Belbin's Team Roles
Developed by André Agertoft Condamine
When dealing with Project Human resource management it is essential for a project manager to develop a suitable project team. This process requires focus on not only developing the overall competencies of a team, but also team interaction and environment to enhance project performance. To cope with this, it is essential that a project team consist of diverse members that can carry out different team roles to boost synergetic performance. For this, Dr. Meredith Belbin studied the importance of team roles for many years at Henley University. Here, Belbin developed different team roles based on nine years of empiric study of team analysis, games etc.  The study resulted in the discovery of 9 different team roles. It turned out to be possible to describe the inner psychological dynamics of the person, and to describe what effects this would have, partly on the employees and partly on a team. Additionally, the study also showed that it could be predicted how a team will perform based on the composition of the team. Belbin’s work led to a widely used set of tools, which can be used to analyse and diagnose project teams for further performance enhancement. The following consists of a hands-on ‘need to know’ approach on Belbin theory and tools, how to use it, and why.
In 1969, Dr. Meredith Belbin was asked to investigate team performance alongside Roger Mottram, Bill Harston, and others. For this, Dr. Belbin and his colleagues decided for a business game as a framework to study the performance of teams. Here, a business game would produce tangible financial results, which could be used to measure performance and differentiate between successful teams and failing teams. While now having covered the output of a team, Dr. Belbin aimed at measuring the input in terms of individual team-member characteristics. Therefore, Dr. Belbin assembled a psychometric test battery consisting of a measure of reasoning ability, personality, and outlook. For this, the Critical Thinking Appraisal (CTA), 16 scales of the Cattell personality inventory, and the Personal Preference Questionaire was used. After three years of studies, a tendency of the more successful teams was discovered to be higher scores on mental abilities as measured by the CTA and a particular set of personality characteristics. By use of these tools Dr. Belbin and his colleagues found a successful team member to have the traits of being practical, down to earth, disciplined, orderly and trusted. However, as team performance not solely rely on some specific traits, Dr. Belbin started to focus on the performance of teams which was assembled in different combinations regarding the profile generated from the previous tools. This led to the conclusion that people who scored high in all the tests had a habit of competing to an extent that would suppress team performance. From here, Dr. Belbin identified the essential types of contributions that gives balance to a team and enhances performance. To give an indication of the different types of contributions a person can have, Dr. Belbin and his team created 8 ‘Team roles’ that were noticeable by particular patterns of psychometric scores in the different tests. Additionally, a ninth role “the specialist” was added later after obtaining experience from the industry.
What is a role?
The basic idea in Dr. Belbin's theory is that it is possible to distinguish between a functional role and a team role. When working in project teams most people take on a role based on personal abilities and preferences. By understanding the roles of each team member, a project manager can improve performances drastically. However, in order to do this, it is necessary for a team to understand both the functional-role and team-role of each team member.
- The Functional-Role is the contribution to the team based on acquired knowledge and professional experience. This role can easily be detected by the corporate position of the team member as people mostly are hired for the position based on how well they fit to the position. Hence, the description of the position can often be used to describe the team members functional role.   
- The Team-Role is the contribution to the team based on personal ability and characteristics. This role is harder to discover as requires extensive knowledge about the team members personal attributes such as values and motivation, personality, and mental skills. This is where Belbins team roles step in as a tool to discover and interpret the prefered team-role of a team member.   
Belbin's team roles as a tool
After having established the nine different team-roles, Dr. Belbin and his colleagues came up with an instrument for quantifying individuals’ team-role preferences. This instrument is known as the Belbin Team Role Self‐Perception Inventory (SPI). The instrument works as an extensive questionnaire that produces a quantitative summary of its respondent’s resemblance with each team role. However, the SPI also consist of a filter mechanism, which detects if respondents are trying to appear more desirable for team performance and labels them as ‘dropped’ . This ensures that the output is more accurate when dealing with different kinds of people.
The current version of the SPI consists of 70 inventories which are a series of short questions where the respondents select and weights the answers. As an example, one section focuses on the question “how do you believe you contribute to a team?”. Here, there are 8 possible answers of which the respondents will have 10 points to distribute across the different answers to describe their role. In general, These different inventories consist of questions that seek information of the respondent’s behaviour through questioning six factors: values and motivation, personality, mental skills, experience, role-learning, and environment (Figure 1). The tool has since its early days gone through several modifications, which includes: re‐defining some of the roles as they carried unwanted associations. Therefore, the role of Company-Worker was changed to Team-Worker, and the Chairman became Co‐ordinator. Furthermore, the addition of the Specialist changed the framework that had been used until now to construct balanced teams. However, the biggest change was the digitalisation of the tool. This meant that the tool now became an automated computer‐based tool with a more refined scoring mechanism. When using Belbin's team roles, the SPI tool will produce a set of reports containing either the 'Self-Perception Only Team-Role Report' (SPOTRR) or the 'Team and Group Team-Role Report' (TGTRR). These two differs as the SPOTRR only entails an explanation of the individual team-role of the respondent, where the TGTRR explains the individual role as well as the composition of a team of respondents. Here, the TGTRR is mostly for evaluating an existing team, whereas the SPOTRR acts as a tool to provide the respondent and their organisation with information on individual role preferences for future team formations.  
Why use Belbin's team-roles for project-team management
The idea behind using the team roles is first and foremost to establish a framework and language for discussing collaboration. Furthermore, it can be used to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the team members and utilise/compensate these for the benefit of improved performance by having a well-balanced project team. Moreover, the tool can be used to:
- Further build on team members existing strengths and identify possible conflicts with people of similar preference and roles so that these strengths are used to the full extent.
- Enhance trust, openness and maximise co-operative working
- Realise team role gaps or overlaps present within a team.
Belbin's Team Roles
|Roles   ||Traits   ||Contribution   ||Allowable weakness   ||These needs to be   ||When dealing with, Do||When dealing with, Don't |
|Plant||Creative, Imaginative, Freethinking.
Generates ideas and solves difficult problems.
|Plants are the ideal idea generators. They may not be very practical or very good at communicating, however, they excel at injecting new ideas into the team. Therefore, Dr. Belbin used the term “Plants” to categorise this team role as such individuals plant ideas into the group. However, it does not matter if the idea of a plant seems insane at the time but usually these ideas turn out to be valuable for the team.||Ignores incidentals.
Too preoccupied to communicate effectively.
|Plants need to be intelligent, have a creative disposition and the ability to think laterally without any prompting on the part of others, or be afraid of taking a minority standpoint.||Feed them with questions and problems.
Encourage them to develop their ideas.
|Expect them to conform. Criticise ideas that have no immediate application.|
|Resource investigator||Outgoing, Enthusiastic, Communicative, Explores opportunities and develops contact.||Resource Investigators are usually extroverts with the trait of being extensively curios. They usually like to meet people and explore new ideas. They often bring back these ideas when discarded and develop them. In that sense, they offer creative input to the team and are comparable to Plants. However, where plants come up with the ideas, Resource Investigators merely evolves the ideas by bringing in external input.||Over optimistic, Loses interest once initial enthusiasm has passed.||Resource Investigators are essential contributions to a team avoiding losing sight of the outside world such as customer demand. Therefore, the Resource Investigators need to be able to include the outside world by being able to actively communicate, investigate, and apply external resources.||Kindle their enthusiasm. Encourage them to communicate, investigate and negotiate with others||Press for too much detail.
Presume that they will deliver everything they promise.
|Co-ordinator||Mature, Confident, Identifies talent, Clarifies goals, Delegates effectively||Co-ordinators are strong and acceptable individuals that can see the big picture of a project and apply common sense. Here, Co-ordinators can tolerably assemble team members for specific purposes and improve output. This is often described as a less common talent that depends on the individuals' capability of having a sincere interest in the people while keeping focus on the goals.||Can be experienced as manipulative, Offloads own share of the work||A good Co‐ordinator needs to be able to discover hidden skills of team members and know how to stimulate them to get the best out of the members while letting others take the credit.||Bring wider issues to their attention.
Deliver what you have agreed to do.
|Promote hidden agendas.
Undermine them by doing private deals” or pursuing "personal conflicts” behind the scenes.
|Shaper||Challenging, Dynamic, Thrives on pressure, Has the drive and courage to overcome obstacles||Shapers are often experienced as tough and as a hard-driving force in teamwork. A shaper can easily ruin the team spirit by repeating what the team is supposed to be doing and verbally force the team to it. These individuals are easily identified by their bluntness, determination, and keenness on unpopular decisions. Furthermore, Shapers are exceptional achievers who strive when meeting deadlines. Therefore, Shapers are superb at saying the things people sometimes do not want to hear but needs to hear. Hence, Shapers often have one of two effects on a team. Either they brutally disrupt the performance. However, if the Shapers are properly aligned in a balanced team, they will drive higher performance in a team.||Prone to provocation, Often offends people.||A good Shaper needs a strong personality in order to get results by driving people forwards. However, nobody likes being told what to do. Therefore, it is essential to be careful whether the shaper fits the team.||Be tolerant and helpful when their sense of urgency creates problems. Respond quickly to what is demanded.||Become diverted from what is demanded. |
Try to contradict them.
|Monitor/Evaluator||Sober, Strategic, disconcerting, Sees all options and judges accurately.||The true Monitor is usually not one of the enthusiasts within a team. Mostly because this would prejudice good judgement. Furthermore, a Monitor will rarely participate in the idea phases as this would create a biased evaluation. Generally, the monitoring and evaluation processes are vital in teamwork to get the right output. The role of the Monitor may appear unglamorous to many as it is a more reluctant team role. But if the team decisions are ensured to be right, the team will experience an enhanced output.||Lacks drive and ability to inspire others, Can be overly critical.||A good monitor needs to be an intelligent fair-minded individual who can produce an unbiased evaluation of processes. Therefore, it is important that Monitors have capabilities within analysis and debate, which is always in demand when problematic problems are concerned.||Consult them when difficult decisions have to be made. Draw them out by asking questions.||Overrule them through enthusiasm or collective pressure. |
Expect snap decisions. Try to sell them anything.
|Teamworker||Cooperative, Perceptive, Diplomatic, Listens and averts friction.||The Teamworker acts as the main facilitating role of the team which focuses on listening to, aiding, and comforting other team members. By removing the teamworker from a team, many of the team members will often not be able to perform well. Therefore, the teamworker is an important aspect of a team to improve team atmosphere.||Indecisive in hard situations, Avoids confrontation.||A good Teamworker has diplomatic skills, sensitivity and versatility and is able to foster happy and productive relationships to promote positive atmosphere within the team.||Ask for personal help when under pressure. Ask them to intervene when dealing with angry people.||Force them to make personal decisions.
Take them for granted and assume they agree to everything.
|Implementer||Practical, Reliable, Efficient.||Implementers are the action heroes of the team. They are characterised by asking ‘what needs to be done’ without it being a question but rather as a stimulus to start executing the plan. They turn thoughts and debate into action and does it without considering personal work preferences. For them, the implementation is key, which is why productivity is ensured if enough implementers are present in a team. However, by having too many, actions may come before thought.||Inflexible, Slow to respond to new possibilities.||A good implementer needs to be in possession of a disciplined mind and have a practical approach to tasks.||Give them responsibility for organising information.
Explain what needs to be done in a systematic way.
|Neglect to provide clarity in information. Use them as a sounding board for floating wild ideas.|
|Completer/Finisher||Painstaking, conscientious, anxious, Searches for errors, Polishes and perfects.||The Completer is never comfortable until a task is finished and aligned with the given requirements. Therefore, completers are often very strict with the schedule and worries to a larger extend in case something doesn’t work exactly as planned. This is why finishers excel when tasks need the last tweaks to meet deadlines or requirements and are indispensable in the closing hours of a task.||Inclined to worry, Reluctant to delegate tasks.||A good Completer has to strive for perfection while still considering deadlines. Therefore, it is essential for a finisher to also have a magnificent sense of time||Make clear the nature of the priorities and deadlines. Get their support in checking.||Show concern at their tendency to worry about getting it right.
Overload with work or set unrealistic deadlines.
|Specialist||Single minded, self-starting, dedicated, Provides knowledge and skill.||The specialists have a limitless desire for knowledge and strives at knowing most about their subject compared to any team member. Therefore, the Specialists are often in the lead of new technology. Furthermore, specialists are often self-reliant and works best alone. Therefore, they often seem like they don’t need others in the team as much as they need the Specialists. However, the specialist always needs other team members to direct the focus and use the work of a specialist.||Contributes only in a narrow perspective, Focuses on technicalities.||A good specialist has a highly focused outlook and a high interest in finding a solution to a complex problem, which needs dedicated attention for a longer duration of time.||Value their contribution as a source and seeker of knowledge. Ask them to undertake research on behalf of the team.||Neglect them due to their reluctance to mix with others. Involve them in wide-ranging and unstructured discussions|
The team roles can be positioned on a scale from being an extrovert to introvert and being stable to restless:
- Stable individuals are most often sociable and can mostly be accepted by others who experience them to be balanced individuals. However, they also tend to be experienced as careless, lazy and to rarely do their best unless they are under pressure.
- Restless individuals are often easy to influence. If restlessness is accompanied with high values of self-restraint and discipline, it will often be converted into energy. If there is little self-discipline, restlessness will often either have a disruptive effect on others or result in an unacceptably high degree of internal stress.
- Extroverted individuals are aware of the outer world of people and activities. They direct energy and attention outward, get energy by interacting with other people, and by acting.
- Introverted individuals are aware of their own inner world of ideas and experiences. They direct their energy and attention inward and get energy by reflecting on their thoughts.
Furthermore, team roles can be split into three categories:
- Social roles consist of the Teamworker, Co-ordinator, and the Resource Investigator.
- Thinking roles consist of the Plant, Monitor, and Specialist.
- Action roles consists of the Shaper, Completer, and implementer.
For basic performance, it is vital for a project-team to consist of team roles from both ends of the scales and from each of the three different categories.
The Perfect Belbin project-team
The formation of a project-team provides an opportunity to move outside existing corporate structures and mingle individuals who may not previously have had the chance of working together. However, this has been proven to be a complicated subject to approach for a project manager. Here, the ultimate goal is to combine a set of people in a team that provide the best spread of roles to meet the scope of the project. Not only in functional role term such as e.g. civil engineer for a construction project, which is the easier aspect, but also in terms of team roles. This is where the Belbin reports can be used to add or remove individuals that adds or reduces the performance of the group. It is important to remember that it isn’t necessary to have a team consisting of nine team members each of whom is the perfect representation of a team-role. Most individuals can hold attributes, strengths and weaknesses from different team roles. Therefore, a team can excel in performance, while only having four or six members, which is far less than the nine different team-roles. Hence, Belbin’s reports are needed for evaluating or forming new teams of all sizes. 
Setting up a new team
If a new project team is to be established, the best way of applying Belbin's team roles is to apply SPI-tests with the SPOTRR as output. This will allow the project manager to get an overview of the team-roles of a larger pool of potential team members. By doing this, the project manager will be able to compose a team based on both the functional and team roles .
Evaluating an existing team
If the goal is to evaluate an existing project team to enhance performance, the best approach would be to apply the SPI-tests with the TGTRR as output. This will allow the project manager to get a detailed overview of the project team, which will highlight a potential lack or over-supply of specific team roles. Hence, the project manager will be able to remove or add individuals to compose a balanced project team that can fulfil both functional and team roles required for the project .
How to use different team roles to benefit project performance
In terms of project performance, it is very important that a project manager decides for the purpose of the team. This means that it is necessary to specify what the team is required to do and consider which roles are required to achieve this. Figure 3 shows the team roles that are most appropriate for each of the stages of a project.
As such, Shapers and Co‐ordinators are both very goal‐oriented and more conscious than others of what goals are worth striving for. In the case of the Shaper, a strong sense of urgency is attached to goal achievement. Therefore, these roles are very important in the initial stages of a project where the scope and needs are defined. However, needs are not easily met without good ideas on how to proceed. Thus, Plants and Resource Investigators are also often needed to explore ideas and come up with solutions. Still, ideas are often fated to die unless they can be turned into plans. Hence, a Monitor is needed as they make ideal planners, particularly when it comes to long‐term planning. Additionally, the expertise of the Specialist is required if the plans are to fit requirements. Now, the plans need to be accepted by the team. Here, the Resource Investigators and Teamworkers are needed to secure social acceptance of the plans before the Implementers and Coordinators move in to execute the plan. While the focus of the Implementer is on tasks, the Co‐ordinator performs a complementary role by ensuring that the best human resources are lined up to undertake the work. This can easily be done by one person that covers traits from both team roles and is often beneficial for smooth execution of the plan. Underway, it is necessary to keep Implementers throughout the project work. However, at some point, follow-up is needed to ensure that tasks are completed. Here the Completer plays a crucial role to push the tasks to an end while still keeping the scope and requirements very much in mind .
Therefore, it is very important not only to note that each team role plays a vital part during the progression of a project, but also that success requires more from a project manager than applying Belbin theory, just to lean back and watch the team operate at high performance. Instead, project managers have to engage the team throughout the progression of the project as project success often relies on whether the project manager can introduce and withdraw the various roles at critical moments in the project  .
Benefits of a balanced project team
Project teams that have been balanced through Belbin theory share the ability to draw from everyone’s strengths and leverage team members preferences when needed throughout the work process. Moreover, the use of Belbin's team roles can ensure that the most suitable individuals are able to contribute, regardless of rank or status. It can also prevent stagnation and circumvent interpersonal conflicts or ineffective management diplomatically and without undermining traditional hierarchical structures. Once the team has been assembled with the right roles and responsibilities, they will need ongoing support to ensure that they are working productively together. However, to form the perfect project team, it is important that the team moves beyond only relying on the Belbins framework. Therefore, it is vital that the team can agree on the following basic frameworks:   
- Shared values - The team values and norms correspond with the team members understanding of right and wrong.
- Shared vision and objectives - Everybody understands and accepts the objectives.
- Acceptance of plan - A plan, which is accepted by everybody and gives a clear picture of what has to be done.
- Task allocation - Allocation of tasks and resources. Everybody understands how they can contribute to the process.
- Open communication - Communication, both formal and informal, is encouraged.
- Cooperation - People interrelate, improvise, and support each other – the individual feels responsible for the process as such, not only his own task.
Furthermore, it is important for a project manager to remember to revisit the team role discussion once in a while to encourage team performance by asking participants to come up with observations regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the team. Here, the project manager can encourage participants to come up with action points to improve team performance, which will force the team to reflect on the team composition and highlight possible improvements for improved project performance .
It is very important to note that roles change over time as team members are influenced by their environment, relations, and experiences. Therefore, it can be necessary to revisit the team roles over time. Furthermore, Belbin theory only focuses on the team role of individuals . Thus, another approach is needed to discover the perfect composition of functional roles . Moreover, some different case studies have questioned the validity of Belbin theory . And while some of these studies haven't been able to confirm the correlation between balanced team composition and enhanced project performance many project teams have used the tools with excellent results.
Some of the materials used for this article is not publicly availiable as it is part of Belbin's 'E-Belbin presentation material'. Therefore, the links provided will not ba accessable for people who do not have an active Belbin account. However, these guides was the best material availiable, which is why it has been used for this article.       
The Belbin webpage provides a vast amount of information on Belbin theory. However, it is not a good source of information for specific information on aspects other than the actual roles and how to use the tools as a respondent.    
Dr. Meredith Belbin have published a range of litterature regarding belbin theory. The books of "Team roles at work" and "Beyond the team" are some of the best to understand Belbin theory and the tools that supports the use of the theory.  
Many articles have been written on the subject of the validity of Belbin theory. This is just one of many, and has been used for this article as it display a non-biased analysis of Belbin theory and tools. 
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 E-Belbin resources for presentation: Team role story, https://e-belbin.com/
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 BELBIN, R. (1993). TEAM ROLES AT WORK, ROUTLEDGE.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 Belbin, R. (2012). Beyond the Team. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Belbin.com: Individual reports, [online] Available at: https://www.belbin.com/about/belbin-reports/individual-reports/ [Accessed 3 Mar. 2019].
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 E-Belbin resources for presentation: Explanation of Dropped Points (DP) Self-Perception Inventory, https://e-belbin.com/
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 Belbin.com: Team reports, [online] Available at: https://www.belbin.com/media/1159/belbin-howtousebelbinreports-toformateam-apr2013.pdf [Accessed 3 Mar. 2019].
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 E-Belbin resources for presentation: Team Role Summary Descriptions, https://e-belbin.com/
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 Belbin.com: Team role description, [online] Available at: https://www.belbin.com/about/belbin-team-roles/ [Accessed 3 Mar. 2019].
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 E-Belbin resources for presentation: Team Roles in a Nutshell, https://e-belbin.com/
- ↑ 10.0 10.1 10.2 E-Belbin resources for presentation: Dealing with Different People, https://e-belbin.com/
- ↑ 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 E-Belbin resources for presentation: Team Role Circle, https://e-belbin.com/
- ↑ 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 E-Belbin resources for presentation: Creating an Effective Team, https://e-belbin.com/
- ↑ 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Belbin.com: How to use Belbin Team Role Reports… To Form a team, [online] Available at: https://www.belbin.com/media/1159/belbin-howtousebelbinreports-toformateam-apr2013.pdf
- ↑ 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Sommerville, J. and Dalziel, S. (1998). Project teambuilding—the applicability of Belbin's team-role self-perception inventory. International Journal of Project Management, 16(3), pp.165-171.