July 28th, 2012 Meredith Belbin
Meredith Belbin, the British management guru, was born in 1926. A graduate of Cambridge University, he spent his career in both industry and academia, working for prominent boards and organisations such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, and writing numerous publications. In 1988, he founded Belbin Associates (www.belbin.com) and the trading name is now synonymous with understanding relationships within a team.
Belbin takes the stance that it is teams, not individuals, which are the building blocks of successful organisations. His practical experiments on the theory that an effective business management team could be created based purely on the applicants IQ ratings lead to a breakthrough in management thinking after the genius group was found to have serious unpredicted weaknesses. Examples are: lack of collaboration between team members, egocentric viewpoints and overcritical analysis of others' ideas, which gave rise to the term "The Apollo Syndrome".
Meredith Belbin concluded that a team is made up of nine critical roles (Team Role Model):
- The Plant
- The Resource Investigator
- The Coordinator
- The Shaper
- The Monitor/Evaluator
- The Team Worker
- The Implementer
- The Completer
- The Specialist
To the contrary of some who like to compare the nine roles to the eight personality types of Jung, Belbin maintains that they are clusters of characteristics that cannot be rationalised so simply. Over the years, Belbin has published a series of books, including Management Teams: Why the succeed or fail (1984), in support of his developing theories, which became more popular as the team culture flourished through the 1990s.
Early Life and Work of Meredith Belbin
Dr. Raymond Meredith Belbin was born in 1926. He took both his first and second degrees at Cambridge University. His first appointment after his doctorate was as a research fellow at Cranfield College (now Cranfield School of Management at Cranfield University). His early research focussed mainly on older workers in industry. He returned to Cambridge and joined the Industrial Training Research Unit and it was while he was there, in the late 1960s, that he was invited to carry out research at what was then called the Administrative Staff College at Henley-on-Thames. The work which formed the basis of his 1981 classic took several years and, after publication, it was some time before its real importance was recognised. In 1988, Belbin established, with his son Nigel, Belbin Associates to publish and promote his research.
Meredith 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 nine key roles in managing the team and how it carries out its work. This may be separate from the role each team member has in carrying out the work of the team.
A creative, imaginative, unorthodox team-member who solves difficult problems. Although they sometimes situate themselves far from the other team members, they always come back to present their 'brilliant' idea.
The Resource Investigator
The "Resource Investigator" is the networker for the group. Whatever the team needs, the Resource Investigator is likely to have someone in their address book who can either provide it or know someone else who can provide it. This may be physical, financial or human resources, political support, information or ideas. Being highly driven to make connections with people, the Resource Investigator may appear to be flighty and inconstant, but their ability to call on their connections is highly useful to the team.
The 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.
A dynamic team-member who loves a challenge and thrives on pressure. This member possesses the drive and courage required to overcome obstacles.
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.
The 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.
The 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.
The 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.
Belbin later added a ninth role, the "Specialist", who brings 'specialist' knowledge to the team.
Based on Belbin's model of nine team roles, managers or organisations building working teams would be advised to ensure that each of the roles can be performed by a team member. Some roles are compatible and can be more easily fulfilled by the same person; some are less compatible and are likely to be done well by people with different behavioural clusters. This means that a team need not be as many as nine people, but perhaps should be at least three or four.
While comparisons can be drawn between Belbin's behavioural team roles and personality types, it is important to remember that the roles represent tasks and functions in the self-management of the team's activities. Tests exist to identify your ideal team roles, but this does not preclude an extravert from being a Completer Finisher, nor an introvert from being a Resource Investigator.
Criticisms of the Team Roles Model
While Belbin's team roles model has become world famous and is taught as a standard part of much management training, there are possible criticisms of both the model itself and the way it is sometimes used.
The research which identified these roles was conducted on established executives studying at the Administrative Staff College at Henley (now re-named Henley Management College); they were selected for the prestigious course by their firms who had identified them as high-fliers expected to go on to senior management. The sample was therefore already highly selective. Belbin himself points out in his book that many people that might otherwise have made excellent managers might have de-selected themselves from attending the programme.
The exercises given consisted of a game designed to simulate business decision-making with an emphasis on generating profit in a fictitious company, and a version of Monopoly specially adapted to remove the chance elements and enable groups to play in teams against other teams. While Belbin draws on examples from real organisations, the development of the model is based on the behaviour of subjects in the artificial environment of the business school exercise.
Some people teach that all eight/nine roles must be present for a team to function well. Belbin himself acknowledges that some teams consisting of one Shaper and a group of "yes" men perform well, especially where predictability was high. His book identifies a number of combinations that performed well in the exercises, especially where the teams were aware of "missing" roles within their ranks.
Some people attempt to match Belbin's roles with Carl Jung's eight personality types, with the nine types of the Enneagram of Personality or another personality type classification. Belbin is at pains to point out that the team roles are not personality types. He regards them as are clusters of characteristics, of which psychological preference is but one dimension.