Belbin Team Roles
Developed by Tobias Andersen
This article describes and discusses the theory of the Belbin Team Roles. This theory, developed by Dr. Meredith Belbin and his research team, identifies nine distinct team roles that can be determined using a written test. Belbin claims that there is a correlation between team structure balanced according to these roles and improved performance. The PRINCE2 standard recognizes that different tasks are performed better by different personality types, and recognises the importance of having well-defined project management team structure with defined roles and responsibilities . Thus, the Belbin Team Roles theory can assist in defining these roles and responsibilities in a structured manner. This article outlines the history of the Belbin Team Roles theory and provides a detailed explanation of its application in various project management challenges. The Belbin test is explained along with the nine identified team roles, and a number of relevant practical application opportunities are described, including, among others, Creating Balanced and Successful Teams, Understanding your Individual Role in a Project Team and Facilitation of Sensitive Discussions. Finally, serval limitations of the theory are discussed. The main limitation presented is the lacking proof of the validity of the theory. A number of case studies have not been able to establish a correlation between a team profile balanced according to Belbin team roles and achieving a high team performance. The article therefore argues that the Belbin Team Role theory should not be used as a complete truth. Instead it can be seen as a tool used to create a common language within a project team, thus helping facilitate healthy discussions regarding the dynamics of team work. Simply using the theory to create a balanced team will not guarantee high performance, only continuous effort will lead to this. In the final section of the article, the most relevant annotated bibliography is described.
Background and Relation to Project Management
The Belbin Team Roles theory is a tool used to define an individual’s role within a team. According to the theory, diverse teams are more likely to succeed. Therefore, the tool can be used when putting together a project team in order to increase the likelihood of the team being successful.
Is it an important step to in a project to carefully put together a team of people that will be most likely to conduct the project successfully. According to the PMBOK® Guide, a body of project management standards and guidelines, a project is defined as a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result . As a project is carried out by a defined project team, the characteristics of this team is vital for the success of a project.
The knowledge of how different personality types work together can enable a project manager to create balanced teams that are able to work together more effectively and efficiently. In accordance with this PRINCE2 states that the success of a project is dependent upon the right people being involved and that these people are aware of what is expected of them and what they can expect from each other. PRINCE2 also highlights that in order for a project to be successful it needs to have “an explicit project management team structure, consisting of defined and agreed roles and responsibilities for the people involved in the project and a means for effective communication between them” . This is due to the fact that “certain types of people are more suited to certain roles” and that “some combinations of personality types work better than others” . This statement is aligned with the theory behind the Belbin Team Roles, and the tool is therefore relevant for project managers.
History of the Belbin Team Roles
The theory of the Belbin Team roles was developed by Dr. Meredith Belbin and his interdisciplinary research team consisting of the mathematician Bill Hartston, anthropologist Jeanne Fisher and occupational psychologist Roger Mottram. It was developed over a nine-year period at the Henley Management College by studying international management teams and having them fill out psychometric tests. This enabled them to link the combinations of personalities and behaviour of the team members to the performance of the team .
As the study progressed, it became apparent that the deciding factor of the success of a team was not the intellectual levels of the team members, as first assumed, but rather the balance of the behaviour of the project team members. Using this insight, it became possible to use the results of the psychometric tests to predict whether a team of specific individuals would be likely to succeed.
During the study, eight different clusters of behaviour were identified and each of these was defined as a “Team Role”. Later, a ninth role was identified, the Specialist. In the study, the most successful teams were found to be the ones with the broadest range of individuals within these defined Team Roles. Following the study, Dr. Belbin formulated the Belbin Team Role Self-Perception Inventory (BTRSPI) which was to be used to determine an individual’s team role. The BTRSPI measures behaviour, not just personality, and is therefore not considered a psychometric test. Personality is expected to remain relatively constant throughout the life of an individual, however, some changes in behaviour might occur, for instance in relation to a job change. It is therefore possible for an individual’s BTRSPI result to change with time . This means that re-taking the BTRSPI test regularly might give differing results.
This section provides an in-depth explanation of the Belbin test and the nine Belbin Team Roles.
Preferred, Manageable and Least Preferred Roles
As stated earlier, a project team is most likely to succeed if all nine Belbin Team Roles are present and balanced within the individuals of the team. However, as most people are able to display more than one role at a time, it is possible to represent all nine roles within a team of less than nine individuals. People have a number of Preferred Team Roles that they easily and naturally fit into. In addition to this, people have Manageable Team Roles. These roles do not fit them as naturally as the preferred roles, but can be assumed when necessary. Finally, people have Least Preferred Roles. These roles do not come naturally, and require unreasonable amounts of effort to assume. These should therefore be avoided and left to individuals within the project team, for whom these roles are more naturally assumed.
The Belbin Team Role Self-Perception Inventory (BTRSPI)
The BTRSPI is used to determine the preferred, manageable and least preferred roles of an individual. It is a written test consisting of several topics containing a number of statements related to each other. The individual being tested is asked to assign a total of 10 points to the statements related to the topic, that he/she believes best describe himself/herself. An example of a topic is: I believe I can make a positive contribution to a team because:, and examples of statements within this topic could then be: I am seen as a mutual team player and I am quick to see and take advantage of new opportunities . The result of the test is a report describing the individual behavioural profile of the tested person. The result is often displayed using a spiderweb diagram.
As the BTRSPI is mainly based on the self-perception of the individual being tested, an observer assessment has been added to the Belbin Test. Some people may lack the experience to accurately assess themselves in a behavioural test, other might lack the required self-awareness. Therefore, Belbin recommends that each BTRSPI test should be accompanied by several observer assessments made by team members or co-workers. These serve the purpose of validating the results of the main self-perception test, and are incorporated into the personal report compiled at the end of the test.
Action, Social and Thinking Roles
Each of the Belbin Team Roles can also be broadly categorised as either Action, Social or Thinking roles . As illustrated in Figure 3, Co-Ordinator, Resource Investigator and Teamworker are Social Roles; Monitor Evaluator, Plant and Specialist are Thinking Roles and Completer Finisher, Implementer and Shaper are Action Roles.
The Nine Belbin Team Roles
For each of the nine Belbin Team Roles specific strengths have been identified. However, each role also has certain weaknesses. These weaknesses are described as allowable, as they are closely linked to the strengths. The nine roles, along with their strengths and weaknesses are described in Table 1. The information in Table 1 is taken directly from “The Nine Belbin Roles” .
|Team Role||Description||Strengths||Allowable Weaknesses|
|Resource Investigator||Uses their inquisitive nature to find ideas to bring back to the team Helps the team to gel, using their versatility to identify the work required and complete it on behalf of the team.||Outgoing, enthusiastic. Explores opportunities and develops contacts.||Might be over-optimistic, and can lose interest once the initial enthusiasm has passed.|
|Teamworker||Helps the team to gel, using their versatility to identify the work required and complete it on behalf of the team.||Co-operative, perceptive and diplomatic. Listens and averts friction.||Can be indecisive in crunch situations and tends to avoid confrontation.|
|Co-ordinator||Needed to focus on the team’s objectives, draw out team members and delegate work appropriately.||Mature, confident, identifies talent. Clarifies goals.||Can be seen as manipulative and might offload their own share of the work-|
|Plant||Tends to be highly creative and good as solving problems in unconventional ways.||Creative, imaginative, free-thinking, generates ideas and solves difficult problems.||Might ignore incidentals, and may be too preoccupied to communicate effectively.|
|Monitor Evaluator||Provides a logical eye, making impartial judgements where required and weighs up the team’s options in a dispassionate way.||Sober, strategic and discerning. Sees all options and judges accurately.||Sometimes lacks the drive and ability to inspire others and can be overly critical.|
|Specialist||Brings in-depth knowledge of a key area to the team.||Single-minded, self starting and dedicated. They provide specialist knowledge and skills.||Tends to contribute on a narrow front and can dwell on the technicalities.|
|Shaper||Provides the necessary drive to ensure that the team keeps moving and does not lose focus or momentum.||Challenging, dynamic, thrives on pressure. Has the drive and courage to overcome obstacles.||Can be prone to provocation, and may sometimes offend people’s feelings.|
|Implementer||Needed to plan a workable strategy and carry it out as efficiently as possible.||Practical, reliable, efficient. Turns ideas into actions and organizes work that needs to be done.||Can be a bit inflexible and slow to respond to new possibilities.|
|Completer Finisher||Most effectively used at the end of tasks to polish and scrutinise the work for errors, subjecting it to the highest standards of quality control.||Painstaking, conscientious, anxious. Searches out errors. Polishes and perfects.||Can be inclined to worry unduly, and reluctant to delegate.|
This section presents a number of examples in which the Belbin Team Role theory can be applied.
Creating Balanced and Successful Teams
Using the Belbin Team Roles, a project manager is able to better understand the potential members of a project team. This insight can guide the decision of which members to include in a team in order to make the most balanced team possible.
A project manager understanding the individual strengths and weaknesses of their team members, will also enable him/her to understand which tasks and responsibilities best fit each member. It will also create an understanding of the different ways each member prefers to work, and thus, how to enable them to perform most effectively.
Understanding your Individual Role in a Project Team
Individuals taking the BTRSPI might increase their understanding of themselves and their individual role with a project team. It will highlight individual strengths, enabling them to understand their most valuable contributions to the project work. Additionally, individual weaknesses will be made clear. Being aware of these weaknesses, might enable a person to better work around them.
Facilitation of Sensitive Discussions
The Belbin Team Roles can be used to facilitate discussions regarding the way the members of a project team work together. Having a common language based on the nine Belbin Team Roles makes it possible to have a constructive discussion of why specific issues occur when members with different roles interact. This will help the members of the team understand the issues that they are tackling and help them appreciate each other’s strengths. These kinds of discussions can be sensitive and delicate, as they deal with the behaviour and personalities of the people involved. Using the Belbin Team Roles can therefore be a valuable tool for these kinds of sensitive discussions .
Identifying and Handling Team Weaknesses
Analysing the team members of an already established team will grant insights into the unique weaknesses of this specific team. An example could be that a team does not have a person with the Completer Finisher role as either his/her preferred or manageable role. This suggests that the team might run into difficulties at the end of a project, as nobody will naturally take the lead in finishing and polishing off the work being conducted. Being aware of this will enable a project manager to take action, either by allocating more time to finishing up the project, or by introducing a Completer Finisher into the team. Another example would be a team with more than one Plant. Such a team might be inclined to spend unreasonable amounts of time coming up with innovative ideas, thereby not leaving enough time to actually develop the ideas into solutions to be implemented. A project manager of such a team should be aware of when to stop the flow of ideas and pick one to continue working on.
As a project manager, knowing your individual strengths and weaknesses is integral to becoming a better and more effective leader. Being aware of the ways in which you differentiate from the rest of your colleagues, will help you understand how to create the most value, and being aware of your weaknesses will give you the ability to adapt your leading style to different situations. For instance, being aware of one’s tendency to be overly critical as a Monitor Evaluator might serve to moderate comments on ideas and progress, thereby possibly increasing the team members’ feelings of appreciation and valuable contribution. An understanding of how your own team role interacts with other team roles can therefore provide insights into how to best communicate as a leader within a team.
This section discusses several relevant limitations regarding the use of the Belbin Team Roles theory.
Validity of the Belbin Team Role Theory
A number of case studies testing the validity of the Belbin Team Role theory have been conducted. Some of these studies have not been able to confirm the correlation between a balanced team composition and improved team performance.
Fisher et al. (1996) state that they have not been able to find a relationship between the nine Belbin Team Roles and the personality types used in the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire, which is one of the leading personality type tests being used today. They therefore question the validity of the BTRSPI . Batenburg et al. (2003) state that they did not find any relationship between team role diversity and team performance . However, they suggest that the validity of the Belbin Team Roles theory should not only be based on the performance of the teams, but also be measured based on the level of in-team collaboration and collective motivation of the teams. In a review of the article of Batenburg et al. (2003), it is stated that knowledge of one’s Belbin profile and preferred roles provides individuals in a team with insights into their own strengths and weaknesses, and that this increases their effectiveness and thus team performance . Lupuleac et al. (2012) confirms that there is a statistical relation between Belbin team role balance and team motivation, and states that team role balance provides an environment that encourages teams members to contribute, thus leading to higher levels of motivation .
Taking these limitations into consideration, the result of a Belbin test should not be viewed or used as a complete truth explaining how to achieve optimal team performance or how to understand the strengths and weaknesses of individuals within a team. Instead, the theory should be used as a tool to gain a better understanding of the factors influencing team performance as well as how to better utilize strengths and adapt to weaknesses. It should also be used to create a common language within a project team, to help facilitate discussions of how to optimize team performance and solve challenges as they occur.
A Balanced Team does not Guarantee High Performance
As an extension of the points made above, simply creating a balanced project team using Belbin Team Role theory will not guarantee a high team performance. Relying on it to do so alone would be a mistake. Instead, it should be used to better understand the roles of team members, thus creating an environment in which the team can develop and improve. It is important to also apply continuous team building exercises and display strong leadership in order to allow a team to improve.
Being Blinded by the Results
Another criticism voiced against the Belbin Team Role theory is that people risk believing too much in the results of the BTRSPI, thereby letting it control their behaviour. People risk becoming completely defined by their team role. It is important to keep in mind that tests like the BTRSPI only provide a partial picture of a person’s personality, and that this picture continuously develops and changes over time . Therefore, a healthy and natural scepticism should be encouraged.
This section briefly presents the most relevant referenced used in the article.
- 1. www.belbin.com
- Website created by Dr. Meredith Belbin and BELBIN Associates. Contains information regarding the history of the theory, as well as explanations of the theory as a whole.
- 2. Managing Succesful Projects with PRINCE2, Fifth Edition (2009). ISBN 978 0 11 331059 3
- PRINCE2 is a structed management method based on experienced drawn from thousands of projects. It is designed as a detailed reference source for practitioners.
- 3. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), Fifth Edition. (2013). ISBN-13
- Globally recognized standard and guide for the project management profession. Describes the established norms, methods, processes and practices to be used in Project Management.
- 4. Tonnquist, Bo (2009). Project Management - a complete guide, Hans Reitzels Forlag. ISBN 9788776757281
- A guide to the theory and practice of project, program and portfolio management, and business change.
- 5. Batenburg, R., van Walbeek, W. and der Maur, W. (2013), Belbin role diversity and team performance: is there a relationship?, Journal of Management Development, Vol. 32 No. 8, pp. 901-913.
- Presents empirical evidence that raises questions about whether Belbin’s ideas about team composition and role diversity have a significant effect on team performance, as distict from how well team members cooperate with one another.
- 6. Lupuleac, S., Lupuleac, Z. and, Rusu, C. (2012), Problems of assessing team roles balance – Team design, Procedia Econimics and Finance, Vol 3, pp. 935-940.
- Case study confirming that there is a statistical relationship between Belbin team role balance and team motivation.
- ↑ Managing Succesful Projects with PRINCE2, Fifth Edition (2009). ISBN 978 0 11 331059 3: TSO.
- ↑ A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), Fifth Edition. (2013). ISBN-13: 978-1-935589-67-9, pp. 3
- ↑ Managing Succesful Projects with PRINCE2, Fifth Edition (2009). ISBN 978 0 11 331059 3: TSO, pp. 12
- ↑ Managing Succesful Projects with PRINCE2, Fifth Edition (2009). ISBN 978 0 11 331059 3: TSO, pp. 39
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 BELBIN Associates, Belbin For Lecturers. Retrieved from http://www.belbin.com/media/1335/belbin-for-lecturers.pdf. Accessed on 20 February 2018
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 BELBIN Associates, The Nine Belbin Roles. Retrived from http://www.belbin.com/about/belbin-team-roles. Accessed on 20 February 2018
- ↑ BELBIN Associates. (2014). Methods, Reliability & Validity, Statistics & Research: A Comprehensive Review of Belbin Team Roles. Retrieved from http://www.belbin.com/media/1158/belbin-uk-2014-a-comprehensive-review.pdf. Retrived on 20 February 2018
- ↑ Hayes, John (2014). The Theory and Practice of Change Management, Fourth Edition, Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 978-1-137-27534-9
- ↑ Stephen G. Fisher, W. M. (1996). Further evidence concerning the Belbin Team Role Self-perception Inventory. Personnel Review, Vol. 25 Issue: 2, pp. 61-67. '
- ↑ Batenburg, R., van Walbeek, W. and der Maur, W. (2013), Belbin role diversity and team performance: is there a relationship?, Journal of Management Development, Vol. 32 No. 8, pp. 901-913.
- ↑ Improving Team Performance – Does Belbin role diversity really matter? (2015), Development and Learning in Organizations, Vol 29, No 5, pp. 25-27.
- ↑ Lupuleac, S., Lupuleac, Z. and, Rusu, C. (2012), Problems of assessing team roles balance – Team design, Procedia Econimics and Finance, Vol 3, pp. 935-940.
- ↑ Tonnquist, Bo (2009). Project Management - a complete guide, Hans Reitzels Forlag. ISBN 9788776757281