Dr Meredith Belbin studied team-work 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.
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 is valued for their expert input fails to see the wider picture, and so misses out tasks or steps that others would expect. Or perhaps one team member becomes frustrated because he or she disagrees with the approach of another team member.
Creating More Balanced Teams
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.
Teams can become unbalanced if all team members have similar styles of behaviour or team roles. If team members have similar weakness, the team as a whole may tend to have that weakness. If team members have similar team-work strengths, they may tend to compete (rather than co-operate) for the team tasks and responsibilities that best suit their natural styles.
Knowing this, you can use the model with your team to help ensure that necessary team roles are covered, and that potential behavioural tensions or weaknesses among the team member are addressed.
Belbin’s “team roles” are based on observed behaviour and interpersonal styles.
Whilst Belbin suggests that people tend to adopt a particular team-role, bear in mind that your behavior and interpersonal style within a team is to some extent dependent on the situation: it relates not only to your own natural working style, but also to your interrelationships with others, and the work being done.
Be careful: you, and the people you work with, may behave and interact quite differently in different teams or when the membership or work of the team changes.
Also, be aware that there are other approaches in use, some of which complement this model, some of which conflict with it. By all means use this approach as a guide, however do not put too much reliance on it, and temper any conclusions with common sense.
Teamwork as a concept has grown over the last 20 years. However, teamwork success is not automatic. Teams have to be established for the right reasons. Team member selection is very important, as is ensuring that the team purpose is clear and agreed upon.