The Belbin theory, also known as the Belbin Team Role Theory, is a well-known management theory developed by Dr. Meredith Belbin in the 1970s. The theory suggests that successful teams have a balance of different team roles and that each team member has a specific role that they naturally gravitate towards. The Belbin theory has become widely adopted by organizations around the world and has been used to create high-performing teams across a range of industries.
Keep in mind that most people, however similar, will always be slightly different. Because of this, we would not advise following this guide to a point, but instead using it as sort of a bench-mark when you build a team in a future.
How to build a team?
British theorist Dr. Meredith Belbin sought to answer the question of how to build a team that actually works. He started his research in 1969. It was an academic experiment in management courses at Henley Management College that ran for nine years. On this basis, the research team found that the success or failure of a team was not so much dependent on the intellect of the team members as had been assumed, but primarily on their behaviour.
In short, it didn’t matter how smart the individual members of the team were. What mattered much more was the way the members worked together. Some teams were able to “click” and perform well above average, while some teams, whose members were some of the smartest on the college, were at most sub-par, only because the team couldn’t co-operate together well enough.
As a result of his research, Dr. Belbin published a groundbreaking paper in 1981 in which he described the distinct behaviors of team members that, when properly integrated, can result in truly effective collaboration. Belbin first defined 8 roles and in 1993 added one additional role to his theory. This created the 9 team roles that are now widely used by organizations and companies around the world.
In the course of the research, the team roles were divided into 3 areas based on their orientation to:
- Thinking – Plant, Monitor Evaluator and Specialist
- Action – Shaper, Implementer and Completer Finisher
- People – Co-ordinator, Teamworker and Resource Investigator
But if you aren’t that interested in building a team, and would like to build a house instead, here’s an article about that.
Belbin’s team roles – who can’t be missing in the team?
To work highly effectively, you need to balance all roles among team members. Belbin himself considered six members to be the best number for teamwork. It follows, therefore, that one member can hold multiple roles. Each role in this typology has its own strengths and weaknesses. Belbin referred to these as ‘allowable weaknesses’, as they go hand in hand with the undeniable contributions of the member and must therefore be taken into account.
So, let’s take a closer look on these nine roles and how they work. We will look at each role’s purpose, their strengths (things that make them important to the team), their “allowable weaknesses” (thing that might hinder the team, but are hard/impossible to remove, simply because they are a part of what makes them great), and some things about them that aren’t guaranteed, but might happen.
This members role is mostly to think of unorthodox solutions for problems. He should know when it’s a good time to push his ideas, but also when to let them go if they get ignored/criticized.
- Strengths: Creative, imaginative, free-thinking, generates ideas and solves difficult problems.
- Allowable weaknesses: Might ignore incidentals, and may be too preoccupied to communicate effectively.
- Don’t be surprised to find that: They could be absent-minded or forgetful.
This role in a team requires a lot of confidence and experience. Co-ordinators are those who take on the traditional role of team leader and are often referred to as the “chairman”. The coordinator assigns work to others and leads the team to the goal.
- Strengths: Mature, confident, identifies talent. Clarifies goals.
- Allowable weaknesses: Can be seen as manipulative and might offload their own share of the work.
- Don’t be surprised to find that: They might over-delegate, leaving themselves little work to do.
These team members are the best at analyzing and evaluating ideas that others come up with. They are excellent critical thinkers who carefully weigh the pros and cons of all options before coming to a decision.
- Strengths: Sober, strategic and discerning. Sees all options and judges accurately.
- Allowable weaknesses: Sometimes lacks the drive and ability to inspire others and can be overly critical.
- Don’t be surprised to find that: They could be slow to come to decisions.
A team worker
An important element of cooperation and diplomacy is brought to the team by the so-called team worker, who tends to be versatile and helps complete the required work. They can be very cooperative and responsive. Although very capable in his own right, he prefers to build a strong team.
- Strengths: Co-operative, perceptive and diplomatic. Listens and averts friction.
- Allowable weaknesses: Can be indecisive in crunch situations and tends to avoid confrontation.
- Don’t be surprised to find that: They might be hesitant to make unpopular decisions.
Resource Investigators are enthusiastic and curious team members who explore all available options and resources, develop contacts and negotiate on behalf of the team. These can include either resources on the internet in the form of sources, or financial resources i the form of investors/financial backing.
- Strengths: Outgoing, enthusiastic. Explores opportunities and develops contacts.
- Allowable weaknesses: Might be over-optimistic, and can lose interest once the initial enthusiasm has passed.
- Don’t be surprised to find that: They might forget to follow up on a lead.
This type of person has specialized knowledge that is needed to work on a specific task. They take pride in their skills and abilities and care about maintaining their professional status. Their job is to be the subject matter expert on the team.
- Strengths: Single-minded, self-starting and dedicated. They provide specialist knowledge and skills.
- Allowable weaknesses: Tends to contribute on a narrow front and can dwell on the technicalities.
- Don’t be surprised to find that: They overload you with information.
Implementers are people who get things done and turn ideas into practical actions and plans. They are usually disciplined and organized people who work systematically. You can count on them to get the job done.
- Strengths: Practical, reliable, efficient. Turns ideas into actions and organises work that needs to be done.
- Allowable weaknesses: Can be a bit inflexible and slow to respond to new possibilities.
- Don’t be surprised to find that: They might be slow to relinquish their plans in favour of positive changes.
The Shaper is dynamic, challenging and calls on the team to improve. He likes to stimulate others, challenge norms and is the one who shakes things up to make sure all options are considered.
- Strengths: Challenging, dynamic, thrives on pressure. Has the drive and courage to overcome obstacles.
- Allowable weaknesses: Can be prone to provocation, and may sometimes offend people’s feelings.
- Don’t be surprised to find that: They could risk becoming aggressive and bad-humoured in their attempts to get things done.
This is a team member who is often described as a perfectionist. They must be orderly, conscientious and meticulous. Even though they come in at the very last, their work is rarely the least. Their job is to keep track of deadlines and push the team to complete the work on time. A completer checks for any errors or omissions and pays attention to the smallest details.
- Strengths: Painstaking, conscientious, anxious. Searches out errors. Polishes and perfects.
- Allowable weaknesses: Can be inclined to worry unduly, and reluctant to delegate.
- Don’t be surprised to find that: They could be accused of taking their perfectionism to extremes.
How is Belbin’s typology useful?
The best teams are deliberate in their structure, purpose and goals. Therefore, Belbin’s typology of team roles allows you to build a team intentionally and distribute work effectively. This means identifying what each person has to offer and ensuring those strengths are leveraged.
Since research has shown that the most successful teams are made up of a diverse mix of behaviors, it is not desirable for a team to contain only a certain type of people. A capable manager should therefore be able to identify and fill the missing role, even if it means bringing in another member to the team.
But remember that no matter what, you can’t overdo this. If everyone on your team thinks differently, it might be very hard, or even impossible for them to work together. You should also look out and not make the teams too big, because any individual idea will get lost, if you put it in the room with 50 other people. As was said in the beginning, the desirable amount of people in a team is around 5-10.
And if you are a mother, that just started building her own “team” at home, we have an article that might interest you.
What will Belbin’s theory give you?
- the right people doing the right tasks, leading to better performance
- insight into the strengths and weaknesses of team members’ behaviour
- language that helps facilitate coaching conversations
- greater confidence that the task at hand will be completed
- a balanced team where everyone knows what is expected of them
What does the Belbin test reveal?
To find out which team role you are closest to, you can take the Belbin test, which is available online. However, your final role may not be definitive as, as you develop, work on yourself and gain work experience, it is possible that after some time you may be the ideal candidate for a completely different role in the team. While of course you may tend to gravitate more towards some roles and less towards others, the Belbin test result is more reflective of your role at the current time.
Understanding and leveraging the natural talent of your employees is the key to great management. This typology provides managers with a good understanding of the behavioral strengths and preferences of the people on their team, allowing them to make the most of each employee’s contributions to get the best results.