An often quoted system for categorising people’s roles within a team is that of R. Meredith Belbin who studied teams working on management games and experimented with different mixes of people.
Click here for articles about teamworkHis initial approach was to group the most able people together to form an elite team. These teams did not perform well and Belbin concluded that a high performing team needs a complementary mix of characters. He identified nine team types, each of which have positive contributions to make to a team but also have what Belbin terms ‘allowable weaknesses’.
The following extracts from Belbin’s work give an idea of the different team roles but are only a brief selection of contributions and allowable weaknesses, just to illustrate the concept.
- Contributions: This person is creative, imaginative and unorthodox. They solve difficult problems.
- Allowable weaknesses: A plant ignores incidentals and is too pre-occupied to communicate effectively.
- Contributions: Typically, this person is a mature, confident and makes a good chairperson. They clarify goals, promote decision-making and delegate well.
- Allowable weaknesses: This person lacks drive and ability to inspire others.
- Contributions: A specialist is single-minded, self-starting and dedicated. They provide knowledge and rare skills.
- Allowable weaknesses: A specialist contributes only on a narrow front and often dwells on technicalities.
- Contributions: A respected leader who helps everyone focus on their task.
- Allowable weaknesses: Co-ordinators can often be seen as manipulative or controlling. They tend to off-load personal work.
- Contributions: These people are extrovert, enthusiastic and communicative. They explores opportunities and network well.
- Allowable weaknesses: Resource investigators can be over-optimistic and lose interest once initial enthusiasm has passed.
- Contributions: Teamworkers are co-operative, mild, perceptive and diplomatic. They listen well and work to avoid friction in the team.
- Allowable weaknesses: They can be indecisive in crunch situations.
- Contributions: These team members are painstaking, conscientious and anxious. They search out errors and omissions and usually deliver on time.
- Allowable weaknesses: They are inclined to worry unduly and are reluctant to delegate.
- Contributions: Implementers are disciplined, reliable, conservative and efficient. They turn ideas into practical actions.
- Allowable weaknesses: They can be somewhat inflexible and slow to respond to new possibilities.
- Contributions: These people are challenging, dynamic and thrive on pressure. They have the drive and courage to overcome obstacles.
- Allowable weaknesses: Shapers are prone to provocation and may offend other people’s feelings.
Belbin’s approach does not place an individual in one category. It measures the relative degrees of each type in a person’s character. For instance: somebody who is predominantly a Plant may also have strong tendencies towards Resource Investigator but have few of the qualities of a Completer Finisher.
In an ideal world a P3 Manager would create a team that had the necessary balance of roles but it is often the case that the nomination or allocation of people to a management team is outside of the manager’s control. In that case it is useful to understand each team members’ strengths and weaknesses so that the manager can adapt, lead and motivate accordingly.