Creating effective teams with the use of Belbin's Team Roles
Developed by Sofie Amalie Lundsteen
The aim of this article is to describe and understand how and why Belbin's Team Roles can be used in practice in regard to Project Management, as this will improve effectiveness within existing and new teams.
Firstly, the history of Meredith Belbin's theory is described in order to understand the development of the nine-team roles. It is here important to distinguish between Functional Roles and Team Roles, as they each play a very different but also crucial role in the context of a team. In addition to this, the two standards PMBOKⓇ GUIDE and PRINCE2Ⓡ are used to describe why Belbin's Team Roles are important in Resource Management within Project Management theory by elaborating on possible applications. Furthermore, a broad overview of Belbin's Team Roles is carefully described taking the strength and weaknesses into account, as well as a real-life example of the consequences of not creating and acknowledging the right composition of Team Roles.
Secondly, the identification of Team Roles is outlined by the usage of the Self-Perception Inventory test. It is here highlighted how one can utilize the practical application of the team roles when creating a new team or assessing and working within an existing team. Additionally, the benefits of this practice are presented in order to display the Project Management advantages of this methodology. Later, the Team Roles are being combined with the project processes, as it illustrates how a project manager can utilize the Team Roles' strengths in the different processes.
Lastly, the limitations of Belbin's theory are explored in order to understand the weaknesses of this methodology. In this section, one will find critiques of Belbin's research and theory.
This article wishes to target and appeal to everybody but requires a basic understanding of fundamental elements within Project Management. The article will particularly focus on how and why Belbin's Team Roles can be used in Resource Management within Project Management theory, as this will improve effectiveness within existing and new teams.
The history of Meredith Belbin's Theory
It requires a variety of personality types that can assume different roles to construct a successful team. Assigning roles with different responsibilities according to employees’ strengths and weaknesses is an effective way to create a team, as individuals perform better at tasks that draw from their strengths. That was a part of the conclusion of Meredith Belbin’s nine-year long research program from where he developed the nine team roles . Belbin believes that building a successful team is about combining the right individuals into their natural team roles. The nine team roles are: Plant, Monitor-Evaluator, Specialist, Shaper, Implementer, Completer-Finisher, Coordinator, Teamworker and Resource Investigator . This belief originated from his previous experience as he both studied how work patterns change with age in 1955  and later in the 1960s where he pioneered with the concept of work experience to integrate underprivileged members of the community into workplaces . This was his foundation for what would come next, as the Team Roles research program would consume nine years ending in 1981 with the book: Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail .
The difference between Functional Roles and Team Roles
In Belbin’s research, he distinguishes between two forms of roles; a functional role and a team role.
- The functional role of an employee is their daily work with the tasks that they have been assigned to. The functional role is the employee’s part in the operation, which they were hired for on behalf of their technical skills, knowledge and experience .
- The team role is entirely different, as it depends on personal ability and the characteristics of the individual. That is why it is often more difficult to identify the attributes of a team member such as their motivation, values and personality which is not as tangible as boxing a functional role in an organization. That is where Belbin’s nine team roles are manifesting itself, as a tool to identify what team role the individual embodies .
Belbin's Team Roles in relation to Project Management
Identifying the individuals’ roles is crucial for the project manager, as it aids in the process of completing a successful project with a team exercising their full potential. The project manager is very dependent on creating the right team, as the team’s performance will affect how and when the project manager is able to deliver the product of their work. In the book PMBOKⓇ GUIDE , one can find the following statement.
It is exactly here that Resource Management within Project Management theory interacts with Belbin’s team roles, as the theory presents the processes to identify, acquire, and manage the resources needed for the successful completion of projects. These processes support and ensure that the right resources are available to the project manager and the team at the right time and place.
In the book Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2Ⓡ  it is pointed out, that it can be a difficult task to create a successful team without knowing what kind of personalities there are to choose and pick between. The required processes and systems are not always enough to create a successful project, it is the people within it that constitute the essential foundation of a successful project, which is captured in the paragraph below.
By applying the knowledge of Belbin’s team roles to the current team or future team, it is easier to create balance within the team and to identify the individuals team role . When creating more balanced teams, it is extremely important to assess what natural team roles people fit into, which can be done by examining the individual’s strengths and weaknesses. That is possible by using the Belbin Team Inventory test, also called the Belbin Self-Perception Inventory, which is developed to examine individuals' behaviour . To ensure that a team does not become unbalanced, one must avoid that all team members have similar styles of behavior and competencies, as this would leave the team invested and experienced in a smaller pool of areas than with people of different skill sets and interests.
Belbin's Team Roles
In the following section, an introduction to the nine different team roles that an individual can embody will be presented. Each of the nine team roles has its place within a certain group, which is either Thought Oriented Roles, Action Oriented Roles or People Oriented Roles .
|Group||Belbin's Team Roles||Description||Strengths||Weaknesses|
|Thought Oriented Roles||Plant|| The Plant is the creative individual that supplies the team with new innovative ideas and plans.
They always seem to find new ways of assessing existing challenges, that can help the team solve the problems ahead.
A clear attribute of the Plant is that they are typically a bit distant and can be impractical at times.
However, the Plant thrives on praise from their colleagues but are very sensitive to criticism.
Lastly, the Plant may also be poor communicators and can tend to disregard details and constraints.
|Creative, intelligent and unorthodox||Overoptimistic, not detail oriented, sensitive and a bad communicator|
|Monitor-Evaluator|| The Monitor-Evaluators are the critical analyzers and evaluators of the team.
They are very objective, and they carefully weigh the pros and cons of all the options before coming to a decision.
That allows the team to have the best possible basis for decision-making going forward.
As they tend to be very objective others might perceive them as detached or unemotional, which is expressed throughout their critical and skeptical way of thinking.
That could be a part of the reason why Monitor-Evaluators are not to be perceived as inspirational nor motivating.
|Analytical, objective, rational and strategic||Overly critical, skeptical and lacks drive|
|Specialist|| The Specialists are the individuals with the technical skills that is required to find the solutions to the challenges ahead.
Specialists do often come across as narrow-minded, as they commit themselves entirely to their area of expertise, which could possibly lead to a preoccupation with technicalities at the expense of the bigger picture.
Furthermore, Specialists seem to pride themselves on their skills and abilities, which can be perceived as arrogant.
However, Specialists have a tendency to self-isolate in order to immerse themselves into their work, which might send a signal, as if they do not care about the rest of the team.
|Self-starting, dedicated and technical skilled||Narrow-minded, preoccupation with small details and dwells on technicalities|
|Action Oriented Roles||Shaper|| Shapers are the individuals that are determining the direction for the team.
They are usually driven by a huge amount of energy and the need to achieve.
That is also why they are very competitive individuals, where winning is the name of the game.
This has a substantial effect on the rest of the team, as the drive provides continuous momentum.
Furthermore, the Shapers tend to ensure that all team members are aware of the prioritized targets so that they avoid misunderstandings.
By doing so the Shapers will continuously challenge the team to improve in order to reach the goal faster and hereby achieve the desired targets.
As individuals, they are usually dynamic and extraverted that enjoy working in a team, where they can challenge the status quo and move things ahead. This eagerness can also be perceived as aggressive in the attempt to drive the team forward.
|Challenging, dynamic, driven and courageous||Overly enthusiastic, provoking and short-tempered|
|Implementer|| The Implementers are the individuals that get the tasks done on time. They transform the hypothetical ideas and plans into practical and systematic actions and plans for the rest of the team to follow.
The Implementers tend to be organized but also conservative, disciplined and effective people. The usual disadvantage with them is their lack of flexibility and resistance towards new initiatives, as they will often have difficulty deviating from their own well considered plans.
|Disciplined, efficient, conservative, organised and pratical||Sometimes inflexible, slow in response to and adoption of new options|
|Complete-Finisher|| The Complete-Finishers are individuals that works as a safeguard against both unlucky and lazy actions, as they see that projects are completed thoroughly.
In order to do so, the Complete-Finishers are trying to maintain a certain level of engagement from all participants even in the last stretch of a project.
It is important for the Complete-Finishers that deadlines are met and that could be the reason why one would perceive them as perfectionists who are orderly and conscientious.
The usual problem with perfectionists are that they may tend to worry unnecessarily and furthermore have a difficult time delegating responsibilities to the rest of the team in fear of not achieving the desired target in time.
|Conscientious, painstaking, perfectionistic and persistent||Worrisome, reluctant to delegate and a nitpicker|
|People Oriented Roles||Coordinator|| The Coordinators are the individuals that embody the typical team-leader role.
Their main objective is to control and guide the team in the right direction by utilizing the strength and weaknesses of the team members.
That is possible because the Coordinators are excellent listeners and are able to identify and recognize the value each team member accounts for.
In that way, the team can achieve high performance results. The usual problem with Coordinators is that they tend to be manipulative, which is very destructive for a team in progress.
|Confident, trustful, mature and well at delegating responsibilities||Has a tendency to be manipulative|
|Teamworker|| The Teamworkers are individuals that support the entire team and enhances their strong suits.
They ensure a good working environment and communication, which is very important for the former to work efficiently.
The Teamworkers are usually good negotiators which is why one could describe them as diplomatic and perceptive.
A Teamworker can go unnoticed and unappreciated until they are absent. However, the Teamworkers do also embody weaknesses such as indecisiveness as they do not wish to stay party-less in crucial times of decision making. That reveals why Teamworkers might be described as hypersensitive.
|Diplomatic, perceptive, extroverted and flexible||Indecisive and has a tendency to be hypersensitive|
|Resource Investigator|| The Resource Investigators are individuals that explore new ideas and hereby create desired progress outside of the team.
They are establishing contacts in the community outside of the team and are good negotiators with their curious and innovative mindset.
That is only supported by their outgoing attitude which makes others perceptive to them and their ideas. However, the Resource Investigators are inclined to lose their interest and enthusiasm quickly. They tend to be overly optimistic and talk a lot.
|Enthusiastic, communicative, curious and develops contacts||Overoptimistic, loses the enthusiasm quickly and talks a lot|
The construction of the Sydney Opera House
To finish off this section with a real world example  from the book, Team Roles at Work, one should explore the story of the famous Sydney Opera House and the process of constructing this marvelous modern piece of architecture. The world famous opera house narrates a story of scandalous setbacks and mismanagement, which many bypassers might not be aware of when they experience this astonishing national symbol. The original design was produced by the Danish architect Jørn Utzon, which was only taken into consideration as the primary contenders fell short of the task. The issue was that Jørn Utzon tried to broaden his responsibility throughout the project and was furthermore late in regards to completing the finalized design, which together with other causes postponed the entire project by 47 weeks. In their urgent haste to complete the opera house, the foundation was mistakenly built without regard to the special requirements of the design and had to be replaced by a completely new one. That ultimately led to the total cost of the construction of the Sydney Opera House exceeding the budgeted target by a magnificent factor of ten. In regards to Belbin’s nine team roles, Belbin argues that Jørn Utzon was in the category of genius idea makers, also referred to as Plants in the theory . As Plants are usually too optimistic and sensitive to criticism, one would argue that Jørn Utzon would possibly have thrived in a different supportive setting, where more Specialists and Monitor-Evaluators could have contributed to the construction and maybe would have avoided the reconstruction of a new foundation. Furthermore, team roles such as Implementers and Shapers are essential to the process of making the Plants vision into reality in an efficient way. This exact situation is captured very well in the quote below.
The construction of the Sydney Opera House illustrates the significant consequences of not having a balanced team.
In the following section, a short guide of how to use the tool will be presented. Secondly, a description of what the project manager will achieve from using the tool will be provided and lastly, how to apply the team roles in the different phases of a project.
Identification of Team Roles
It is a difficult task for a project manager to identify the individual's teams role. That is why you can purchase at BELBIN Associates' homepage; , a personalized behavioral reports for both individuals and teams. The report identifies which of the nine possible roles your team would need in order to obtain success. Furthermore, it identifies what roles the individuals in the team possess. Belbin“Self-Perception Inventory“ is a behavior-based questionnaire that the individual must answer in order to identify their natural team role. An interesting aspect of this questionnaire is that your colleagues will categorize your behaviour by their opinions of you, which might diverge from your own perception. Furthermore, BELBIN Associates' homepage provides several case studies, such as Novo Nordisk and DTU who explain how they use the output from the personalized behavioral reports in practice, you can read more about the cases here; . Usually identification of Team Roles can be used in two different situations:
Creating new teams
Establishing a new team can very well be a strong tool in order to compose the right balanced team to meet a specific challenge. In many organisations you will often see well-established teams, which can be difficult to work with if not properly composed in the first place. A way to create a great team is to utilise the Self-Perception Inventory test that Belbin invented. That will enable the project manager to combine the most suitable individuals, regardless of rank or role.
Assessing existing teams
The aim of assessing existing teams is to enhance and improve team performance by changing team composition or maybe even rebuilding team culture with the help of the Self-Perception Inventory test. If a team is not properly composed from the very beginning it will be difficult for the project manager to achieve high performance unless tweaks and other corrections are made. Utilizing the Self-Perception Inventory test, existing teams can learn to understand each other's Team Roles in an entirely different setting, which might help the individuals of the team to work better together. Ultimately, a project manager would like her/his team to embody a form of symbiosis, where the strengths are being promoted through the actions of the team and weaknesses are being avoided entirely. Such a test creates transparency in the team and will more likely help the project manager to identify potential lack or over-supply of specific Team Roles.
Benefits of identifying Belbin's Team Roles
By acknowledging Belbin's natural team roles, a project manager can achieve many benefits such as:
- A balanced and efficient team
A way to exploit Belbin’s team roles are within the organizational theory according to PRINCE2Ⓡ, as it describes the importance of creating a balanced team in order to achieve effective teams. The book explicitly refers to Belbin’s team role inventory in order to identify the different types of team roles, that are described in the statement below.
- Emotional intelligence (EI) and self-awareness
Belbin's team roles theory can be utilized within the Planning and Executing process of the knowledge area of Project Resource Management. PMBOKⓇ GUIDE outlines that the project manager, with regards to resource management, should invest in Emotional intelligence (EI) by improving inbound (e.g self-awareness) and outbound (e.g., relationship management) competencies. Furthermore, research shows that project teams who succeed in team EI will be more effective . In addition to this, one can utilize Belbin’s theory to identify an individual's natural team role in order to improve the self-awareness and relationship management of the individual, which will help the project manager to create a more effective team and reach team EI  .
- Development of teams - Get through Tuckman Ladders phase effectively
As described earlier Belbin’s team roles can also be used to develop teams. A model that can be used to describe team development is the Tuckman Ladder, which describes five typical stages of development that a team encounters . These five phases are called Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning. Read a more detailed description of the phases here . One can argue that by identifying Belbin’s team roles in either the Forming or the Storming phase, it would aid the team not to lose momentum in such a phase, which benefits the working environment as it will not become counterproductive. By already possessing the knowledge of the different personalities within a team, it becomes easier to go through the Norming phase where the team members must work together and trust each other's work. As a project manager it is your responsibility to get to the Performing phase as fast as possible, which the identification of Belbin’s team roles can help with.
- Insight into individuals behavioral strengths and weaknesses
By taking the Self-Perception Inventory test one can gain an insight into individuals behavioural strengths and weaknesses.
- Better communication
The method can help a team to communicate better by acknowledging the natural team roles within it. Furthermore, an understanding of the individual's strengths and weaknesses assist in better communication.
An example of Team Roles in combination with project phases
There are many different ways of grouping the processes of a project. According to the book PMBOKⓇ GUIDE the project processes are divided into five different categories Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling and Closing, which are called process groups . It is therefore particularly interesting to explore how the different types of team roles can be beneficial for the project manager in regards to the processes of a project. In the figure below, it is illustrated which phases that could potentially be beneficial to use the different team roles within. That goes without saying that all team roles are necessary in most phases, but the project manager could potentially have the need for specific types of team roles in the different phases in order to achieve the best possible outcome. However, it is important to remember that all projects are unique, which means that there are many approaches of using the roles in the different process phases.
As illustrated above, it could be beneficial to use the Plant and Shaper in the Initiating process as the Shaper is very goal oriented and the Plant is good at creating innovative ideas. Together they demonstrate the power to define what a project might consist of and how to solve the difficulties in a creative way. In the Planning process, a Coordinator and Resource Investigator could be the right fit, as a Coordinator is great at delegating the different tasks and responsibilities. The Resource Investigator has the skillset to establish contact to possible stakeholders, which is important in the early phases of the project in order to conduct research in the market. The next phase is the Execution process, where one will find the Implementer and Teamworker. The Implementer can start the execution of the project whereas the Teamworker can ensure that the whole team is a part of the process. As the Implementer is not very detail oriented, the Specialist can contribute to the work that the Implementer has initiated. It is here that the Monitor-Evaluator can take advantage of their critical and analyzing mindset to ensure that everything is as it is supposed to be. Lastly, the Completer-Finisher will ensure that the project is still aligned with the prescribed scope, correct small errors and deliver the project at deadline.
Skepticism of Belbin's Team Roles
Papers and studies argue that there are no significant differences in how balanced the team is and their performance. That means that studies have shown that the team performance does not necessarily become better because of the diversity in the teams roles, which Belbin argues it will  .
Furthermore, one can find multiple critics of Belbin’s team role theory  . One of them is Stephen G. Fisher, that in his personal review Further evidence concerning the Belbin Team Role Self-perception Inventory states that there is no significant relationship between Belbin’s team role theory and the personality types from the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire, which is among the most acknowledged personality tests of today . Furthermore, Fisher also suggests that one should be aware that individuals might change roles in time as people progress in unique ways.
Limitation of the tool
- Behavioural test, not a Psychometric Tests
The “Self-Perception Inventory“ is a behavioural test, which means it can change over time and can be dependent on the team that you work in, which suggests that it is very important to remember that your preferred role is not fixed for life, it can changes. That indicates that this is not a personality test  .
- Difficulties when defining the team roles
If you are not willing to pay the price of the “Self-Perception Inventory“ test, it can be hard to define the team roles “objectively”, but you can always in a group define what role you think you belong to.
- No focus on the functional role
Belbin's research do not focus on the functional roles, it only focuses on the Team Roles .
- The optimal group
Sometimes there should be more than one person with the same role. For example, more than one plant can be useful in a group .
- The model does not take into account hierarchal relations between people 
BELBIN Associates, 2021, https://www.belbin.com
BELBIN Associates provides a good overview of the nine different Team Roles and how to use them in practice. Furthermore, one can buy a “Self-Perception Inventory“ test and a team rapport to help identify the different roles in the team. Lastly, some case examples from different companies is provided, which can help you as a project manager to see some real-life case studies.
Belbin, R., Meredith(1993). Team Roles at Work, Elsevier, second edition
The book is Meredith Belbin's second edition of Team Roles at Work which describes the research and theory in dept and how to use it in different areas of an organization. This article focussed on the first chapters of the book to create an understanding of why it necessary and how to use it in regard to Project Management. For further reading, I would recommend reading chapter 7 Managing difficult working relationships and chapter 9 The art of building a team which describes how to manage the Team Roles in the best possible way and when the creation of a team is going to happen.
2010 R. Meredith Belbin., Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail - Third Edition, Taylor & Francis Ltd
Why they succeed or fail is an account of the experimental study of management teams at Henley Management College from which Belbin's unique Team Role theory is developed upon. The book describes the benefits of Belbin's own experience of putting the Team Roles method into practice. The book provides an option to learn from Belbin's experience, which is going to make it easier to implement the method in your organisation.
Fisher, Stephen G., W. M. (1996). Further evidence concerning the Belbin Team Role Self-perception Inventory. Personnel Review, Vol. 25 Issue: 2, pp. 61-67, Retrieved from https://www.deepdyve.com/lp/emerald-publishing/further-evidence-concerning-the-belbin-team-role-self-perception-S13asfw2Uu
This article describes a critical point of view of Belbin's Team Roles, especially the scientific foundation of the “Self-Perception Inventory“ test. The benchmark of the research is that they compare the results from a Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire, which is a personality questionnaire, with the answers from the “Self-Perception Inventory“ test. The article gives the reader an understanding of several of the limitations of the method.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Belbin, R., Meredith(1993). Team Roles at Work, Elsevier, second edition 2010, pp. 8-9. '
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 BELBIN Associates, 2021, Timeline, https://www.belbin.com/about/timeline/ '
- ↑ Belbin,1981, Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail, Timeline,ISBN 978-0-470-27172-8'
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 Belbin, R., Meredith(1993). Team Roles at Work, Elsevier, second edition 2010, page 24. . '
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 Project Management Institute, Inc. (2017). Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (6th Edition). Project Management Institute, Inc. (PMI). Page 309-311. Retrieved from https://app.knovel.com/hotlink/pdf/id:kt011DXQ4C/guide-project-management/initiating-process-group
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Managing Succesful Projects with PRINCE2, 6th Edition (2017). , pp. 12
- ↑ Self-Perception Inventory, http://www.belbin.ie/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/BELBINUK-Self-PerceptionInventory+CompletionGrid.pdf , pp. 1-3
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 Method, Reliability & Validity, Statistics & Research:Comprehensive review of Belbin Team Roles, https://www.belbin.com/media/1158/belbin-uk-2014-a-comprehensive-review.pdf , pp. 9
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 Belbin, R., Meredith(1993). Team Roles at Work, Elsevier, second edition, pp. 103-105. '
- ↑ Belbin, R., Meredith(1993). Team Roles at Work, Elsevier, second edition, page 104. '
- ↑ 11.0 11.1 11.2 A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), 6th Edition. (2017). , pp. 310
- ↑ Belbin, homepage, 'Why Use Belbin Team Roles?, https://www.belbin.com/about/why-use-belbin/
- ↑ Project Management Institute, Inc. (2017). Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (6th Edition). Project Management Institute, Inc. (PMI). Page 18-21. Retrieved from https://app.knovel.com/hotlink/pdf/id:kt011DXQ4C/guide-project-management/initiating-process-group.
- ↑ 14.0 14.1 Batenburg, Ronald, Belbin role diversity and team performance: is there a relationship?, Department of Information and Computing Sciences, Utrecht University, pp. 901-9013. '
- ↑ Meslec, Nicoleta, Curşeu, Petru Lucian, Are balanced groups better? Belbin roles in collaborative learning groups, March 2015, Elsevier, pp. 81-85. '
- ↑ 16.0 16.1 Fisher, Stephen G., W. M. (1996). Further evidence concerning the Belbin Team Role Self-perception Inventory. Personnel Review, Vol. 25 Issue: 2, pp. 61-67, Retrieved from https://www.deepdyve.com/lp/emerald-publishing/further-evidence-concerning-the-belbin-team-role-self-perception-S13asfw2Uu. '
- ↑ Ablesim, Belbin Team Inventory, June 2018, https://ablesim.com/belbin-team-inventory/. '
- ↑ BELBIN Associates, Behavioural vs. Psychometric Tests, https://www.belbin.com/about/behavioural-vs-psychometric-tests/. '
- ↑ 19.0 19.1 12 Manage, March 2018, Limitations of the Belbin team roles method. Disadvantages, https://www.12manage.com/methods_belbin_team_roles.html. '