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People don’t leave organisations, they leave managers, right? Wrong. That’s according to Culture Amp, who have conducted a literature review to dispute the findings of data giants, Gallup.

Gallup, says Culture Amp, is all too ready to place blame for poor employee engagement and retention at the manager’s door, offering management training and consultancy by way of a solution. They find instead that the efficacy of management only comes into play in ‘good’ organisations where leadership and culture are not already sending people running for the door. Whilst other studies back up Gallup’s findings, the importance of leadership and culture is also emphasised.[1] So, how best to stop good people leaving?

The manager, the gatekeeper

Gallup claims that one in two employees has left a job to get away from their manager, and that managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement.[2]

There’s no doubt that poor management is an insidious problem within many organisations. Managers are in a position to act as gatekeepers, making or breaking an employee’s day-to-day experience, marshalling the deployment of talent within their teams and enhancing or limiting development opportunities for others.

What do we mean by a ‘bad’ manager?

There are myriad ways for a working relationship to fail. There’s the manager who takes credit for the team. The one who plays favourites. The one whose behaviour is ‘toxic’, alienating everyone around them. The one who is trying desperately to communicate and finding it impossible to reach common ground. And to make matters more complicated, someone might make an ideal manager for some of the team, whilst hitting a brick wall when trying to manage others.

Enter Belbin Team Roles – a means of measuring and codifying behavioural contributions to a team and a shorthand for referring to those contributions. Strong working relationships require balance and complimentarity of skills and viewpoints, whereas interpersonal chemistry often requires some behavioural approaches in common. Too little and there is no common ground. Too much and there could be a fight over behavioural territory, which is likely to play out in the manager’s favour.

Interpersonal chemistry is complex, and it would be idealistic to suggest that a framework such as Belbin can explain away any difficulties arising between individuals, or indeed that we can always work to optimal Team Role combinations. But it does offer a ‘way in’ – helping people move past hierarchy and drill down to the level of individual difference. Even understanding the tensions at play can help ease those very tensions. Belbin Team Roles offer a depersonalised language of strengths and contributions. The more we use, and become familiar with, that language, the more we strengthen the muscle memory of synergy and compromise in our words and deeds, working around the behaviours which cause us to lock horns with others.

Mind the communication gap

Even with the best intentions, complimentary Team Roles and a following wind, many managers (69% according to Harvard Business Review) have difficulties communicating with employees, especially when handling the subject of ‘weaknesses’ – their employees’ and their own.[3]

Keep it impersonal, says Harvard, and that’s just what the language of Team Roles does. The helicopter manager who scrutinises others’ work is perhaps a strong Completer Finisher, who may need to rein in their perfectionism to demonstrate trust in the team. The manager receiving accolades for the team’s work without acknowledging others’ contributions is manipulating the situation for personal gain – a ‘non-allowable’ trait of a Co-ordinator manager. A manager with strong Monitor Evaluator tendencies is likely to resist the enthusiasm of a Resource Investigator team member and feel more comfortable planning with the resident Implementer. However, both contributions may be required for the team’s success. Identifying, understanding and articulating these behaviours helps keep the lines of communication open, ensuring that everyone feels valued.

What’s more, Team Roles are made up of strengths and associated weaknesses. So, in the light of an individual’s contributions, what might otherwise be seen as ‘shortcoming’ – a problem to solve – can instead be understood as the flipside to a behavioural strength. By focusing on strengths and using complimentary working groups to mitigate associated weaknesses, managers can hone individual talents and get the team working more effectively. Suddenly, the prospect of feedback doesn’t seem so daunting either.

But what of ‘bad’ organisations, where leadership and culture are turning away talented people?

Leading in diversity

It makes sense that – on a grand scale – leadership might play a greater part in retention than does management. In many cases, difficulties with an individual manager are surmountable by moving to another team or department. However, lack of trust or confidence in leadership – or a culture which stifles growth – are problems which can’t be so easily solved. And that’s how organisations risk haemorrhaging loyal workers.

In order to keep faith with their people, leaders need not only a clear vision, but a strong understanding of their organisation’s culture and how behavioural diversity is fostered and maintained. It’s all too tempting to clone successful individuals or to create an atmosphere which is toxic to those with different skillsets. Without careful curation, organisations all too easily make narrow cultural moulds, which can be difficult to break.

Finding your own answers

Clearly, the picture is nuanced. The research may be of professional or academic interest, but overall trends are really immaterial. The true value to industry lies in making a diagnosis specific to our own organisations. By the time it comes to exit interviews (which, as data gathering exercise, have their own severe limitations) it’s too late. It’s crucial to identify problems specific to a team or manager (or, indeed, endemic within the organisation) before they are allowed to take hold.

What could your Belbin data tell you?

Using Belbin in your organisation gives you access to a powerful diagnostic which can measure – and advise on – everything from Team Role culture through a team’s behavioural DNA to the intricacies of a particular working relationship. With Belbin in your corner, your managers and leaders will have the confidence to build stronger teams and nurture diverse talent.

Why not arrange a call to find out how Belbin can help you today?


[1] Forbes: People Leave Managers, Not Companies

[2] State of the American Manager, Gallup, 2013

[3] HBR: Two-Thirds of Managers Are Uncomfortable Communicating with Employees

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