Belbin Team Roles

Dr Meredith Belbin

Meredith Belbin is a management theorist best known for his work on with management teams. He studied Classics and Psychology in the UK at Clare College, Cambridge. He served as a research fellow at Cranfield University before joining Henley Management College. He carried out extensive research on group behavior, which formed the bases of his 1981 book Management Teams: Why they succeed or fail.

Belbin Team Roles

Belbin derived the concept of eight (and later nine) team distinct and interdependent team roles from his study of teams competing in business games.

Belbin describes a team role as 'a tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way'. He asserts that in order for teams to be successful, a team and its members need to fulfill nine roles:

  • Plant
  • Monitor Evaluator
  • Specialist (a late addition to Belbin's model, which originally only contained eight roles).
  • Shaper
  • Implementer (originally referred to as 'Company Worker')
  • Completer-Finisher
  • Coordinator (originally referred to as 'Chairman')
  • Team Worker
  • Resource Investigator

Whilst there are nine roles, this does not infer the ideal team size is nine. In fact Belbin argues that the optimum size for a team is four people. Members of a team will frequently play more than one of the team roles. 

According to the model, just as each role has its strengths, it also has weaknesses. The model identifies and describes what it calls 'Allowable Weaknesses' for each role. Each of the roles, its strengths and weaknesses are outlined below:

Plant

Plants are highly creative and good at solving problems in unconventional ways. If it is innovative ideas you are after,  a Plant is a good person to ask. Good plants are imaginative and free thinking. However, they are prone to ignore details and may be too preocupied to communicate effectively. The Plant might be caricatured as 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. Plants can also create problems with the timing of their ideas. The fact that the team has decided on a valid way forward and is now in the implementation stage will not stop the Plant from coming up with new solutions and disrupting the implementation process.

Monitor Evaluator

Monitor Evaluators are fair and logical observers and judges of what is going on in the team. Since they are good at detaching themselves from bias, they are often the ones to see all available options with the greatest clarity and impartiality. They take a broad view when problem-solving, and by moving slowly and analytically, will almost always come to the right decision. However, they can become very critical, damping enthusiasm for anything without logical grounds, and they have a hard time inspiring themselves or others to be passionate about their work.

Specialist

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.

Shaper

The Shaper is a task-focused individual who pursues objectives with vigor and who is driven by tremendous energy and the need to achieve. For the Shaper, winning is the name of the game. The Shaper provides the necessary drive to ensure that the team is kept moving and does not lose focus or momentum. Shapers are people who challenge the team to improve. They are 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 does not become complacent. Shapers could risk becoming aggressive and bad-humored in their attempts to get things done. Shapers often see obstacles as exciting challenges and they tend to have the courage to push on when others feel like quitting.

Implementer

The Implementer takes their colleagues' suggestions and ideas and turns them into positive action. They are efficient and self-disciplined, and can always be relied on to deliver on time. They are motivated by their loyalty to the team or company, which means that they will often take on jobs everyone else avoids or dislikes. However, they may be seen as closed-minded and inflexible since they will often have difficulty deviating from their own well-thought-out plans, especially if such a deviation compromises efficiency or threatens well-established practices.

Completer Finisher

The Completer Finisher is a perfectionist and will often go the extra mile to make sure everything is "just right," and the things he or she delivers can be trusted to have been double-checked and then checked again. The Completer Finisher has a strong inward sense of the need for accuracy, and sets his or her own high standards rather than working on the encouragement of others. They may frustrate their teammates by worrying excessively about minor details and by refusing to delegate tasks that they do not trust anyone else to perform.

Coordinator

A Coordinator is a likely candidate for the chairperson of a team, since they have a talent for stepping back to see the big picture. Coordinators are confident, stable and mature and because they recognize abilities in others, they are very good at delegating tasks to the right person for the job. The Coordinator clarifies decisions, helping everyone else focus on their tasks. Coordinators are sometimes perceived to be manipulative and will tend to delegate all work, leaving nothing but the delegating for them to do.

Team worker

A Team worker is the oil between the cogs that keeps the machine that is the team running smoothly. They are good listeners and diplomats, talented at smoothing over conflicts and helping parties understand one another without becoming confrontational. Since the role can be a low-profile one, the beneficial effect of a Team worker can go unnoticed and unappreciated until they are absent, when the team begins to argue, and small but important things cease to happen. Because of an unwillingness to take sides, a Team worker may not be able to take decisive action when it's needed.

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 to follow things up.

Team Roles - An Interview with Dr Meredith Belbin

 

When to use Belbin Team Roles

Belbin Team Roles are used to identify behavioral strengths and weaknesses in a team setting. It can help teams who are forming to understand the roles they could play in the team, and the roles of their colleagues. The model can also be used as a tool to assist teams who are struggling. Such teams can find that applying a standard model and using the lexicon of Belbin can help them communicate and work together with greater understanding and respect. 

For team managers, it can be useful to understand the model to create balance and synergy amongst the team. Understanding the allowable weaknesses can also help explain behavior and identify coaching opportunities.

It is worth noting that this is a behavior measurement tool - not a measure of personality. Personality traits are usually considered by psychologists to be fairly consistent. By contrast, behaviors change according to the environment. Therefore, whilst the model is useful for analyzing a team (or helping a team analyse themselves), it is not an appropriate tool for recruitment and forming teams of individuals from different environments.

Further Reading