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Boost your business performance by understanding team roles

Posted: 30 Jan 2019

How well do you know yourself and your colleagues? Are you often frustrated by questions about the details of a project plan when you’re more interested in discussing the new ideas you have? Or does time slip away because no-one in your team focuses on getting things done? And what about when the person who thrives under pressure and kicking off new projects upsets someone who feel less comfortable with change? Do any of these circumstances ring true with you? If not, you’re sure to have your own examples of when there has been tension between team members.

Before moving on, a quick reference to the difference between a team and a group. A group is a collection of individuals who may coordinate their individual efforts whereas a team is a number of people who share a common team purpose and a number of challenging goals. Members of the team are mutually committed to the goals and to each other.

Back to team roles……whatever your preferred way of working, one thing for sure is that there is no right or wrong way of doing things when it comes to preferred behaviours and no one team role is 'better' than any other. Team roles are about behaviours not personality.

This brings me to the work of R. Meredith Belbin. Belbin’s extensive research in to team roles in the 1970s and 1980s still shapes our understanding of team roles today. He developed his theories at what is now Henley Business School at the University of Reading. Belbin’s Team Role theory is a straightforward way to help fast track you to a better understanding of why building a well-balanced team will help you reach your commercial goals more quickly.

Since becoming an accredited Belbin trainer I have delivered workshops with leadership teams in ambitious small businesses who are all keen to make the best use of the resources, skills at their disposal. They want to help each individual to work to their strengths while understanding others’ strengths as well as their own ‘allowable weaknesses’ as Belbin calls them. An important caveat to note is that nothing in ones ‘allowable weaknesses’ gives anyone permission to be ill-mannered or disrespectful; recognising your own strengths and those of others will stand you in good stead to help accelerate your business growth. 

Belbin team roles provide a language to describe the behaviour of individuals within teams. Individuals tend to assume different roles when working in a team. A team role is defined as "a tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way" and Belbin named such team roles that underlie team success. Belbin’s research showed that the most successful teams were made up of a diverse mix of behaviours.

Belbin’s nine team roles can be described broadly as ‘social’, ‘thinking’ or ‘action’ roles. The headlines for the nine team roles are:

Plant - ideas, imaginative

Monitor Evaluator - logical, questioning

Co-ordinator - clarifies things, involves others

Implementer – structured & methodical

Completer Finisher - quality control, meticulous

Resource Investigator - inquisitive, exploring

Shaper - makes things happen, dynamic

Team worker - diplomatic, popular, averts friction

Specialist - an expert in their field

You’ll probably recognise your own preferred behaviour just from these headlines. The next step is to get in to the detail about who works best together, secondary preferences and avoiding confusion between certain roles, as well as the value of using Belbin’s Team Role when recruiting for new team members.

In summary - all the roles make a good team so if you’re managing or leading a team, I’d encourage you to look at Belbin’s Team Roles to help understand the contribution that every person makes regardless of job title, background, education or pay grade.

  • Know your own strengths to help make the most of yourself & understand why others behave in a certain way & act like they do in a particular situation.
  • Natural tendencies come out when we’re under pressure.
  • The perception of others helps us understand ourselves better
  • There can be sacrifices. There may be gaps in a team and someone might need to perform a function that doesn’t come so naturally to them.


  • If you’ve got it, flaunt it! Accept your team role, it’s natural, and understand how your strengths & allowable weaknesses manifest themselves.

Susan Elliott | Accredited trainer - Belbin Team Roles

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