Are you a Plant or a Shaper - and what difference could it make to your team?
March 2009
Dear Karen,
Karen KimberleyThe popularity of using Belbin Team Roles to analyse the different roles of members of a team appears to be growing during these difficult times. A high-performing team needs to be in good shape to deal with challenges and making sure the team is made up of the right type of people, doing the right jobs, in the roles they are most suited to, can make all the difference to success in business.
The added benefit is that the Belbin process can also be quite a motivator for people - they secretly like to learn about their own preferences, strengths and weaknesses and know more about what their team mates think about them. The thing about Belbin is that it always seems so accurate and that is what people find remarkable about it.
Even when an individual changes role and position over a period of time the Belbin analysis seems to reflect the changes accurately.
Depending on what role is being carried out an individual may carry out a Belbin diagnostic several times in one career as a member of several different teams.
A dynamic, driving person characterised as a 'Shaper' leading a team, may find these tendencies lessen when working in a different role, environment, team or culture. A highly creative, imaginative thinker, known as a 'Plant' may be a critical member of the team, vital to the team's success - but there may only be one in a team.

A senior team may find that they have too many 'Co-ordinators' competing to chair the Board meeting. A project team may discover it has no 'Completer Finishers' who are good at completing the task but that it has too many 'Resource Investigators' who are busy going off in different directions and exploring new opportunities. 
So it's easy to see how a Belbin assessment can help to eliminate these risks, particularly during change, when roles and responsibilities are reallocated, and new roles and teams created. It can also provide useful information about what to look for when interviewing candidates for a new role. 

What makes a High Performing Team?
High-performing teams are at their best when they are delivering their objectives. In achieving high performance a team needs to focus on three things: 
  1. Achieving the task
  2. Building and improving relationships
  3. Accelerating team learning
Focusing on tasks and objectives alone will not deliver long term high performance. Poor relationships lead to conflict, duplication of effort, failures in quality or service and other disruptions.
When individuals can see that their contribution makes a difference, is valued and recognised, the organisation's values and behaviours begin to come alive and these behaviours become part of everyday corporate life.
Good teamwork and communication is critical to this. In order to reach optimum performance, teams need to understand: the value of the team itself as a unique group of individuals; to other teams and departments within the organisation i.e. their internal customers and to the success of the organisation as a whole. 
The Belbin Approach
Dr Meredith Belbin conducted research in the late seventies which led to the development of Belbin Team Roles, nine clusters of behaviour that individuals adopt when participating in a team.  The Belbin Team Roles model is used by over 40% of the UK's top 100 companies, the United Nations and thousands more companies internationally to enhance individual and team performance.
Belbin is defined as a behavioural test, rather than a psychometric test, because it is concerned with behaviour rather than personality traits, intelligence or aptitude.  All of the nine Team Roles are equally valid and appropriate within the team and are important for the success of the team. 
The reason that Belbin works so well is that there is something in it for both the individual and the team.  As each person in the team reveals their preferences via their preferred Team Role, understanding is enhanced and because of this understanding members of the team have reasonable expectations of one another which help to avoid disappointment and misunderstanding.
Belbin also helps to identify potential weaknesses in the team structure and there may be opportunity for individuals to adopt roles which are not their strongest preference where such a gap exists, with team members understanding what assistance may be needed.
For example a 'Plant' is an ideas generator, so if you have a large number in the team, their ideas begin to cancel each other out and the team never gets beyond the ideas stage.  'Shapers' drive others but can ruffle feathers, so if you have a large number in the team, they're all likely to pressurise each other, with no one there to do the work (if there are any poor 'Implementers' and 'Teamworkers' they are likely to bear the brunt)!
The Nine Team Roles
Briefly described the Belbin Team Roles are as follows:
The Co-ordinator clarifies group objectives, sets the agenda, establishes priorities, selects problems, sums up and is decisive, but does not dominate discussions.
The Shaper gives shape to the team effort, looking for pattern in discussions and practical considerations regarding the feasibility of the project. They can steamroller the team, but get results.

The Plant is the source of original ideas, suggestions and proposals that are usually imaginative and radical.
The Monitor-Evaluator contributes a measured and dispassionate analysis and, through objectivity, stops the team committing itself to a misguided task.
The Implementer turns decisions and strategies into defined and manageable tasks, sorting out objectives and pursuing them logically.
The Resource Investigator goes outside the team to bring in ideas, information and developments to it. They are the team's sales-person, diplomat, liaison officer and explorer.
The Team Worker operates against division and disruption in the team, like cement, particularly in times of stress and pressure.
The Completer Finisher is responsible for quality control, ensuring that high standards are met and maintained.
The Specialist is single-minded, self-starting, dedicated and provides knowledge and skills in rare supply.
Very few people display characteristics of just one Team Role.  Most people have three or four preferred roles, which can be adopted or not as the situation requires.  In addition, there are manageable roles, which can be cultivated if required, and least preferred roles, which are best avoided at all costs! 
Analysis and Team Building with Belbin
During a typical workshop using Belbin our role is to:
  • Provide each individual with a report showing their preferred Team Roles and also Team Roles that they should avoid, together with paragraphs explaining the Team Roles in practical terms.
  • Provide a Team Report which shows where gaps, opportunities or risks exist in the team and provides a powerful overview of the relationships and dynamics inherent within the team.
  • Assist the members of the team to share their own preferences and explore what they mean to the team
  • Encourage team building by reinforcing the fact that everyone is bringing something to the team, that all roles are needed for success - no stars or exceptions
  • Assist the team to work out how to ensure that all Team Roles are covered even if they are not 'preferred' roles
  • Draw out strengths and allowable weaknesses - every Team Role has a particular strength to be valued and weaknesses which need understanding - this reinforces the 'no stars or exceptions'
  • Assist the team in looking at how the findings apply on a wider basis - helping the team to 'helicopter' above the day to day concerns. 
The Team Role concept can also be used to improve teams with specific needs for example, a team in conflict will require a 'Team Worker' or strong 'Coordinator'; a new team will need a strong 'Shaper' to get started and so on.
It is our belief that Belbin Team Roles greatly enhance the performance of a team, especially a new team, as well as enhancing each individual's self-awareness and personal effectiveness.  It also helps in fostering mutual trust and understanding, whilst giving the team a better understanding of the make up and strengths and potential weaknesses of the team.
Team effectiveness can be improved as team members understand themselves and what they contribute. They also begin to understand the strengths of others and how each team member is important for success. 
This sort of understanding leads to improved communication and relationships within the team which then helps to influence their communication effectiveness with other parts of the organisation that interact with them.
Using Belbin to look at Team Roles and focusing on the relationships within the team can provide revealing insights into the dynamics of the team and where it needs to focus to improve performance.
Finally motivating a team through team building can prove highly effective and deliver good ROI for the business. Helping managers to identify motivating factors for themselves and to understand more about how to motivate their team can be vital in a time of uncertainty where recession is threatening to stifle the life, energy and spirit out of organisations.
If your team could benefit from a Belbin Team Role assessment or team building session, talk to us about how we can help as licensed Belbin assessors.
Karen Kimberley's company is based in Taplow near Maidenhead. She coaches people inside companies, to change things inside themselves, to improve their communication and performance. For more information contact Karen on Tel 01628 509593, Mobile: 07785 566468, e-mail kk@karenkimberley.co.uk, and visit the new website www.karenkimberley.co.uk
Changing People Inside

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