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Belbin and the limitations of self-reporting

There are three key questions to ask before you begin psychometric or behavioural testing

  • Why are we testing? What are our intended outcomes and how well do various tests support these outcomes? How simple will it be to apply findings?
  • What does the test claim to measure? (Some widely-used tests conflate behaviour and personality, for example.)
  • Where’s the research? What kind of theoretical basis is there? Do the tenets align with our organisational values? Where are the findings to support the hypotheses?

If you know your intended outcomes, you're likely to choose more wisely and gain your ROI.

Self-reporting: not the 'safe option'

Some people are wary of 'psychometric' tests. They fear being pigeon-holed or that the results will reflect negatively on them.

Lots of organisations try to overcome these objections by using self-reported tests. A self-reported test is one which relies entirely on someone's own view of their behaviours or personality. The idea is perhaps that people are unlikely to disagree (or be offended) if results are derived from their own inputs.

But using self-reporting isn’t the 'safe option' – the end result can be damaging.

  • The findings reflect the individual back at themselves through their own lens – and this lens may be distorted.
  • Opportunities for learning and growth are limited by the individual's self-awareness.
  • The test becomes a tick-box exercise and employees don't buy in to the process.

Meanwhile, all the issues bubbling away under the surface are never addressed, because each person in the team just carries on in their own echo chamber.

Words from Meredith Belbin

"These tests and inventories rely on self-reporting. Most participants respond favourably to the outputs they receive, declaring them to be true, a comment that can scarcely be surprising since it is their own inputs that have been processed and fed back to them.

Self-awareness and knowledge are at risk, then, of becoming a closed system into which the perceptions of the external world fail to break.

Yet the practice of industry means that when decisions have to be reached about people, in terms of promotion or transfer to other work or, indeed, on any matter of importance, it is the perception of others that forms the basis of decision-making."

Meredith Belbin, Team Roles at Work, 1993

Meredith Belbin Partner Belbin

Interrelate, aggregate, analyse

For real change with real-world outcomes, you need interactive results.

Rather than identifying personality traits which categorise individuals, you need feedback within teams and across hierarchical levels in the organisation, to open up the discussions that get people thinking and promote change.

Behaviour is external, observable and grounded in real-world examples. Measuring behaviour is how you add value. It's key to transforming individual development and helping people work more effectively together.


Whilst innate personality traits can feel 'too close to home', analysing behaviour (as observed by others) offers a practical, democratic, evidence-based measurement which shows an individual their impact upon a team, without letting things 'get personal'.

  • Here, you can tell the individual, is the impression they’re creating.
  • Here are the strengths others see – did they know?
  • Here is what could be holding them back from promotion or recognition, and here’s how to handle it.
  • Here are some reasons why they find it easier to get along with one person, but work more productively with another.
  • Here is where the team’s culture is taking it and why.

Can you afford for your people to miss out on that kind of insight?

At Belbin, we believe that measuring behaviour is crucial and that feedback from others is needed to take that behavioural 'pulse'.

That’s why we offer Observer Assessments – short surveys for colleagues and managers to complete, based on the behaviours they witness every day. These inform and enrich an individual’s own 'view' and that’s why we don’t charge separately for them – they're an integral part of the Belbin process.

Next Steps

To find out what Belbin can do for you or your team, why not get in touch?

Call us on 01223 264975 or email [email protected].

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