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Meredith Belbin is a British researcher and management theorist best known for his work on management teams. He is a visiting professor and Honorary Fellow of Henley Management College in Oxfordshire, England.
Early life and work
Raymond Meredith Belbin was born in 1926. He took both his first and second degrees, Classics and then Psychology at Clare College, Cambridge. His first appointment after his doctorate was as a research fellow at Cranfield College (now Cranfield School of Management at Cranfield University). His early research focused mainly on older workers in industry. He returned to Cambridge and joined the Industrial Training Research Unit (ITRU) where his wife Eunice was director and he subsequently became chairman. Belbin combined this job with acting as OECD consultant running successful demonstration projects in Sweden, Austria, UK and the United States.
It was while at ITRU, in the late 1960s, that Belbin was invited to carry out research at what was then called the Administrative Staff College at Henley-on-Thames. The work which formed the basis of his 1981 classic took several years and, after publication, it was some time before its real importance was recognised. Having an interest in group as well as individual behaviour, but with no particular theories about teams, Belbin enlisted the aid of three other scholars: Bill Hartston, mathematician and international chess master; Jeanne Fisher, an anthropologist who had studied Kenyan tribes; and Roger Mottram, an occupational psychologist. Together they began what was to be a seven-year task. Three business games a year, with eight teams in each game, and then in meeting after meeting, observing, categorising and recording all the different kinds of contribution from team members.
In 1988, Belbin established, with his son Nigel, Belbin Associates to publish and promote his research.
Belbin's 1981 book Management Teams presented conclusions from his work studying how members of teams interacted during business games run at Henley Management College. Amongst his key conclusions was the proposition that an effective team has members that cover eight (later nine) key roles in managing the team and how it carries out its work. This may be separate from the role each team member has in carrying out the work of the team.
- Plant: A creative, imaginative, unorthodox team-member who solves difficult problems. Although they sometimes situate themselves far from the other team members, they always come back to present their brilliant idea.
- Resource Investigator: The "Resource Investigator" is the networker for the group. Whatever the team needs, the Resource Investigator is likely to have someone in their address book who can either provide it or know someone else who can provide it. This may be physical, financial or human resources, political support, information or ideas. Being highly driven to make connections with people, the Resource Investigator may appear to be flighty and inconstant, but their ability to call on their connections is highly useful to the team. Explores opportunities, make contacts, shares external information; negotiates with outsiders; responds well to challenges
- Chairman (1981) / Co-ordinator (1988): The "Chairman/Co-ordinator" ensures that all members of the team are able to contribute to discussions and decisions of the team. Their concern is for fairness and equity among team members. Those who want to make decisions quickly, or unilaterally, may feel frustrated by their insistence on consulting with all members, but this can often improve the quality of decisions made by the team. Clarifies goals; helps allocate roles, responsibilities, and duties; articulates group conclusions
- Shaper: A dynamic team-member who loves a challenge and thrives on pressure. This member possesses the drive and courage required to overcome obstacles. Seeks patterns in group work; pushes group toward agreement and decisions; challenges others
- Monitor-Evaluator: A sober, strategic and discerning member, who tries to see all options and judge accurately. This member contributes a measured and dispassionate analysis and, through objectivity, stops the team committing itself to a misguided task. Analyzes problems and complex issues; monitors progress and prevents mistakes; assesses the contributions of others; sees all options; judges accurately
- Team Worker: The "Team Worker" is concerned to ensure that interpersonal relationships within the team are maintained. They are sensitive to atmospheres and may be the first to approach another team member who feels slighted, excluded or otherwise attacked but has not expressed their discomfort. The Team Worker's concern with people factors can frustrate those who are keen to move quickly, but their skills ensure long-term cohesion within the team. Gives personal support and help to others; socially oriented and sensitive to others; resolves conflicts; calms the waters; serves as an in-group diplomat
- Company Worker (1981) / Implementer (1988): The "Implementer" is the practical thinker who can create systems and processes that will produce what the team wants. Taking a problem and working out how it can be practically addressed is their strength. Being strongly rooted in the real world, they may frustrate other team members by their perceived lack of enthusiasm for inspiring visions and radical thinking, but their ability to turn those radical ideas into workable solutions is important.
- Completer Finisher: The "Completer Finisher" is the detail person within the team. They have a great eye for spotting flaws and gaps and for knowing exactly where the team is in relation to its schedule. Team members who have less preference for detail work may be frustrated by their analytical and meticulous approach, but the work of the Completer Finisher ensures the quality and timeliness of the output of the team. Emphasizes the need for meeting schedules, deadlines, and completing tasks; searches out errors
- Specialist (1988): Belbin later added a ninth role, the "Specialist", who brings 'specialist' knowledge to the team. Single-minded, self-starting, dedicated; provides unique or rare expertise and skills
Based on Belbin's model of nine team roles, managers or organisations building working teams would be advised to ensure that each of the roles can be performed by a team member. Some roles are compatible and can be more easily fulfilled by the same person; some are less compatible and are likely to be done well by people with different behavioural clusters. This means that a team need not be as many as nine people, but perhaps should be at least three or four.
While comparisons can be drawn between Belbin's behavioural team roles and personality types, the roles represent tasks and functions in the self-management of the team's activities. Tests exist to identify ideal team roles, but this does not preclude an extravert from being a Completer Finisher, nor an introvert from being a Resource Investigator.
Criticisms of the model
While Belbin's model has become well known and is taught as a standard part of much management training, there are many criticisms of both the model itself and the way it is sometimes erroneously used.
The research which identified these roles was conducted on established executives studying at the Administrative Staff College at Henley (now renamed Henley Management College); they were selected for the prestigious course by their firms who had identified them as high-fliers expected to go on to senior management. The sample was therefore already highly selective. Belbin himself points out in his book that many people that might otherwise have made excellent managers might have de-selected themselves from attending the programme.
The exercises given consisted of a game designed to simulate business decision-making with an emphasis on generating profit in a fictitious company, and a version of Monopoly specially adapted to remove the chance elements and enable groups to play in teams against other teams. While Belbin draws on examples from real organisations, the development of the model is based on the behaviour of subjects in the artificial environment of the business school exercise.
Some people teach that all eight/nine roles must be present for a team to function well. Belbin himself acknowledges that some teams consisting of one Shaper and a group of "yes" men perform well, especially where predictability was high. His book identifies a number of combinations that performed well in the exercises, especially where the teams were aware of "missing" roles within their ranks.
Some people attempt to match Belbin's roles with Carl Jung's eight personality types, with the nine types of the Enneagram of Personality or another personality type classification. Belbin is at pains to point out that the team roles are not personality types. He regards them as clusters of characteristics, of which psychological preference is but one dimension.
Automated Belbin reports, available from some management training companies should not, therefore, be used as the basis for recruitment or promotion decisions. The weakness of the shaper is that they might become bad tempered/bad humored when getting things done. The weakness of an Implementer is that they are sometimes slow to relinquish their plans in positive manner. A finisher can put too much detail into one section and not follow a specified time frame. A Co-ordinator can be considered overly enthusiastic at times. Team worker may find it difficult to make decisions on own. Resource investigator may forget to follow a lead.
- Belbin Team Inventory
- Cog's Ladder
- Cross-functional team
- Group development
- Group dynamics
- Group (sociology)
- Organisational development
- Team building