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Team Role Theory in the Team Building Process

Everybody talks about team building, but how many people actually take the time to get the roots of what actually makes a team tick?

Observed behavior within a team tends to fall into clear and discernable patterns that reflect both the contributions made by an individual as well as the weaknesses that often manifest under pressure.

The research and subsequently successful Team Role Model of Meredith Belbin is universally regarded as the benchmark for measuring and describing 9 major clusters of behavior that characterize individual and collective teamwork.

The Belbin Model is a useful tool for higher level team building processes as it can help an experienced facilitator identify the patterns that exist within any team and thus underpin their strengths and weaknesses. Once clearly understood, these patterns enable a team to manage its weaknesses and better leverage its strengths, particularly when existing biases creep in under real world pressure.

People do not just possess or project merely one clear and distinct team role type, but rather a subtle blend of role preferences that are based on a lifetimes worth of experience, their core beliefs and field experiences (amongst myriad other subtle influences).

Belbin and his internationally renowned team of experts discovered and refined the model based on the appearance of 9 clear clusters of behavioural contributions to teamwork.

In brief they are….

The Plant – A team role type that possesses a flair for creativity, synthesizing ideas and solving complex problems. The allowable weakness that comes with this role is often a lack of interest in details or the here and now issues whilst engaged in conceptual or lateral thinking.

The Resource Investigator – A natural communicator, negotiator and seeker of new opportunities and ideas external to the team. On the flipside, their natural enthusiasm can wane quickly and follow though or consolidation of their latest project becomes a challenge.

The Co-ordinator – A consultative and natural chairperson who can co-ordinate a team for consensus and decision making, delegate tasks and draw out and match talent to tasks. Can however be seen as stubborn and manipulative if they are not careful.

The Shaper – Usually a hard driving, competitive and challenging type that likes to win and drive the team forward and is a dynamic catalyst for action. Unless careful can be seen as provocative and often will clash with other Shapers and roles that may not meet their desired sense of urgency.

The Monitor Evaluator – An analytical and deep thinking type able to weigh up courses of actions and make well thought out decisions that help teams avoid strategic errors and omissions. Allowable weaknesses include possibly becoming overly cynical or critical.

The Teamworker – A naturally socially aware, relationship oriented and harmony building type that can build individual and team morale and is a supporter of others. They have an allowable weakness of being conflict averse to the point of being potentially indecisive in crunch moments.

The Implementer – This role is characterized by a loyal, hard working and pragmatic ability to turn talk into actions and systems that get things done and to ensure teams take reliable actions. The allowable weaknesses can include resistance to rapid change and new ideas.

The Completer Finisher – This role type is a natural standard bearer and conscientious seeker of attention to details that will prevent teams from making errors or mistakes. As an allowable weakness this can bring a sense of anxiety and desire to micro manage through reluctance to delegate to others.

The Specialist – A role type similar to an elite athlete who seeks absolute mastery and specialist knowledge and expertise in a single field where they take great pride in being a subject matter expert. The allowable weaknesses include an unwillingness to contribute beyond their chosen field or passion.

Once again, nobody is a single role type in isolation with the Belbin Model in mind, but rather can play to a varying degree of strength in numerous roles that generally fit into natural, manageable and least preferred based on a lifetime of person experience and preferences.

An awareness of such dynamics and how they will manifest in real world situations for real world teams is incredibly useful when designing and delivering team building solutions for clients.

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