The Wisdom of Teams is a true classic among Twentieth Century business books. Based on detailed interviews with 47 teams across the US, it uncovers the wisdom of what teams can achieve, and how they can perform at their best.
The authors of The Wisdom of Teams acknowledge that what they discovered is both obvious, in that we recognise the truths straight away, and subtle, in that making sense of them in the real world can be hard. They rank their findings as both common sense and uncommon sense. And all this is as it should be. Teams are people. And people working together can be messy and hard to characterise.
So, while the book has been criticised for its obviousness, and also for being too long and sharing too many long stories, this is its nature. Real team stories show not just the obvious truths, but the subtle complexities too. Perhaps the biggest idea of the Wisdom of Teams is that there is no one Big Idea, but many smaller big ideas.
The idea of Multiple Intelligences is the brainchild of Harvard Professor, Howard Gardner. As big ideas go, they don’t get bigger and simpler than this one.
Big, because the idea of Multiple Intelligences addresses something fundamental in all of us. It’s about our different capacities to excel in the full variety of human endeavours. It has a lot to say about how we should value the people around us, and the best way to educate our children.
Yet it is also disarmingly simple. There’s no single measure of intelligence. And neither should we reserve the label ‘intelligent’ for a narrow band of people who are simply intelligent in one of a small number of ways. Human potential expresses itself in a vast variety of forms. And so does our intelligence.
Charles Margerison and Dick McCann developed one of the leading tools to help managers with team performance.
When you want your team to perform well, there are two approaches you can take:
Manage them well
Select them for a good balance
There are tools available for each, though there are fewer to help with selecting a balanced team. Of those there are, without a doubt, Meredith Belbin‘s Team Roles is the best known by far.
But it is not the only game in town. You might choose it for its simplicity. But for sophistication, let’s look at the work of Charles Margerison and Dick McCann.
Charles Margerison grew up in the 1940s in the UK. He studied economics at the University of London School of Economics, securing a BSc. He remained to research a PhD in educational psychology. In 1967, he moved to Bradford University, and in 1971 was awarded his second PhD, in social science.
Some time after this, he moved to Australia, and joined the staff of University of Queensland. He was Professor of Management from 1982 to 1989.
From 1982, he worked with Dick McCann to research team management. And, in 1985, they co-founded Team Management Systems. He remains a part of the business, as well as being a director and President of Amazing People Worldwide.
Charles Margerison has written many books, including one with Dick McCann.
Dick McCann also grew up in the 1940s, but in Australia. From 1961-5, he studied for a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering, at the University of Queensland. He followed this with a PhD. In 1969, he moved to England, to work for BP Chemicals. There, he worked as a research engineer, and also trained as a certified accountant.
In 1974, he returned to Australia, to become a research fellow at the University of Sydney. In 1982, he started his collaboration with Charles Margerison.
In 1985, Dick McCann became the Managing Director of Team Management Systems in Australia. At the same time, his co-founder focused on European and US expansion.
Dick McCann stepped down from his director role in 2015, but remains involved in research. He is author of four books. They include Team Management: Practical New Approaches, which he co-wrote with Margerison.
Margerison and McCann’s Contribution
Margerison and McCann have developed a fair number of interconnecting models. There is too much to attempt to describe them here. They include work on:
Opportunities and Obstacles
We’ll focus on their most widely used model, the Margerison-McCann Team Management Wheel. But before we can get to it, we must first understand the work that underpins it: the Margerison-McCann Types of Work Wheel.
Types of Work
Margerison and McCann interviewed with over 300 managers. They wanted to find what made a difference between good and poor performance.
When they assessed the team members’ activities, their data fell into eight work functions. They describe them as:
Gathering and reporting information
Creating and experimenting with ideas
Exploring and presenting opportunities
Assessing and testing the applicability of new approaches
Establishing and implementing ways of making things work
Concluding and delivering outputs
Controlling and auditing the working of systems
Upholding and safeguarding standards and processes
From their work, they suggest that different jobs have different critical functions. These need people with the right skills and competencies, to perform them well.
Margerison and McCann present these types of work in a trade-marked Types of Work Wheel, which we present here with a link back to the TMS website.
Critical Work Functions
Let’s compare two examples that they offer. For each, they give three ‘critical work functions’. These make the difference between good and poor job performance.
Finance and Accounting
The critical work work functions are: Organizing, Producing and Inspecting.
The critical work functions are Advising, Innovating and Developing.
From here, it isn’t hard to see how Margerison and McCann relate their work functions to individuals’ work preferences.
This creates their concept of ‘role preferences’. These are the roles in a team that people are most likely to enjoy. When people’s critical work functions match their work preferences, they are likely to:
be happier in their job
Team Role Preferences
The role preferences are:
Supportive. Enjoys collecting and sharing information. Knowledgeable and flexible.
Imaginative, creative, and able to embrace complexity and uncertainty. Enjoys researching new ideas.
Enjoys exploring possibilities, looking for new opportunities, and then selling them to colleagues. Persuasive, fast thinking, and easily bored.
Analytical and objective. Enjoys ideas, developing and testing new opportunities, and making them work.
Highly results-focused, Likes to set up systems, push forward and see results. Analytical, but quick to make decisions.
Highly practical. Enjoys systematic planning and work processes. Takes pride in efficiency, effectiveness, and quality of outputs.
Enjoys focusing on and controlling the detailed aspects of their work. Good at checking and enforcing standards, but less skilled with informal influencing.
Likes to uphold standards and values. Can be conservative in the face of change, but has a strong sense of purpose.
How Margerison and McCan Identified their Role Preferences
Margerison and McCann worked with four measures related to how people approached work. They were strongly influenced in the choices by Carl Jung’s psychological types. So you’ll see a strong relationship to the work of Isabel Briggs-Myers and Katharine Briggs.
Margerison and McCann’s measures are:
How people prefer to relate with others
How people prefer to gather and use information
How people prefer to make decisions
How people prefer to organize themselves and others
These measures lead to RIDO scales (Relationships, Information, Decisions, Organization). And the scales showed a strong relationship to the Types of Work.
Like the Types of Work Wheel, they present their team role preferences as a Team Management Wheel. Again, we present this trademarked model with a link to the TMS website.
The Linker Role
At the centre of the wheel is the ‘Linker’ role. Every jobholder needs this role to be successful in their job. It involves integrating and co-ordinating other people’s work. This is both within the team, and with external players.
This role is particularly important for the team leader, as you’d expect.
Linking comprises thirteen skills:
six people skills
five task skills
for the team leader, two leadership skills
These, however, are the subject of a whole other model, the Linking Leader Model.
Psychologists and, before them, philosophers have spent centuries trying to divide us into types. Whilst their attempts have had somewhat less of the hocus-pocus and downright prejudice to them than the racial typographies of some early ethnographers, many systems have advanced little beyond Hippocrates’ theory of four temperaments based on the bodily humours.
Rigour in Personality Testing
It wasn’t until the twentieth century that scientists had the statistical tools to analyse and understand personality with any rigour. Even so, the strongest, most widely used personality classification system – the so-called ‘Big Five’ Personality Factors – is still a matter of much research and debate as we reach approach the third decade of the twenty first century.
So perhaps the biggest change that the twentieth century wrought was not in reliability, but in accessibility and application. Personality assessment tools became widely popular and, through the second half of that century, widely used in workplaces to support selection, group development, team-building, personal development, marital counselling, and a range of other uses. Not all of the uses have been endorsed by the developers of these tools. And not all tools are widely supported by the more rigorously trained academic community of psychology.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
And so we come to Katherine Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs-Myers. Their tool, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, is very widely used. Every day, trainers and development professionals introduce it to new cohorts of staff and managers. These employees often take full self-evaluation questionnaire and are then told what this means about them and their colleagues.
The moments of insight are a joy to watch. The MBTI certainly seems to capture something of our personality, and explain something of our behaviours. But does it? This remarkably resilient and successful tool started through nothing less than a mother’s desire to understand her daughter’s choice of husband. What mother can’t empathise with that?
Katherine Cook Briggs
Katherine Cook was born in Michigan, in 1875 and was home schooled. Her father was an academic. She went to college to study agriculture and stayed on as a teacher and academic. She married prominent physicist and administrator, Lyman Briggs.
As her daughter grew up, Briggs became interested in children’s educational and social development. This led her to create a vocation test for children, which she thought could guide a child’s future well-being. This thinking focused on four personality types: meditative, spontaneous, executive, and sociable. These are still present among the wider set of 16 MBTI types.
Her quest was to find one unifying theory, and she considered ideas from many philosophers, scientists, and psychologists. Her own big breakthrough was when she discovered the work of Carl Jung. He advocated for four principal psychological functions by which we experience the world: sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking. This, along with our orientations to extroversion or introversion, give us the Jungian Personality Types, which Briggs and her daughter developed into their own type indicator model.
Isabel Briggs was born in 1897, and was home schooled by her mother. Following her mother’s discovery of Jung’s work, Briggs-Myers (now married) became interested in the work too, focusing on how character and personality influence the type of work we might thrive in. Together, they developed their framework and the questionnaire that goes with it. They began a long program of observation and discussion, refining their interpretation of Jung’s work.
During World War II, Briggs Myers wanted to help reduce conflict among people, but more pragmatically also to understand why some people hated their jobs in the military and others thrived.
It wasn’t until 1945 that they did some solid empirical research. With the help of Lyman Briggs, they ran their first MBTI assessment on around 5,500 George Washington Medical School students. Briggs Myers studied the results for years, searching for patterns among dropouts and successful students.
The Outcome of the Work
Briggs was the primary driving force and inspiration behind the creation of the MBTI from Jung’s original work. Briggs-Myers created the physical test itself, and did the work on validation and interpretation.
The result was one of the best-known and widely used personality tools, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Wikipedia reports that an estimated 50 million people have taken the MBTI. Whilst it is not widely endorsed by the academic community, and is based on largely desk-research and theorisation, rather than empirical trials, the MBTI remans popular. This is doubtless due to the ease of superficial understanding.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – MBTI
The MBTI classifies personality types along four pairs of categories. Briggs-Myers and Briggs claimed that we all fit into one of the 16 possible combinations of personality type, and that we have a dominant preference in each pair.
The Type Indicator is a test to assess which personality type offers the ‘best fit’ with the assertion that knowing your personality type that will help you succeed in life. The three original pairs of preferences from Jung’s typology (Extraversion and Introversion, Sensing and Intuition, Thinking and Feeling) are supplemented by a fourth pair (Judging and Perceiving), added by Briggs-Myers.
This is a phenomenally rich model and there are many excellent resources online. So here, we’ll only attempt a very superficial outline of the types.
Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I)
This axis refers to where where we get our energy from, and where we direct our attention. This can be on people and things in the outer world; extraversion. Or it can be on ourselves and our inner world; introversion.
Sensing (S) or Intuition (N)
This axis refers to how we like to deal with information. People with a Sensing preference tend to focus on the basic information, whilst the Intuiting type prefers to interpret the information, and add meaning.
Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
This axis refers to how we like to make decisions. Thinkers like to make objective decisions, using logic and rationality. The feeling style is more subjective, considering special circumstances, and how people feel.
Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)
This axis refers to how we like to dealt with experiences and circumstances. The judging style prefers to make a choice, and stick with it. The Perceiver likes to stay open to new information and options, and respond flexibly.
Assessment of the MBTI
The MBTI correlates poorly with more robustly researched psychological traits or types models, like the Big Five Personality factors. So why do so many people readily endorse their MBTI type? The answer, I think, lies in a combination of two factors.
Firstly, while not a strong correlation with rigorous typographies, it is derived from extensive observation and the factors that make up the MBTI undeniably exist – regardless of whether they are truly the ‘right’ fundamental elements of personality.
And secondly, we have our old friend, the Forer Effect. This is the tendency of people to rate sets of statements as highly accurate for them personally even though the statements are highly general and could apply to many people. If this sounds worrying, it is. The Forer Effect (sometimes known as the Barnum Effect (after showman and huckster PT Barnum) is also the basis of much mentalism and fraudulent cold reading.
The MBTI definitely has value as a personal and executive development tool. But if the trainers and specialists who deploy it do not make its limitations clear, they are doing your organisation a disservice.
Arguably, it is how Nonaka and Takeuchi took some of their thinking forward that has led to a far bigger transformation. In 1985, they co-wrote an article for the January 1986 edition of Harvard Business Review. Called ‘The New New Product Development Game’, this article was instrumental in revolutionising the discipline of Project Management.
Takeuchi and Nonaka gave us a new way of thinking about how to develop products and deliver projects. And they coined an evocative sporting metaphor for their process, which has stuck: Scrum.
Born in 1935, Ikujiro Nonaka gained a BS in political science at Waseda University, then started work at Fuji Electric, where he created their management programme. Nonaka left Fuji in 1967, to study at the University of California, Berkeley. He was awarded his MBA in 1968, and his PhD in Business Administration, in 1972. He took posts at US universities, before returning to Japan, as a professor at the Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy, Hitotsubashi University.
Born in 1946, Hirotaka Takeuchi got his BA from the International Christian University, Tokyo. After a short spell working at McCann-Erickson, he went to the University of California, Berkeley, where he got his MBA in 1971, and his PhD in 1977. During his time at Berkeley, he also worked summers for McKinsey & Company in Tokyo and, more important, met Nonaka.
Takeushi took a lectureship at Harvard in 1976 until 1983, when he joined Hitotsubashi University School of Commerce, where he became a full professor and Dean of the Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy. He stayed until 2010, when he returned to Harvard, as Professor of Management Practice, where he is now.
The New New Product Development Game.
In January 1986, Harvard Business Review published ‘The New New Product Development Game‘ by Takeuchi and Nonaka. This was about a new way to do New Product Development, or NPD. They drew on the idea of ‘ba’ – a Japanese coinage of Nonaka’s, meaning a meeting place for minds and the energy that draws out knowledge and creates new ideas.
They also took a look at the Toyota idea of teams coming together to solve problems. They introduced a sporting metaphor from the game of Rugby; that of the scrum. They used scrum to denote the way teams work together intensively when the ball goes out of play. In a work environment that demands creativity and innovative problem solving, this is just what is needed.
The model they created for Scrum Teams is of a cross functional group that can work autonomously to resolve its own problems. Their organisation is ’emergent’ meaning there is no assigned leadership or structure; it just emerges from the effective collaboration of its members.
To work best, a Scrum Team needs to be co-located, and work together full-time. This allows a high level of cross-fertilisation of ideas, and a dedication to working on their shared problems, tasks, and initiatives.
Scrum as an Agile Project Management Methodology
Agile project management seeks to avoid the all-or-nothing approach to projects that used to characterise traditional approaches – especially when done in a way that slavishly follows a set of ‘rules’. Although good project managers have always incorporated a lot of plan-do-review (the Deming Cycle), the growth of software development projects demanded an increase focus on agility and incrementalism.
In Scrum projects, a Product Owner is responsible for detailing the business requirements and ensuring that the business gets a good return on its product development investment (RoI). The Scrum Team, led by a Scrum Master, selects one subset of functionality from a product backlog of undeveloped functions, divides it into tasks, and works intensively on developing the outputs for a fixed time, known as a Sprint, which is usually 30 days.
Each day, the team gets together for a daily Scrum Meeting to share learning, report progress, discuss challenges, and solve problems. At the end of the sprint, the team should produce a working product that is stable and useful. After a reflection and learning process, the team then works with the product owner to define the subset of functionality it will work on in the next sprint.
The team continues like this until the Product Owner concludes that the next sprint would not create enough additional value to justify the incremental cost.
We tend to think of leading management theorists as coming from the United States. This seems especially so of Scientific Management. But when the privilege of naming things for the world’s largest audience goes to those who write in English, history creates a bias. And because that audience largely reads only one language, that bias gets amplified.
One of many losers from the Anglo-centric nature of management and business thinking was Karol Adamiecki. He was a Polish engineer, turned economist and management thinker, who can claim to have invented the Gantt Chart before Henry Gantt, PERT before the US Navy, the Theory of Constraints before Eliyahu Goldratt, and much of Scientific Management before FW Taylor.
Karol Adamiecki was born in southern Poland, in 1866. He studied engineering at the Institute of Technology in St Petersburg, graduating in 1891. He then returned to his home town, where he took charge of a steel mill. He stayed for nearly 30 years, during which time, he formed his ideas about management.
In 1919, he left the mill, and became a lecturer at the Warsaw Polytechnic, becoming a professor in 1922. There, he further codified and published his ideas. In 1925, he founded the Institute of Scientific Management in Warsaw, becoming its Director and remaining until his death in 1933.
Adamiecki’s Law of Harmony in Management
While running the steel rolling mill, Karol Adamiecki developed sophisticated thinking around management that was, from our perspective, ahead of its time. The three principal components were:
Harmony of Choice
Management should select and supply production tools that are mutually compatible. He went on to argue that this should be especially so in terms of their output production speed. This anticipated the Theory of Constraints, and the ideas of Eliyahu Goldratt by 75 years or more.
Harmony of Doing
Sequencing and scheduling of activities need to be fully co-ordinated to optimise production efficiency. Here, he not only developed a tool that looks very similar to the Gantt Chart, well before Gantt published. His approach also anticipated the US Navy’s Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) and du Pont’s Critical Path Method (CPM) by over 50 years.
Harmony of Spirit
I imagine the Pharaohs’ overseers were constantly emphasising the importance of creating a good team. But this is another theme that feels very modern – perhaps even more so than the other two. Let’s not forget that Taylor’s view of Scientific Management was mechanistic and process-oriented. It took Mayo to bring humanism to the fore, and ideas of team working in management only started to dominate from the 1970s.
Adamiecki started to publish in 1898, several years before Taylor did so.
Harmony of Doing:
The Harmonograph or Harmonogram (or Harmonograf)
In 1896, Adamiecki solved the problem of sequencing and scheduling in production and published, in1903, his solution. He called it a Harmonograf. And it looks very much like what we now call a Gantt Chart. However, Henry Gantt did not publish until 1910. There is no evidence to suggest Gantt copied Adamiecki’s idea.
In constructing the Harmonograf, however, Adamiecki describes a process that is pretty similar to the PERT and CPM methods. He certainly is able to include critical path and float. These are two concepts Gantt did not consider at all.
As Adamiecki described his methods, he was able to optimise production schedules by sliding paper tabs and arranging paper strips. In a very real sense, he developed an analog scheduling computer.
Without a doubt, Adamiecki’s thinking was of its time, but way ahead of its rediscovery. He possibly failed to realise just how valuable it was. But more likely, he simply suffered from an Anglophone bias in scholarship and manufacturing. Publishing in Polish simply did not get him recognition far beyond the borders of his home country. Even now, it is only in the Karol Adamiecki University of Economics in Katowice, that his name is celebrated.
And I have to ask, could this happen again? Yes. I think it can, will and probably is happening now. Last week, we met Vlatka Hlupic. Arguably, her work is known despite her Croatian origin, because she lives and works in London. With the US and the UK increasingly looking to close their borders for differing but related reasons, the next Karol Adamiecki’s work could well lay undiscovered for just as long as that of the first.
Amy Edmondson is an Engineer turned Management and Leadership Professor, who has made a special study of how to create effective collaboration among small, disparate groups in informal circumstances. This, she believes, is the key to organisational success in a world where innovation is critical.
Very Short Biography
Amy Edmondson grew up in New York, and studied Visual and Environmental Studies and Engineering at Harvard University, graduating in 1981. For a short while, she was Chief Engineer at the Buckminster Fuller Institute. After she left, she published a book, ‘A Fuller Explanation: The Synergetic Geometry of R. Buckminster Fuller’ about Fuller’s ideas.
She then moved to the Pecos River Learning Centers, where she became Director of Research, until starting a PhD in Organisational Behaviour at Harvard in 1991. When she completed it, she joined the staff of Harvard Business School, where she is currently the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management.
For many people, Amy Edmondson came to notice with her 2011 Harvard Business Review article ‘Strategies for Learning from Failure‘. In this, she argues the case for ‘intelligent failures’ setting out a neat model of how failure spans a spectrum from blameworthy to praiseworthy.
The abilities to face up to failure, discuss it candidly, and be curious about it lead nicely into the work for which Edmondson is best known…
Edmondson distinguishes the concept of ‘Teaming’ from the more familiar idea of teamwork. Teaming is about bringing together a diverse group and rapidly creating the conditions for close collaboration. It bears a close relationship with the idea of Swift Trust, which we discussed in an earlier Pocketblog.
However, whilst swift trust focuses on creating a solid basis for long-term collaboration quickly, Edmondson is more interested in short-term, informal collaboration. For this to happen, she identifies ‘three pillars’.
Curiosity – to learn from the people around you
Passion – so that you care enough to work your hardest
Empathy – so you can see things from other people’s points of view
The role of leadership becomes one of role modelling these three behaviours. You must be driven to achieve the goal, enquire deeply into the situation, and tune into the needs and emotions of the people around you.
An important concept that Edmondson introduces in her work on teaming is…
Teaming works – and teams work – when participants collectively feel that members can take risks together safely. They can share feelings and disclose actions without fear of recrimination. This creates a climate of openness, which Edmondson calls ‘Psychological Safety’. Again, the leader needs to model appropriate behaviours, acknowledging your own fallibility, and being curious and empathic.
Crucially, when you achieve psychological safety for your team, work becomes a problem of learning, rather than of executing actions. In this, Edmondson’s work complements Schein’s exceptionally well.
Edmondson in her own Words
There are a number of excellent videos available. In this 12 minute TEDx video, Edmondson is talking about Psychological Safety.
Bruce Tuckman developed a model of group development which is among the most viewed management models on The Management Pocketblog. We cannot wait any longer: we must take a look at his life and work with a wider perspective.
Bruce Tuckman was born and grew up in New York, gaining his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the Renesselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1960, and his MA and PhD from Princeton, in 1962 and 1963 respectively.
From Princeton, he joined the Naval Medical Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, as a research psychologist. Here, he joined a group of researchers that was researching the the behaviours of small groups, thinking about getting the best team working on small crewed naval vessels. His supervisor gave him a stack of fifty research papers, telling him to see what he could make of them. His analysis resulted in the developmental sequence that was to make him famous:
Forming – orientation, relationship building
Storming – conflict
Norming – developing cohesion and behavioural norms
Performing – team inter-dependence and collaboration
From 1965, when he moved to his first academic post, at Rutgers, Tuckman started to focus on Educational Pyschology. In 1978, he moved to City University of New York and then to Florida State University in 1983. In 1998, he moved to Ohio State University, as Professor of Educational Psychology, where he remained until his retirement.
In 1977, Tuckman was invited to review his original work and, with Mary Ann Jensen (at the time a Doctoral student at Rutgers, with Tuckman, and now a psychologist in private practice in Princeton, New Jersey), produced a review paper (Stages of Small-Group Development Revisited) that validated the original work, and added a fifth stage, Adjourning, ‘for which a perfect rhyme could not be found’ said Tuckman. Many practitioners (this author included) prefer to use the term ‘mourning’ – not because it rhymes, but because it reminds us of the emotional impact of separation and therefore of the role of the team leader in ensuring the team acknowledges the loss.
Tuckman’s work on procrastination looks excellent. I was going to look it up but…
As an educational psychologist, most of Tuckman’s work is of limited interest to a management audience. But one topic stood out for me: the bane of many managers’ lives… procrastination. We all do it.
In 1991, while Professor of Educational Psychology at Florida State Univesity, Tuckman published a self evaluation tool to measure tendency to procrastinate. This was a core part of his research into students’ self-motivation in studying. This became a a key plank in much later research which he applied very directly at Ohio State University, where he founded the University’s Dennis Learning Center. They still teach workshops and courses based on Tuckman’s research. All the research related to the learning centre listed on its website is Tuckman’s.
Here’s the research paper that caught my eye: at the American Psychological Association meeting in 2002, Tuckman presented a paper that showed how procrastinators get significantly poorer grades in class. What I wonder is this: is it reasonable to generalise that result to the workplace? I suspect it is.
The message would be clear: ‘just get on with it!’
Meredith Belbin is the leading management thinker in developing our ideas about team roles. His research in the 1970s led him to develop the team-role theory that bears his name. This is now a widely used model, supported by a range of commercially available tools distrbuted and supported by the company he founded in 1988 with his wife, Eunice, and his son, Nigel Belbin.
Meredith Belbin was born in 1926, and grew up in the English Home Counties during the Second World War. After the war, he went to Cambridge to read classics, but transferred to study psychology, where he met his wife, and went on to gain a PhD. His early work was focused on the needs of older workers, but it was when working with his wife at the Industrial training research Unit (ITRU) that he did his breakthrough research.
He was invited to conduct research at the Administrative Staff College (now Henley Management College) and set up a long-running programme of studies with co-researchers, Bill Hartston, Jeanne Fisher, and Roger Mottram. Year after year, they observed teams of managers competing in business games, recording the way team members contributed and cross referencing this with results of numerous psychometric tests.
We have covered much of the detail of Belbin’s Team Roles model in an earlier blog: Meredith Belbin’s Team Roles Model. The fundamental thesis is simple: management succeeds or fails, not on the strengths of individuals, but on the strengths of the team. Because individuals bring individual strengths, personalities, and thinking skills, the strength of a team depends upon the mix of people in it. The components Belbin particularly looked at were:
What Belbin was able to do, was merge the many different psychological and aptitude factors into eight (later extended to nine) archetypes*, which he has carefully noted are not pure personality types. This means that one individual can fulfill more than one of the team roles and, indeed, this is often desirable. Belbin found that the most successful teams had a balance of all of the team roles, but also that teams of around five members are optimal.
Belbin’s later research and writings have been more anthropological and philosophical in nature and have failed to gain much traction. They seem neither as grounded in empirical research as team roles, nor as practical in their application. However, Belbin’s place as a leading thinker is assured. Whilst other models of team roles have emerged – most notably that of Charles Margerison and Dick McCann – Belbin’s core ideas have stood the test of time, and the nine team roles he identified and the tools his company supplies remain the most widely used by management teams.
* ‘archetypes’ is my word, not his – and I do not intend it to suggest any particular affinity between Belbin’s work and Jungian archetypes. In fact, the primary psychometric instrument Belbin used in his research was Cattell’s 16PF.
This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.
‘How intelligent are you?’
We like to measure each other and measuring intelligence seems particularly important to some. Its practice has a long and often unpleasant history. Harvard psychologist, Howard Gardner, has done more than anybody to challenge the ‘single measure’ approach to understanding intelligence, and has introduced a more comprehensive understanding of intelligence.
Instead, Gardner proposed that a better question is:
‘How are you intelligent?’
… in what ways? He proposed that we each have a range of intelligences, which we deploy in varying strengths. Our talents derive from combinations of these intelligences.
Gardner has worked hard to define ‘intelligence’ and set criteria for which capacities to consider as intelligences. Predictably, each of these has attracted much debate. Gardner himself has settled on eight intelligences – others propose more.
Our ability to read, write and communicate using language, used by authors, journalists, orators, debaters and people who speak several languages.
This is shown by analytical thinkers who value reason and are good at calculation; people well suited to science and engineering, the law and accountancy, economics and even detective work.
This makes us highly aware of spatial relationships, shape, colour and form; strong in artists, architects and designers – also navigators and cartographers.
Musical and Rhythmic Intelligence
Do you listen to, make or compose music? This intelligence makes you sensitive to tone, melody, harmony and rhythm. The term virtuoso applies to people such as singers, performers, and composers who have and deploy this intelligence to a high degree.
This intelligence manifests in two ways – both linked to a precise awareness of movement, and control of our bodies.
Some excel at balance and co-ordination, using their whole body with grace and power – think about sportspeople, actors and dancers.
Others exercise control, but through precise use of their hands or feet, excelling in areas like sculpture, surgery, craft.
Interpersonal (Social) Intelligence
This helps us socialise and collaborate, giving an understanding of people (empathy) and helping us to put them at their ease. It accounts for confidence in making small-talk, listening intently and leading naturally. Teachers, therapists, nurses and good salespeople excel interpersonally.
This reflects both the ability to reflect and introspect (mindfulness), and our ability to manage our own motivation, feelings and behaviour.
Stamp collectors exhibit this intelligence in a world apart from nature: they love to collect. The naturalist has affinity for the natural world, understanding how it works and often having an uncanny knack for memorising hundreds of names. If they can, they collect – rocks, insects, photos – anything. Gardeners, pet-owners, environmentalists, and scientists exercise this intelligence. So too do the people who photograph bus, train or lorry numbers.
If we each have different strengths, then the power of a team comes from its diversity and therefore the abilities of its members to apply differences intelligences to the problems they must solve and the decisions they must take.
Gardner’s work has polarised debate in some quarters of education and psychology. Some love it; it fits with their world view, making intelligence more egalitarian and recognising that there is more to learning and knowledge than literacy and numeracy. Others challenge its lack of empirical support from either well-validated testing processes or neurology.
However, many educators find plenty of support in the educational results they attain, using it to guide their teaching. For managers, this offers a powerful model of learning styles which can be applied to developing people, and a valuable way to understand why a diverse team will outperform a homogeneous one. As Gardner notes:
‘These intelligences are fictions – at most, useful fictions
– for discussing processes and abilities that (like all of life)
are continuous with one another.’