When a team is performing at its best, usually each team member has clear responsibilities . Belbin suggests that, by understanding the role within a particular team, people can develop strengths and manage weaknesses as a team member. Belbin’s 1981 book Management Teams presented conclusions from his work studying how members of teams interacted during business games run at Henley Management College. Amongst his key conclusions was the proposition that an effective team has members that cover eight (later nine) key roles in managing the team and how it carries out its work. He categorized those roles into three groups: Action Oriented, People Oriented, and Thought Oriented. Each team role is associated with typical behavioural 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 for any behavioural weakness, these are areas to be aware of and potentially improve.
Belbin suggested that, in order for a team to operate effectively, it needed a balance of nine different roles. Plant: Plants are creative, unorthodox and generators 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. Plants can tend to ignore incidentals and refrain from getting bogged down in detail. The Plant bears a strong resemblance to the popular caricature of the absent-minded professor/inventor, and often has a hard time communicating ideas to others. Multiple Plants in a team can lead to misunderstandings, as many ideas are generated without sufficient discernment or the impetus to follow the ideas through to action. Resource Investigator: 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 appropriate 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. Chairman (1981) / Co-ordinator (1988): The “Chairman/Co-ordinator” ensures that all members of the team are able to contribute to discussions and decisions of the team. Their concern is for fairness and equity among team members. Those who want to make decisions quickly, or unilaterally, may feel frustrated by their insistence on consulting with all members, but this can often improve the quality of decisions made by the team. Clarifies goals; helps allocate roles, responsibilities, and duties; articulates group conclusions Shaper: A dynamic team-member who loves a challenge and thrives on pressure. This member possesses the drive and courage required to overcome obstacles. Seeks patterns in group work; pushes group toward agreement and decisions; challenges others Monitor-Evaluator: A sober, strategic and discerning member, who tries to see all options and judge accurately.
This member contributes a measured and dispassionate analysis and, through objectivity, stops the team committing itself to a misguided task. Analyzes problems and complex issues; monitors progress and prevents mistakes; assesses the contributions of others; sees all options; judges accurately Team Worker: The “Team Worker” is concerned to ensure that interpersonal relationships within the team are maintained. They are sensitive to atmospheres and may be the first to approach another team member who feels slighted, excluded or otherwise attacked but has not expressed their discomfort. The Team Worker’s concern with people factors can frustrate those who are keen to move quickly, but their skills ensure long-term cohesion within the team. Gives personal support and help to others; socially oriented and sensitive to others; resolves conflicts; calms the waters; serves as an in-group diplomat Company Worker (1981) / Implementer (1988): The “Implementer” is the practical thinker who can create systems and processes that will produce what the team wants.
Taking a problem and working out how it can be practically addressed is their strength. Being strongly rooted in the real world, they may frustrate other team members by their perceived lack of enthusiasm for inspiring visions and radical thinking, but their ability to turn those radical ideas into workable solutions is important. Completer Finisher: The “Completer Finisher” is the detail person within the team. They have a great eye for spotting flaws and gaps and for knowing exactly where the team is in relation to its schedule. Team members who have less preference for detail work may be frustrated by their analytical and meticulous approach, but the work of the Completer Finisher ensures the quality and timeliness of the output of the team. Emphasizes the need for meeting schedules, deadlines, and completing tasks; searches out errors Specialist (1988): Belbin later added a ninth role, the “Specialist”, who brings ‘specialist’ knowledge to the team.
Single-minded, self-starting, dedicated; provides unique or rare expertise and skills Specialists are passionate about learning in their own particular field. As a result, they are likely to be a fountain of knowledge and will enjoy imparting this knowledge to others. They also strive to improve and build upon their expertise. If there is anything they do not know the answer to, they will happily go and find out. Specialists bring a high level of concentration, ability, and skill in their discipline to the team, but can only contribute on that specialism and will tend to be uninterested in anything which lies outside its narrow confines.
Note that Belbin was not arguing that every team has to have a minimum of nine members. Individuals within the team may take on more than one role each. As long as all the roles are filled, the team will be more likely to be effective.