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Meredith Belbin’s Team Roles Model

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

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.


‘What makes a good team and how can I construct one?’

…are questions every manager, supervisor and team leader asks themselves at some stage.

They are also questions that many researchers, thinkers and management commentators have tried to answer in their own way. Two sources of particularly valuable insights that you can read about on the Pocketblog are:

However, one of the most successful researchers into team dynamics was Meredith Belbin. His work has produced a widely used and very helpful set of diagnostic and training tools, that are also reasonably priced.

No interest to declare here; I have just been a user of Belbin tools for many years, since I first encountered them on a training course in the mid 1990s. I have used the tools in my own training and find that participants get a lot from them. Find out more at www.belbin.com

Belbin’s website and books tell the story well, but here it is in a nutshell.

The Origins of the Belbin model.

Belbin and his co-workers observed a great many management teams doing standardised tasks, to try to find what might predict success or failure. Their findings included:

  1. Teams that were too small or too large were less likely to succeed. Five was a good number.
  2. In teams, people seem to play a variety of different roles.
  3. Teams where all of the roles were represented were more likely to succeed than ones with noticeable gaps. (One person could play more than one role).
  4. Teams where two or more people competed to play certain roles were less likely to succeed.

The Team Roles Model

Out of this work came Belbin’s Team Roles Model – a set of identifiable roles that the researchers saw people playing. In the initial research, eight roles emerged. Later, Belbin added a ninth role and changed some of the titles he used.

Belbin observed that we each have preferences for one or more different roles and team success comes when members contribute the full range of roles, without clashes and competition to fulfil some of them. Here are the nine roles, with the names Belbin currently assigns.

Belbin Team Roles

In the illustration of the nine team roles, we can see three families of Roles:

Socially Adept Roles

The Co-ordinator, Team Worker and Resource Investigator roles are all favoured by people with strong social instincts and require good interpersonal skills to deliver effectively. The Co-ordinator seeks the best contributions from the team, while the Team Worker promotes good working relationships, and the Resource Investigator looks outwards to a network of contacts beyond the team.

Task-focused Roles

The Shaper, Implementer and Completer Finisher roles are all strongly focused on getting the job done: the Shaper on getting it started, the Implementer on making progress, and the Completer Finisher on tying up loose ends.

More Cerebral Roles

The Plant, Monitor Evaluator and Specialist all prize thinking carefully above doing. The Plant initiates ideas, the Monitor Evaluator reviews the team’s thinking and outputs, and the Specialist contributes deep expertise.

Some Comments about the Model

My experience, and Belbin’s guidance notes, highlight many factors about this excellent model, which you can use if you buy the materials from www.belbin.com. Here are some key points:

  1. The Belbin evaluation tools are not psychometrics. They are well calibrated and developed over a long time, but they tell you about a person’s preferences now – based on their situation, experiences and how they relate to other team members. Belbin profiles shift over time.
  2. The tool is not suitable for recruitment or advancement selection – it is designed to help understand and address team dynamics.
  3. Some people have one or two strong team role preferences, others have several and are more balanced. Every conceivable profile seems to appear over time.
  4. Team members can adapt their style and therefore active profile, in response to awareness, training and support.

Further Reading 

  1. The Teamworking Pocketbook
  2. Teambuilding Activities Pocketbook
  3. The Belbin Team Roles website
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Forming, Storming, Norming: The Tuckman Model of Group and Team Development

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

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 do new groups of people develop into
effective teams?’

Bruce Tuckman developed the best known and most widely used answer to this question in the early 1960s. Working for the US Navy, he reviewed a wide range of group dynamics research, to identify a sequence of discrete stages that described the findings of most of the studies.

Tuckman himself ascribes the success of his model over other, later models, to the catchy labels he created for the stages.

Tuckman Group Development Model

1. Forming

When a group first comes together, people are keen to get on with the task at hand, but have little idea what is expected of them. In building relationships, they start with the superficial dialogue familiar to anyone who has arrived in a room full of unfamiliar people. As a team leader, focus on giving people work they can get on with and, at the same time, get to know their colleagues. Tuckman referred to this as the forming stage.

2. Storming

People are social creatures, and we need to assert ourselves, find our allies, and make a niche for ourselves. In the next stage, storming, the group turns inward, focusing on relationship building. Conflicts arise as, like hens in the farmyard, we each seek our place in the pecking order. The group may also start to challenge your leadership so, while you keep them focused on work, you need to assert your leadership and provide support to individual team members.

3. Norming

Following the intensely social storming phase, we withdraw into task-focused activities. We hunker down and get on with the work. The group is now more cohesive, focusing on creating procedures, fulfilling defined roles and making progress. This is the norming stage, and it is often very productive. Because people know what their role is now, focus your leadership on creating links between team members and establishing routines and team habits..

4. Performing

As the quality and depth of relationships build, the group reaches its final stage, performing. Group members support each other in their tasks and show greater behavioural flexibility. The group now feels like a team, with individuals stepping into leadership roles as their capabilities and interests dictate. Your leadership can be very subtle, focused on maintaining the productive environment in which the team can thrive, providing them with the information and resources they need, and protecting the team from disruptive interruptions and distractions.

5. Adjourning

Two decades later, in 1977, Tuckman collaborated with Mary Ann Jensen in reviewing further research studies. As well as endorsing his earlier model, their analysis suggested a fifth stage ‘for which the perfect rhyme could not be found’ in Tuckman’s own words.

They called this stage adjourning, although many authors (including me) prefer the term ‘mourning’. As the group separates, there is a palpable sense of loss. The joy of working successfully with valued colleagues is important to us and we mourn its loss. Like in the case of  ‘real’ mourning, you should make time for your team to reflect on the transition and celebrate the past.

Additional Phases

Trainers and writers have introduced additional phases to the model, which each have their value. Two of these, the ‘yawning’ stage and the ‘transforming’ stage have been covered in earlier Pocketblogs:

Critique

Tuckman’s model was not based on primary research and has been criticised for its linear nature and its discrete stages. Despite this, it accords well with people’s experience and has been applied in a number of related formulations.

As a manager, use the model to understand the evolution of your team, and in interpreting what happens among the groups with which you work.

Further Reading 

  1. The Teamworking Pocketbook
  2. The Management Models Pocketbook
    looks at Tuckman in Chapter 3

Other Pocketblogs you may like

Swift Trust–Why some Teams don’t Storm

… introduces the model and looks at the storming phase and uses the concept of ‘swift trust’ to understand why some teams skip over this phase.

Team Performance Beyond Tuckman

… isn’t strictly about Tuckman – it introduces the ‘Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance Model’.

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Team Leadership

One of the most popular models of team leadership is John Adair’s Action Centred Leadership.

Three Circles

In this model, leadership expert, John Adair, identifies three overlapping circles of concern for a team leader: the team’s task, the team itself, and the individuals in the team.

It is a wonderfully simple model that encourages you to weigh the attention you give to each, against the needs of the situation.  Adair has much to say about your responsibilities in each category.

John Adair's Three Circles Diagram

More Circles

Like any model, part of its value comes from its simplicity.  The price of simplicity, however, comes from what the model misses, neglects or under-represents, in achieving a memorable elegance.

Here are three more circles (among many), that one could add to Adair’s model.

Organisational Context

There are a lot of reasons for team leaders to focus beyond their team and onto the wider organisational context within which their team sits.  Firstly, how does the team’s task set fit into the wider group of activities?  Team leaders need to know this to set the team’s tasks in context and therefore give them meaning – one of the most important motivators.

Under this heading, we can also consider the team’s relationships with a wide range of stakeholders, and the interest those stakeholders have in the team’s work.  Particular among those stakeholders are other teams.  The team leader needs to find ways to manage the interfaces and dependencies with other teams and work streams.

Finally, we have to acknowledge the role of politics.  Not what many of us sign up for in the world of work, but for team leaders, actively navigating their organisation’s political reefs is a necessary expedient.

The Leader’s Emotional State

Never under-estimate the impact of your emotional state on your team’ was arguably the best management advice your author ever got (thank you George Owen, if you ever get to hear of this blog).

Team members will look to you for all sorts of guidance and, unconsciously, will take their emotional cue from you.

Vision of the Future

Not only should you be looking beyond your team, as team leader, but look beyond the now of today’s tasks and today’s team and today’s individual.  What will your team need to do tomorrow, and next week, and next month, and next year?  And how do you need to evolve it to prepare the team and its individuals to deliver?

Show your team vision.  While some are motivated by pride in what they are doing today, others need to see what is in store.

Join the debate – what would you add?

Please do use the comments facility below to tell us what you would add to this model.

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

You can read about John Adair’s Action Centred Leadership in The Management Models Pocketbook.

The Management Models Pocketbook, by Mike Clayton

Other Management Pocketbooks you might like are:

The Leadership Pocketbook

The Teamworking Pocketbook

The People Manager’s Pocketbook

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