Project teams, boards, divisions, and work units all have one thing in common – they require a group of people to achieve certain goals within a specified time and to particular level of outcome. Every group is different, and the diversity itself can bring challenges as the group attempts to settle in to an operating rhythm and perform to expectation. While Bruce Tuckman is well known for his work on the stages of team development (form, storm, norm, perform, adjourn) it is Meredith Belbin who is best known for investigating and analysing how team performance can be enhanced, by understanding the roles required in a particular team, and what team member attributes and behaviours will be most advantageous at what time in the life of the team.

Belbin® Team Role Theory, now in its fourth decade of application and development, is relevant at any level of the organisation where teams are formed. You will likely have heard terms such as ‘Resource Investigator’, ‘Completer-Finisher’ and ‘Monitor-Evaluator’ – these are a few of the nine team roles which Belbin defined and which form the basis of team role theory. Each of us, in a team situation, can be seen to utilise one or more of the nine team roles in combination to make our contribution to the team’s goals. Team role theory explains the ‘who, what, when, why and how’ of each role and enables us to understand what that means for the team’s performance and productivity.

An understanding of the theory of team roles is useful to any manager. When that knowledge, and the appreciation of how team roles inter-relate in the business context is shared, it becomes a powerful tool for creation of a common understanding about why teams behave as they do and how to influence team effectiveness in a collaborative, transparent and ethical way.

Now supported by the Belbin Interplace – a data repository and on-line assessment tool – the approach to assessment of team roles and understanding team dynamics is more sophisticated than ever. As well as providing an on-line survey for capturing self-assessment data, the Interplace allows those participating in the 360º feedback process to post their views on line, produces self-perception and 360º feedback reports, and supports reporting on working relationships between peers or boss/subordinate pairs. The system also enables job design from a team role perspective (clearly identifying the type of capabilities, skills and behavioural attributes of a job), acts as an aid in recruitment through matching candidate profiles with a job, supports team culture assessment and talent management, and much more.

There are many providers of Belbin® related services: you can do an assessment using a paper-based version of the tool and even buy Interplace reports on-line. However, this is only a fraction of the value of team development. Several Thornton Mack consultants are fully accredited to provide Belbin services and we provide the complete range of support to help you and your team understand the basis and application of the theory and relate that insight and knowledge to your own workplace.

Reports available for team development include the Self-Perception Inventory Report, Self-Perception plus Observer Report, Working Relationships Report and Team Report (with or without observer input, with or without disclosure of observer names). These reports, along with a series of workshops, 1:1 feedback sessions and a combination of team activities, are customised to meet your requirements to afford you and your team with true insight into the application of team role theory within your own work context. We use your real-life situations; past experience, current issues and future plans, to interpret the reports and use the insights generated through discussion and interaction, to give you the skills to make practical use of the knowledge gained in the process.

When you are embarking on design of a new team, Belbin team role theory and Interplace offer a potent combination of information and tools to assist you in making the right choices in terms of team numbers, capabilities, behaviours and culture. Along with the understanding of which team roles will best suit the remit of the team, the Job Requirements Inventory and Job Observer Assessment make a major contribution to job design and targeted recruitment (whether internal or external).

If you are experiencing trouble within a team, the Team Report and Working Relationships Report will be most valuable in pinning down problem areas in team role terms – providing a level of ‘depersonalisation’ to the problems, assisting by offering a common language focused on behaviours rather than the person, and proving you with direct guidance for addressing the problem at the individual, relationship and overall team levels.

Where you are looking to develop your team – to elevate its performance, team role theory will give you both the insight and practical actions to make a real difference, as well as measure the improvements that your agreed changes make.

Case Study

Building the performance of teams in a new branch

Changes in roles and accountabilities following a re-structure were posing challenges to new managers and their teams. The executive could see opportunities to improve working relationships and team performance, and wanted a framework to stimulate improvement over time.

Action

After an orientation meeting to explain the approach to directors, an information session on BELBIN® team roles was held for directors and managers by video-conference. Individuals then completed their Self-Perception Inventory on-line and 1:1 feedback was provided to each person by phone. Observers for each participant were agreed and after those had been completed, further individual and team reports were produced. An initial feedback session with directors was followed up with a one day off-site for the branch leaders where all participants received and reviewed that reports, and completed activities on their personal results and their team results.

End result

Action plans for team development, drafted on the day of the workshop, were finalised by directors and used to further team development. Debriefs and complimentary follow up support were provided by the consultant.