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Distinguishing between Team Roles

When we introduce new clients to Belbin, we often begin by defining each of the nine Team Roles. These are nine clusters of behaviour that facilitate team progress, as discovered by Dr Meredith Belbin and his research team at Henley Management College.

There may be lots of other characteristics that we observe in ourselves and colleagues – both helpful and unhelpful – but when it comes to moving the team towards its objectives, these are the key groups of behaviour. 

Sometimes – especially for those new to Team Role theory – it can be difficult to distinguish between certain Team Roles and clarify those contributions, especially for roles that are commonly found in combination.

Here are some Team Roles which are often confused – we’ve pinpointed exactly what those differences are.

Plant (PL) and Resource Investigator (RI)

This is the third most commonly-found combination of top two roles.

Both roles could be described as ‘creative’. For Plants, that creativity usually takes the form of a blank page, creative problem-solving and thinking of new ideas that haven’t occurred to others before.

For Resource Investigators, ideas are often assimilated from external sources. They attend events, keep an ear to the ground and find out what the team needs to make it happen.

Plants tend to work in solitude, free from disturbance, whereas Resource Investigators seek out the stimulus of others.

In short? The Plant comes up with new ideas; the Resource Investigator ‘borrows’ from elsewhere.

Implementer (IMP) and Completer Finisher (CF)

According to our latest research, this is the most common combination of top two Team Roles.

Both are ‘action’ or task-focused roles, but their approaches are very different. Implementers like to build and execute systems and processes to get things done as efficiently as possible.

Completer Finishers are more concerned with getting the details right, and may even miss deadlines in their question for perfection.

In short? The Implementer wants to get it done; the Completer Finisher wants to get it right.

Completer Finisher (CF) and Specialist (SP)

The fifth most common combination of Team Roles, these two roles share focus. Completer Finishers focus on the minutiae – the fine details, the potential errors or omissions which could ‘make or break’ a project.

Specialists study a particular subject in depth – and are called upon as subject experts.

For these two roles, the motivation behind their focus is different. Completer Finishers are driven by anxiety to make sure that everything is correct. Specialists are motivated by a love of learning and a thirst for knowledge.

In short? Completer Finishers ensure high standards; Specialists ensure professional standards.

Shaper (SH) and Implementer (IMP)

Both roles have a desire for action, but this can manifest in different ways.

For Shapers, the drive to meet the deadline necessitates keeping the team focused on (and challenged by) their goals, without the Shaper getting involved in the practicalities.

Implementers motivate themselves to meet deadlines by planning the most practical way of working and following this method until the work is done.

In short? Shapers drive others to meet goals; Implementers are driven by efficiency.

Shaper (SH) and Co-ordinator (CO)

Shapers and Co-ordinators can both command a room, but their styles are different.

Shapers are concerned with direction – driving the team towards its goals and ensuring that deadlines are met. This is why they tend to adopt a more authoritarian approach.

Co-ordinators are concerned with building consensus and ensuring that all voices are heard. Their style tends to be more facilitative.

In short? Shapers drive and direct; Co-ordinators encourage and facilitate.

Next Steps

The more you use the Belbin Team Role language, the easier it becomes to remember the nuances and behaviours of each of the Team Roles.

We run Accreditation courses for those of you who would like real in-depth understanding of the theory and the reports.

For those who prefer a more hands-on practical session, have a look at our Introduction to Belbin Sessions. Contact us for more details.

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