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When we recruit, do we assemble a group of people and then look for some work for them to do?

No. We recruit people to do a specific job. We bring teams together for a certain purpose or project.

We start with the work, the purpose, the objective.

So why, when we are trying to make those people and teams more effective, do we flip all that and examine the person and not those crucial needs?

Often it’s because, in reality, teams are more static than we would like. In many organisations, there isn’t the flexibility to assemble and dismantle teams as and when needed.

Instead, we end up with people who are loosely grouped together, but who perhaps don’t share a common objective and aren’t sure how to work together effectively.

If we can’t change the bigger picture, the question becomes: how do we make the most of what we have?

Psychometric tests measure personality, which is thought to be relatively fixed. They can tell you what’s going on inside someone’s head. Or possibly even how they’d like to be. But what does that mean in practice? How does that translate to what the team is doing?

If we have a set of personalities and a team objective, how do we reconcile those? Where’s the wiggle room? Where are the opportunities for change and growth?

Consider a dysfunctional team, where the manager thinks she’s a ‘yellow’ personality. The rest of the team knows she’s ‘red’. She’s forthright and challenging and can upset people. There’s nothing 'yellow' about her.

But we can’t argue with her own verdict. Her personality, her say. Right?

So nothing changes. The dysfunction in the team continues. Some of the team simply resent the pigeon-holing and the futility of it and disengage altogether.

We’ve seen a lot of this amongst struggling teams. And we know another way.

Because there are elements of ourselves that are relatively fixed, but we are also capable of great change and adaptation, primarily in our behaviour.

When we focus on behaviour – measure it and talk about it – we can focus on what the team needs, and what we can change.

Defining needs, not people

A team has to have a purpose – a shared objective.
When we focus on defining what the team needs and not in trying to sort people into categories, we are much closer to boosting performance.

Likewise, when we democratise observing these needs and who fulfils them, we gain a much clearer and more honest picture of the team’s strengths and where it might be falling short.

With personality, there’s nothing but individual say-so. With observed behaviour, there’s an evidence base.

No such thing as ‘a Plant’

In Belbin methodology, there’s no such thing as ‘a Plant’. We might use this shorthand, but what we really mean is: ‘someone displaying Plant behaviour’.

‘Plant’ is not a personality type or a box to put someone in. ‘Plant’ is a cluster of behaviours required to facilitate team success.

Someone might display this Team Role strength in abundance, a little or not at all. They might have some elements of the strength, but not others. (It is a cluster, after all.)

The ‘Plant’ cluster of behaviour is useful at the beginning of a project (the ‘Ideas’ phase) and often a hindrance if involved towards the end. It is a group of behaviours which does not need to be available in great quantities in order for the team to succeed.

When we move away from categorising people and focus on what the team needs, the conversation becomes much more interesting.

We can observe that people are capable of playing more than one Team Role – even more than one Team Role at the same time. We are often capable of playing different Team Roles depending on our environment and who we’re working with. We might aspire to certain behaviours that others don’t yet see, or we might discover our own hidden talents through others’ eyes.

Belbin is unique because it begins with the team. The driving-force? What the team needs to succeed.

Everyone has something to contribute, and discovering how those pieces fit is the key to boosting performance and engagement in your teams.


Next steps

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