Why teamwork really delivers and why it sometimes does not!

By John O’Boyle – Belbin Ireland

BELBINUK - RI JillPeople talk about the importance of teamwork a lot, but when does teamwork actually pay off? The focus of teamwork is generally about the end result but really the focus should be on the process of getting to that end result and how a team actually got there together.

In a seminal piece for Personnel Psychology magazine Jeff LePine, Ron Piccolo, Christine Jackson, John Mathieu, and Jessica Saul used meta-analysis to demonstrate that those committed to better teamwork are 1. more likely to believe their team can succeed 2. are more committed to their team, and 3. most importantly, they are about 20 to 25% more likely to succeed. Teamwork is about collaboration toward a defined and agreed end goal and by knowing the behaviours of individuals within a team can forge a relationship of support, accountability, assessment and backup through understanding the combined strengths and weaknesses of a given team.

The most important factor is that team members know themselves, and their strengths and allowable weaknesses. No team that knows these can fail to at least get a better picture of itself.


From the individual to the team.

Ok, assume you know yourself and your strengths and those that you perceive are weaknesses, that is great is it not. Well yes, but very few of us work in isolation. Discovering how those we work with see and value our behaviour is next. The workplace tends to comprise of teams which are put together depending on job function – for example the ‘Marketing Team’, or depending on the work that needs to be done – sometimes called ‘Project Teams’.

There is much debate on what ‘makes a team’. But what are the key factors? Research and experience have shown that size and selection are critical. If there are too many people in a team then roles and behaviours start to overlap causing problems. Too large a team can lead to conformism and focus on a single leader. A smaller team ensures that each voice and contribution is heard and valued.
A team should be put together for a specific purpose. Each team member should be chosen to ensure that the correct balance of skill and behaviour is achieved. Meredith Belbin’s original research culminated in his team being able to predict a team’s performance based solely on each individuals behavioural contribution. Those that knew each other had a far higher chance of success.

Why Teams fail?
Unsurprisingly, the opposite holds true, and a team that does not know itself may be doomed to failure, or may collapse when pressure builds. Belbin identified the reasons for failure as follows –

1. Poor Team Dynamics.
This was the number one reason identified as to why teams fail. Team members need to interact in a productive way. Though each member may be an expert in a certain field, they also need to be expert in communicating with fellow team members. Mutual respect is mandatory for a team to maintain cohesion and achieve results. If team members butt heads due to mistrust of each other’s capability, results cannot be achieved. Team members must feel a loyalty to the team as well as to each other. The other four are as follows:

2. Lack of Vision
To achieve success, a team needs to know its goal. The team needs a clearly defined mission statement that is easily understood by every member. Without understanding the purpose for the team, members will quickly lose enthusiasm and motivation. Sometimes a team starts out with a vision, but, the vision gets muddied. Team members with different visions will work differently and cohesion is lost. To counteract this problem, be sure that goals and visions are clearly stated to the entire team at once. During the course of the project, regroup to discuss the continuing validity of the vision. If the goal needs to be adjusted, make the corrections together so everyone is on board and can progress.

3. Undefined Roles
It is important to clearly define the role of each team member, and to lay out the expectations for each role, along with the responsibility each role has to the task. Without clearly defined roles, a team member may take on a task that does not suit their expertise. This sets up an individual, and the team, for failure.
It is also important to define leadership roles. A team needs to understand who to approach when there are questions or decisions that need to be made. Without a clearly defined leader, poor decisions can be made that will contribute to failure

4. Incorrect Analysis
A strategic plan based on market data or other analysis is only as good as that data or analysis. The original vision may be based on certain market conditions or criteria, but if the market changes during the process, the data is no longer valid. The team will fail in its mission not because team members are inefficient, but because the processes are no longer based on the correct parameters.

5. Time Management
Surprisingly, though it is a factor, it is less common than one might think. But it is relevant. A team may have the perfect plan to reach its goal, but unless it can manage the time needed to put the plan into action, failure will occur. Work on special teams is often conducted in addition to regular job duties and responsibilities. Scheduling time for an extra project needs to be methodical and reasonable. Team members must also make the time commitment needed to complete the responsibilities assigned. When working on the project, interruptions need to be minimised so that team members can focus on the task at hand.



There is no magic bullet or certainty in any group, team or organisation, and neither Belbin nor anyone else is perfect, but we can state that teams that really know each other’s behaviours and work together to improve results are far more likely to succeed and the facts prove it. If you would like to know more, contact us and we will be happy to discuss further.
Happy Teamwork!


About the Author:

John O’Boyle is a business and team development coach based in Galway, Ireland. He is the Director of Belbin Ireland, whose mission it is to enable the potential of Belbin Team Roles as a simple and practical tool for understanding how teamwork improves business and personal performance, throughout the island of Ireland and in the practice of Systemic Team Coaching.