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With the Olympics underway, I am again reminded of how the sport of sailing led me to incorporating the work of Dr. Meredith Belbin as a central business model in the work we do with our clients.

Since the early 1990s, 3Circle Partners has worked with a range of organizations, including many Fortune 500 companies, helping them to develop better functioning teams. In 2000, I was facilitating a workshop in Europe. Many nationalities were represented in the workshop. Towards the end of the workshop, a Swedish participant approached me to share an anecdote and make a suggestion. What he shared with me immediately caught my interest.

In his spare time, he belonged to a yachting (sailing) team. They took their yachting quite seriously. About three years prior, they had consistently been coming in around twentieth place in races they entered. They knew their boat was somewhat inferior, which they assumed accounted for their less than stellar performances. Then the team became involved with a yachting coach who was trained in Belbin Team Roles and he applied the methodology to their team. Fast-forwarding three years, they were consistently coming in about second in their races.  They had the same yacht and the same team. The participant told me that he had very much enjoyed my workshop but that he felt it could really benefit from the inclusion of Belbin Team Role Theory.

This discussion struck a chord with me and the next time I happened to be in England, I went down to Cambridge where Dr. Meredith Belbin and his team reside. I learned about the nine years he spent researching team composition at Henley Business College.  Dr. Belbin and his team of researchers conducted ground breaking work on the factors that made teams either effective or ineffective. The outcome of this research is his seminal work on Team Role Theory, which explains why it is the mix of different team skills within the team that is the primary determinant of team effectiveness.

In research trials, Belbin and his colleagues were able to accurately predict which teams of executives would do well in management simulations and which would falter. The findings have since been applied worldwide to real-life business situations.

As a result of this contribution to management science, Dr. Belbin is now regarded, along with the likes of Peter Drucker and W. Edwards Deming, as one of major contributors to the field of management thinking in the 20th and 21st Century.

We have been using this approach now for more than 15 years. It has become foundational to our work with clients around the globe. So, as world class athletes work together to achieve their sports goals, I am grateful to recall how the sport of sailing indirectly changed the underpinnings of how we help transform business teams today.


Max Isaac is the CEO of 3Circle Partners. He brings a depth of knowledge and experience from his career in general management and consulting in North America, England, Europe and Asia.  Additionally, Max is co-author of four books.  The most recent Close the Interaction Gap: Discover, harness, and accelerate the collaborative potential of your leaders, teams, and organization, was written with Anton McBurnie.

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