We all have preferred ways of working and interacting with others (we call these Team Roles), but sometimes we can become set in our ways.
When this happens, we miss out on the opportunity to learn and grow. As well as identifying preferred Team Roles, Belbin reveals your "manageable roles" – latent strengths which require you to step a little outside your comfort zone – and offers advice on how to cultivate these to best advantage.
On the other hand, it is possible to spend too much time working to least preferred roles – those behaviours that don't come naturally. This can happen when there is no one to step in and fill a Team Role void.
Over time, it's likely to be a drain on employee engagement and morale, not to mention that it can diminish the Team Role strengths which are languishing unused.
The occasional "Team Role sacrifice" (working out of role) is unavoidable, but try to communicate around it – why it is necessary, how long it is expected to last, and what support can be provided longer term to help alleviate the problem.
Sometimes, Belbin can reveal that your team is relying on one person to fulfil a certain contribution for the whole team. That's a lot of pressure on one pair of shoulders. And if that role is only a manageable role, the problem is intensified further.
It depends on the Team Role in question – for some roles a little goes a long way – but it’s worth checking whether that person is feeling the heat, and having a contingency plan in place for when they're not around.
What constitutes an optimal environment varies from one person to the next.
Plants and Specialists might need space and quiet to come up with new ideas or give a subject their undivided attention. Teamworkers and Co-ordinators, on the other hand, need to interact with others on a regular basis. And Resource Investigators need to get out and about – there's no quicker way to lose one than to try and chain them to the desk.
As far as is practical, try and ensure that everyone gets what they need from the workplace, even if that means switching things around a bit.
The opposite also holds true – too many of the same Team Roles in the mix is a recipe for disaster.
This problem is more likely to occur with Specialists (who can be territorial over their subject matter), Shapers (who aren’t afraid to lock horns) and Plants (who will become entrenched in pursuing their own ideas).
It's best to limit the number of Plants and Shapers on each team. To boost engagement amongst Specialists, make the boundaries clear so that each person has his or her own area.
When it comes to teams, a balance of Team Roles is key. In pairings, the dynamic is even more important, since any niggles are likely to be exacerbated by personal chemistry, or lack of it.
Aim to pair up people with different strengths so that one can complement the other, but look for a Team Role in common too – a similarity of approach can provide mutual understanding.
Amazon's two-pizza rule, attributed to CEO Jeff Bezos, suggests that if there are more than two pizzas at the meeting, the team is too big.
Dr Belbin's ideal team size is four – any bigger and it slows things down and precludes important decision-making. Keeping the numbers even means that decisions have to be made by majority rule, rather than one person having a casting vote.
Regardless of function, if you know someone has a vital Team Role contribution to make, consider changing things around.
It isn't always possible within a company's structure to build a team from scratch, but you can use Team Roles within that framework to include the right people. When you have the opportunity to build new teams, use Team Roles to balance them, bearing in mind that you don’t need all roles at every stage.
When it comes to forming project teams, it's a delicate balance. Bring too many people in too early and progress will be frustratingly slow; leave it too late to involve a key person and the team may land up rushing to redo work at the end.
As a rule of thumb, allow Co-ordinators and Shapers to identify goals and manage people and processes throughout. Start with Plants and Resource Investigators to generate ideas and situate them within the market, then bring in Monitor Evaluators and Specialists to help analyse plans and provide expert advice. You'll need Implementers and Teamworkers to carry out the work and a Completer Finisher to check things through at the end. More on Belbin for project teams
It's easier to suggest that someone needs to manage their non-allowable Shaper weaknesses than to claim that person is aggressive.
Belbin is a universal language for personal development, teambuilding and conflict resolution. Understanding Team Role behaviours helps people to maximise their strengths and manage their weaknesses, and enables teams to work more effectively together.
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