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Team roles

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Who takes what role in your team and what can you learn from this?

As well as our formal job role (the functional role and responsibilities described in a job description), we may also take on a second ‘team role’. Team roles often develop informally over time and may go unacknowledged. Our team role sums up the way we tend to behave, contribute and interrelate to the team over a period of time.

For example, one team member may consistently come up with new ideas, another may be good at developing contacts outside the team, while another is great at turning ideas into practical action. Someone else might be the one who raises difficult issues, the ‘challenger’. Over time patterns develop within the team with the same person consistently taking on a certain role, which then becomes expected by others.

One of the great strengths of an effective team lies in its blend of talents and abilities. Teams of individually brilliant people may still be ineffective if there is not a good balance of team roles. This page will help you think about the roles that people take within your team. Think about your own role too.

Balanced roles: The Belbin model

So what makes a well-balanced team? One of the best known models was developed by Meredith Belbin at Henley Management College. After extensive research his original model came up with eight roles essential to effective team working. A 9th role of 'specialist' was later added, and some roles renamed.

Belbin's nine team roles

  • Plant (creates ideas)
  • Resource Investigator (explores opportunities and contacts)
  • Co-ordinator (clarifies goals, promotes decision making)
  • Shaper (drives the team forward)
  • Teamworker (provides support and encourages cooperation)
  • Monitor Evaluator (discerning judgment)
  • Implementer (turns ideas into action)
  • Completer (attention to detail)
  • Specialist (technical knowledge and skills)

Belbin argues that teams should be selected to get a good mix of team roles. This has implications for skills specified at recruitment stages. Others disagree with Belbin’s emphasis on selection, arguing that team roles can be developed over time. Team members often have a repertoire of skills they can apply as required, so can take on different team roles in different situations.

Belbin's team role report

Belbin’s team role report identifies the team role each member takes on. Usually there is a primary and secondary role. From this a team can judge how well balanced they are, the implications of role duplication or missing roles. Questionnaires are never able to reveal a 100 per cent accurate ‘truth’. Nevertheless they can provide a useful start to discussing team roles and making improvements. You can find out more about Belbin's team role reports and how to complete one on the Belbin Team Roles website.

Gaps and clashes in team roles

Clashes can occur when several people are trying to take on the same team role, for example, ‘shaper’. Gaps can occur when no-one in the team has a preference for a particular role, especially in small teams. For example, there may be no-one who is good at completing and finishing (the completer role). Being conscious of this helps the team know what might slip through the net. They can then find other ways to prevent this – for example, developing an ‘end of project’ checklist to make sure proper finshing takes place.

Any imbalance is likely to have an impact on team performance.  Better balance can be achieved by asking certain individuals to focus more on particular roles within their preference range, so that all team roles are covered. It’s worth reviewing team roles regularly so they don’t become too fixed. Changes might be needed to help individuals develop a broad range of skills and team roles.

This is particularly important in smaller voluntary  organisations where employees, trustees and volunteers often have to develop ‘whole role competence’ – the ability to turn your hand to a great many different things, something that is less likely in larger organisations with more specialist and fixed roles.

Other team role models

Other authors have developed their own models for looking at team roles using analogies such as the football team. For example, Strikers who are responsible for achieving targets, Captain who motivates, Referee who applies standards.

You can also invent your own analogy. For example:

  • 'if this team was in the theatre who would be the scriptwriter, director, actors, stage hands, publicists, critics…’
  • ‘if this team was on a journey who’s planning the route, who’s driving, who’s navigating, who’s the mechanic, who’s organising overnight stops, who’s doing what?’

Whatever analogy you use, the important questions are:

  • How well are you using individual’s talents?
  • How balanced is the team?
  • Are any roles missing?
  • Are you duplicating roles, if so is this causing friction (it often does!)?
  • Do you need to reorganise ourselves to create a better balance?

Further reading

  • If you would like to explore team roles further, role descriptions and online questionnaires can be found at the Belbin website.

Page last edited Oct 05, 2017

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