails to see the wider picture. Or perhaps one team member becomes frustrated because they disagree with the approach of someone else on the team.
Dr Meredith Belbin studied teamwork for many years, and he famously observed that people in teams tend to assume different "team roles." He defined a team role as "a tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way," and named nine such team roles that underlie team success.
In this article and video, developed in association with Belbin.com, we'll explore each of the nine team roles and demonstrate how to use the model to harmonize your team.
Click here to view a transcript of this video.
Creating More-Balanced Teams
Teams can become unbalanced if all team members have similar styles of behavior or team roles. If team members have similar weaknesses, the team as a whole may tend to have that weakness. If team members have similar teamwork strengths, they may tend to compete (rather than cooperate) for the team tasks and responsibilities that best suit their natural styles.
Belbin suggests that, by understanding your role within a particular team, you can develop your strengths and manage your weaknesses as a team member, and so improve how you contribute to the team.
Team leaders and team-development practitioners often use the Belbin model to help create more-balanced teams.
With the model, you can make sure that necessary team roles are covered, and that potential behavioral tensions or weaknesses among team members are addressed. Research shows that teams with mixed roles perform better than those that are "unbalanced" due to an overrepresentation of certain roles. 
Understanding Belbin's Team Roles Model
Belbin identified nine team roles, and he categorized those roles into three groups: Action Oriented, People Oriented, and Thought Oriented. Each team role is associated with typical behavioral and interpersonal strengths.
Belbin also defined characteristic weaknesses that tend to accompany each team role. He called the characteristic weaknesses of team roles the "allowable" weaknesses. As with any behavioral weakness, these are areas to be aware of and potentially improve.
The nine team roles are summarized in figure 1, below.
Figure 1: Belbin's Team Roles
|Action-Oriented Roles||Shaper||Challenges the team to improve.|
|Implementer||Puts ideas into action.|
|Completer Finisher||Ensures thorough, timely completion.|
|People-Oriented Roles||Coordinator||Acts as a chairperson.|
|Team Worker||Encourages cooperation.|
|Resource Investigator||Explores outside opportunities.|
|Thought-Oriented Roles||Plant||Presents new ideas and approaches.|
|Monitor-Evaluator||Analyzes the options.|
|Specialist||Provides specialized skills.|
Now, let's look at each role in more detail.
Shapers are people who challenge the team to improve. They're dynamic and usually extroverted people who enjoy stimulating others, questioning norms, and finding the best approaches for solving problems. The Shaper is the one who shakes things up to make sure that all possibilities are considered and that the team doesn't become complacent.
Shapers often see obstacles as exciting challenges, and they tend to have the courage to push on when others feel like quitting.
Their potential weaknesses may be that they're argumentative, and that they may offend people's feelings.
Implementers are the people who get things done. They turn the team's ideas and concepts into practical actions and plans. They're typically conservative, disciplined people who work systematically and efficiently and are very well organized. These are the people that you can count on to get the job done.
On the downside, Implementers may be inflexible and can be somewhat resistant to change.
Completer-Finishers are the people who see that projects are completed thoroughly. They ensure that there have been no errors or omissions, and they pay attention to the smallest of details. They're very concerned with deadlines and will push the team to make sure that the job is completed on time. They're described as perfectionists who are orderly, conscientious and anxious.
However, a Completer-Finisher may worry unnecessarily, and may find it hard to delegate.
Coordinators are the ones who take on the traditional team-leader role and have also been referred to as "chairperson." They guide the team to what they perceive are the objectives. They're often excellent listeners, and they're naturally able to recognize the value that each team member brings to the table. They're calm and good-natured, and delegate tasks very effectively.
Their potential weaknesses are that they may delegate away too much personal responsibility, and may tend to be manipulative.
Team Worker (TW)
Team Workers are the people who provide support and make sure that members of their team are working together effectively. These people fill the role of negotiators within the team and are flexible, diplomatic and perceptive. These tend to be popular people who are very capable in their own right, but who prioritize building a strong team and helping people get along.
Their weaknesses may be a tendency to be indecisive, and to maintain uncommitted positions during discussions and decision making.
Resource Investigator (RI)
Resource Investigators are innovative and curious. They explore available options, develop contacts, and negotiate for resources on behalf of the team. They're enthusiastic team members who identify and work with external stakeholders to help the team accomplish its objective. They're outgoing and often extroverted, meaning that others are often receptive to them and their ideas.
On the downside, they may lose enthusiasm quickly, and are often overly optimistic.
The Plant is the creative innovator who comes up with new ideas and approaches. They thrive on praise, but criticism is especially hard for them to deal with. Plants are often introverted and prefer to work apart from the team.
Because their ideas are so novel, they can be impractical at times. They may also be poor communicators and can tend to ignore given parameters and constraints.
Monitor-Evaluators are best at analyzing and evaluating ideas that other people (often Plants) come up with. These people are shrewd and objective, and they carefully weigh the pros and cons of all the options before coming to a decision.
Monitor-Evaluators are critical thinkers and are very strategic in their approach. They're often perceived as detached or unemotional. Sometimes they're poor motivators who react to events rather than instigating them.
Specialists are people who have specialized knowledge that's needed to get the job done. They pride themselves on their skills and abilities, and they work to maintain their professional status. Their job within the team is to be an expert in the area, and they commit themselves fully to their field of expertise.
This may limit their contribution, and lead to a preoccupation with technicalities at the expense of the bigger picture.
How to Use Meredith Belbin's Team Roles
Knowledge of Belbin's Team Roles model can help you to identify potential strengths and weaknesses within your team, overcome conflict between your co-workers, and understand and appreciate everyone's contributions.
If you want to learn more about the team roles that you and your team exhibit – and find links to videos of Dr Belbin himself talking about his theory – you can purchase a full, personalized behavioral report by going to Belbin.com (Prices may vary according to the number of reports that you require.)
Once you've received your report, you can apply it with the help of the Team Role Circle. This is a free resource from Belbin.com. It comprises four steps:
- If you have a large group, divide participants into "teams" of approximately five or six. If you work with a smaller group, avoid splitting it up.
- Ask each team to draw a circle, divide it equally into nine sections, one for each of Belbin's team roles, and to enter their names in the segments that correspond to their top two roles.
- Encourage discussion among the team members by asking them to list five main areas where they think their strengths and weaknesses lie, and how these match, overlap or contrast with those of their co-workers.
- Ask your team to come up with three action points based on its findings, focusing on helping the team to perform more effectively.
How Accurate Are Belbin's Team Roles?
While Belbin suggests that individuals tend to adopt a particular team role, bear in mind that your behavior within a team can be dependent on the situation and your relationship with others. You and your colleagues may behave and interact quite differently in different teams or in different projects.
As a manager, remember not to depend too heavily on the team roles theory when structuring your team. This is only one of many, many factors that are important in getting a team to perform at its best.
That said, just knowing about the Belbin Team Roles model can bring more harmony to your team, as team members learn that different approaches are important in different circumstances – and that no single approach is best all of the time.
Dr Meredith Belbin identified nine "team roles" that different people assume in a typical team. These roles are grouped together in three categories: Action Oriented, People Oriented, and Thought Oriented.
By working out which roles team members are taking on, you'll be able to better balance your team across the roles. Understanding the different roles also gives greater insight into individual team members' strengths and weaknesses, improving conflict resolution and team performance.
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