Belbin Team Roles in Project Management
Developed by Zahra Al-Mosawi (S193938)
Skills and experiences are important factors to consider when developing a high-performing project team. However, it is equally important to ensure that the team is balanced and collaborative to avoid conflicts, create a good working environment, and achieve project success. The theory of Belbin Team Roles, developed by Meredith Belbin, describes one way to build a team. It identifies nine different Team Roles which are needed to enable effective teamwork . These roles are based on behavioural traits and are intended to serve as a guide for realising the full potential of all team members and developing successful teams. Various people may display characteristics of different Team Roles to varying degrees. However, every individual has Preferred, Manageable, and Least Preferred roles . These are identified by the Belbin Team Role Self-Perception Inventory, a questionnaire that measures an individual's behavioural traits when working in teams. According to the Belbin Team Role theory, the best performing teams are the ones that include all nine Team Roles.
This article explores and discusses the theory behind Belbin Team Roles. It begins with a background to it, then explains when it is relevant in project management practices, how and when it can be applied, and concludes by listing some of its limitations.
The Belbin Team Roles is a theory developed by Meredith Belbin in collaboration with the mathematician Bill Hartson, the anthropologist Jeanne Fisher, and the occupational psychologist Roger Mottram, following nine years of study . The study was executed at the Administrative Staff College in Henley, which included yearly participation in three business games with eight teams per game, meetings, observations, categorisations, records of different team members' contributions and psychometric tests. By analysing the study results, Meredith Belbin and his research team could find a connection between team members' various combinations of personalities and behaviours and the overall team performance. It became clear that it was the balance of behaviour rather than the intellect that enabled a team to be successful. The study also showed that companies with a mix of different people with different behaviours tended to be the most successful.
Eight distinct clusters of behaviour called "Belbin Team Roles" were discovered during the study . Later on, an additional Team Role based on specialist knowledge was identified. According to Meredith Belbin, a "Team Role" is defined as "a tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way.". As a part of the research, it was observed that various people showed characteristics of different Team Roles to varying degrees and that the best performing teams are the ones that included all nine Team Roles. With the gained insight from the study, Dr Belbin developed the Belbin Team Role Self-Perception Inventory (BTRSPI), a test that measures behaviour and defines an individual’s role in a team. Today the BTRSPI test and the Belbin Team Roles theory are widely used by several companies to identify behavioural strengths and weaknesses in different workplaces. By knowing our Team Roles, we can assure that our strengths are used to our benefit and our weaknesses managed as much as possible. In some cases, that would mean being conscious of traps and trying to avoid them. A further description of the BTRSPI test and the nine Team Roles can be found later in this article.
The Theory in Relation to Project Management
Project success is often associated with well-developed and high-performing teams. The PMBOK® Guide adds to this statement by stating that developing a project team improves the overall team environment and project performance . Understanding what types of roles are needed to build successful teams can make creating a high performing team much more straightforward.
When selecting individuals to form a team, it is essential to consider that different individuals have different traits and preferences for specific work and roles. Assessing these traits and preferences can help project managers ensure that the right people are assigned to the right roles and tasks. PRINCE2 highlights the importance of this by stating that "the right people with the right experience need to be in the right roles, in the right numbers and at the right time" . PRINCE2 also states that for a project to be successful, it must have a clear team structure with specified roles and responsibilities for the involved people and an effective approach for communication. Gaining insight into how people behave and interact in work environments can help project managers choose a suitable communication strategy enabling shared trust and understanding.
The above mentioned situations show that the Belbin Team Roles can be a helpful tool for project managers, especially when it comes to the processes included in Project Resource Management.
Belbin's Nine Team Roles
Belbin Team Roles can be divided into three categories depending on their main orientations; action, people, and thinking . The roles Completer Finisher, Implementer, and Shaper are action-oriented roles. On the other hand, The Co‐ordinator, Resource Investigator, and Team Worker are more people-oriented. While the Monitor Evaluator, Plant, Specialist are thinking-oriented. Each role has strengths, weaknesses, and functions in a team. The weaknesses are defined as allowable because they are connected to the strengths. For example, a strength can be seen as a weakness in some cases. The strengths, allowable weaknesses, and functions for each Team Role are described below.
- Completer Finisher (CF)
Completer Finishers pay great attention to detail, continuously strive for perfection, and correct mistakes. CFs are considerably introverted and do not require much external stimulation compared to most people. One can trust CFs to perform to the highest standard and to complete their work on time. However, the combination of aiming for perfection and meeting deadlines often generates anxiety, and CFs are prone to be unwilling to trust others to do their work to their own high standards. The CFs are especially valuable where tasks need close focus and a high degree of precision. They are well suited to circumstances where accuracy and high standards are essential. Most likely, CFs also expect the same high standards from the people around them, establishing their own micro-culture where excellence is the only appropriate standard.
- Implementer (IMP)
What distinguishes the Implementers is their practical approach and their higher degree of self-control and discipline. They are usually loyal to the organization and willing to work hard to assure that things are done as prescribed in a systematic manner. They tend to be seen as people who do not seek personal agendas and self-interest. On the other hand, IMPs can be inflexible when it comes to accepting new ways of working, especially if they are radical or impractical.
Considering that IMPs are reliable and have a potential for application, they are regarded as valuable in an organization. As they have a sense of what is feasible and relevant and work efficiently, IMPs usually succeed in what they do. While many people prefer the tasks they like to do and disregard things they dislike, an IMP instead does what needs to be done systematically and relentlessly.
- Shaper (SH)
Shapers are very goal-oriented people with high drive and energy. They drive themselves and others and are inclined to conquer challenges by utter determination. They are likely to be very assertive and highly directive leaders. Shapers strive to be competitive and win in most cases. They usually grow in companies because they achieve results and because many people are fascinated by them being bold and decisive managers. However, SHs can be both argumentative and aggressive.
In general, SHs are seen as excellent leaders as they generate action and excel during tense circumstances. When quick and effective action is required to overcome challenges or project progress is very slow, SHs work well and are very useful.
- Co-ordinator (CO)
Co-ordinators excel at helping others work towards common goals. They are mature, confident and self-assured, and like to delegate. In interpersonal relationships, they are quick to recognise personal talents and utilise them to achieve team goals. Although COs are not necessarily the smartest in a team, they are likely to have a broad view and perspective. COs are goal-oriented, and due to that, they can sometimes manipulate others to accomplish their individual goals. In some cases, COs tend to disagree with Shapers because of their opposing management styles.
COs do well when they have responsibility for a team of people with different skills and personal characteristics. They are better at managing colleagues of similar or equal status than they are at managing junior subordinates. COs usually believe in approaching problems calmly.
- Resource Investigator (RI)
Resource Investigators are generally enthusiastic extroverts and communicating with people is a natural part of their personality. They are also natural negotiators and great at finding new opportunities as well as establishing new connections. Even though the RIs do not often come with original ideas, they are good at promoting other people's ideas. RIs are usually comfortable people and have a deep analytical sense and a passion for finding possibilities in different cases. However, their enthusiasm and excitement may fade away instantly if the other team members are no longer stimulated.
RIs are useful in a team because they are excellent at investigating and exploring ideas, improvements, and resources outside the team. They are also people with a natural ability to build external relations, participate in subsequent negotiations, think on their feet, and ask others for information.
- Team Worker (TW)
Team Workers have a friendly and sociable character and are generally helpful and caring to others. They have a remarkable ability to be flexible and adapt to different situations and people. TWs are empathetic, diplomatic, and usually good listeners. Due to these traits, they tend to be popular among their colleagues. Their desire to establish peace and avoid conflict can make them indecisive when making difficult individual decisions. TWs perform well when circumstances are tense, and people feel not cared for and unappreciated. This is because of their ability to solve interpersonal issues. Since TWs have few opponents and are willing to listen to others' views and suggestions, they can rise to leadership positions.
- Monitor Evaluator (ME)
Monitor Evaluators are serious and cautious people. They tend to make decisions slowly and prefer to think things through carefully. They usually have high critical thinking ability. They also have a remarkable ability to make astute judgments that consider all factors. If a team a good ME, they are unlikely to make intuitive and careless mistakes. MEs act on facts and logic rather than emotion when weighing options. However, they are often considered hypercritical and sometimes also regarded as slow and boring.
MEs are ideally suited to analyzing problems and assessing solutions and suggestions. They are excellent at weighing up the pros and cons of different options. Their ability to regularly make high-quality decisions is likely to make them highly respected in a leadership position.
- Plant (PL)
Plants are innovators and inventors. They can be very creative and provide original ideas to encourage innovation. Most of the time, they prefer working on their own at a distance from other team members. They have a tendency to be introverted and respond intensely to criticism and praise. Oftentimes, their ideas may be radical and impractical. However, due to their originality and radical perspective on things, they are usually considered clever. Sometimes, they have difficulties communicating compellingly and presenting their ideas in a practical and relevant way.
Plants are most useful when conventional and fixed ways of working need to be challenged, and when there is a need for new solutions to solve complicated problems. They are usually required in a project's early stages or when a project is not proceeding. Since plants tend to put their time working on their own ideas, they might not be highly productive when in a team.
- Specialist (SP)
The Specialist Team Role frequently causes confusion. This is because the term "Specialist" is usually referred to as an individual with technical knowledge and expertise. However, the Specialists, as defined by Belbin Team Roles, have some particular features. The main characteristic feature is their love of learning. They see education and the gathering of knowledge as the primary purpose for their existence. Most likely, SPs would be perceived by peers as an expert to whom one can turn to for help and guidance. However, they would typically avoid participating in social or unstructured meetings and discussions. They can also be slightly relentless when the validity of their knowledge or area of expertise is questioned.
While SPs may not necessarily be considered natural team players, it will be advisable for teams to engage the SP to enable in-depth research. As leaders, they are respected for their in-depth knowledge and can be used as mentors to increase others' professional competencies.
Belbin Team Role Self-Perception Inventory
The Belbin Team Role Self‐Perception Inventory (BTRSPI) is, as earlier mentioned, a test based on a questionnaire that measures an individual's behavioural characteristics when working in teams rather than on personality . Personality is, however, seen as one factor that can have an impact on behaviour. Other factors are values and motivations, external influences, experience, role learning and mental abilities. Most personality traits are considered relatively fixed, while behaviour can more easily change and adapt to changes in any of the factors that impact it. For that reason, it is expected that Team Role preferences may evolve, for example, when changing work role or environment or when something life-changing occurs.
The Preferred, Manageable and Least Preferred Roles
The BTRSPI test analyses a candidate's Preferred, Manageable, and Least Preferred Roles. The Preferred Roles are the ones in which the candidate fits naturally and feels the most comfortable. Manageable Roles are the ones that the candidate can have when needed for the team's advantage. Simultaneously, the Least Preferred Roles are the ones that the individual does not fit naturally in and does not feel comfortable in.
Construction and Function of BTRSPI
The BTRSPI measures nine Team Roles and includes a scale known as "Dropped Points" (DP) that looks at candidates' assertions and not on their Team Role contributions. The inventory is divided into eight distinct sections. Each section contains a heading and ten assertions, one for each Team Role and the last for DP. The headings indicate a work-related scenario or circumstance which the candidate can identify with. The main idea behind that is to ground the defined behaviours in a familiar sense of work and encourage candidates to think about cases from their own experiences. An example of a heading could be: "I believe I could make positive contributions to a team because:" and one of the assertions could be "I am quick to see and take advantage of new opportunities".
Candidates are asked to allocate ten points in each section of the inventory when completing the BTRSPI . If a person identifies equally with only two assertions, five points should be given for each. If four of them are relevant, but two are more relevant than the other two, the allocation of points could be as follows: 3, 3, 2, and 2.
After completing the test, the candidates will receive an individual report where the combination of Team Roles they display are identified . Included in the report are also advice and guidance on using the strengths of the Team Roles in a work environment.
Application in Practice
Belbin can be useful in different areas and situations within project management. Examples of these are described below.
Developing Balanced & High-Performing Teams
A team can become unbalanced when all members of it have similar behaviours or roles . Project managers can use the theory of Belbin to assure that all needed roles are covered and that there is a balance of strengths and weaknesses when developing a team. Having an idea of each team member's strengths and weaknesses can also help project managers allocate the right tasks to the right persons, leading to a more effective team.
Enhancing Self-Awareness & Personal Effectiveness
By taking the Belbin test, individuals may better understand themselves and their team role in a project. Being aware of their strengths may allow them to see how they can contribute to a team and get the most out of their potentials. Simultaneously, being aware of their weaknesses may help them find ways to deal with them.
With increased self-awareness and understanding of their own behaviour, project managers can learn to adapt their leadership style to their teams, ensuring a positive impact, maximised potentials, and shared trust .
Like many other theories, there are limitations to the Belbin Team Roles theory that one should consider before implementing it. Examples of the limitations are listed below.
- It is not always fair to measure people only by their team-related behaviours. Many other factors influence how people act and behave in different situations, and for that reason, Belbin might not always be enough to use by itself.
- Behaviour may change over time, for example, when roles and tasks change in a project or when moving over to another project. This means that the Team Roles identified by the Belbin test may not be valid after some time.
- Although people may display Team Roles that generally would complement each other in a team, it is difficult to guarantee that they will get along and work together without conflicts.
- Using Belbin Team Roles theory may help develop effective teams; however, one should not rely on it solely to do so. To maintain a team's effectiveness, the project manager needs to ensure that the involved people are engaged and motivated throughout the project.
BELBIN Associates: www.belbin.com
The official website of Belbin Associates. The website provides information, explanations and tests related to the theory of Belbin Team Roles.
Belbin, R. M. (2010). Management teams: Why they succeed or fail. Amsterdam: Butterworth-Heinemann.
This book is written by Dr Meredith Belbin. It provides a complete explanation of the Belbin Team Roles theory, its background and its use in practice.
Belbin, R Meredith. (2012). Team Roles at Work. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Written by Dr Meredith Belbin, this book explores the influence of the various Team Roles and provides useful insight into the application of the theory in everyday work situations.
- ↑ 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Belbin for Students. BELBIN Associates. Retrieved February 2021, from https://www.belbin.com/media/1336/belbin-for-students.pdf
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Method, Reliability & Validity, Statistics & Research: A Comprehensive Review of Belbin Team Roles. (2014). From BELBIN Associates: https://www.belbin.com/media/1158/belbin-uk-2014-a-comprehensive-review.pdf
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 History. BELBIN Associates. Retrieved February 2021, from https://www.belbin.com/about/history/
- ↑ Wilemon, D. L. & Thamhain, H. J. (1983). Team building in project management. Project Management Quarterly, 14(2), 73–81.
- ↑ Project Management Institute. (2017). A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK guide) (6th ed.). Project Management Institute.'
- ↑ Murray, A., Bennett, N., Bentley, C., & Great Britain. (2009). Managing successful projects with PRINCE2, 2009 edition manual. London: TSO (The Stationary Office).'
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 7.2 Why Use Belbin. (2021). From BELBIN Associates: https://www.belbin.com/about/why-use-belbin/