Design the team you need to succeed using Belbin's team roles
Developed by Christoffer Askgaard
As complex as projects can be, the people that need to solve them can be equally or even more complex and that is why there in recent years has been an increasing interest in how highly efficient teams can be designed. This task falls upon the project manager, who oversees the design and leads the team that is responsible for achieving the project objectives.  The beginning of a project is one of the project managers’ most important times, as the foundation of the project is laid by designing the team that he/she needs for the project to succeed.  A tool that can help the project manager with this task is Belbin’s team roles, which can identify personal traits and help to create balanced teams based on behavioral contributions rather than job titles.  The Belbin team roles were developed by Dr. Meredith Belbin with collaboration from Henley Management College in England. It contains 9 different team roles, that each has its core competencies and limitations. These can overlap but are equally important to create synergy and efficiency in a team. The model is used by over 40 percent of the top 100 companies in the UK, the United Nations, the World Bank and thousands of organizations throughout the world to enhance individual and team performance. 
The Belbin team role concept was first described in the book Management Teams - Why they succeed or fail written by Dr. Meredith Belbin in 1981. A Team Role was defined as: “A tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way”.
A human’s personality steers him or her towards particular team roles, where psychometric tests can be a good tool to get an idea of the direction. However, personality traits are not the only factor in a person's role in a team and the others can have a bigger impact. One of these is intellect, where people with a higher IQ are more inclined to change their role in the team if they sense a need, compared to people with a lower IQ. 
Other factors are experience and role adaptation which can have a favorable impact on the behavior so that it becomes possible to survive even the most complex social environments.  Behavior in its widest sense is according to the Belbin study the most important ingredients in collaborative work. The Belbin team analysis is made to map observed behavior in a given context and translate it to a personal team role profile, which highlights the person’s impact on the team.
The What, When, and Why of Belbin's team roles
What is the result?
The Belbin team analysis evaluates each team role and sorts them into three categories:
- Naturally, strong team roles are the ones a person falls into by doing what he/she feels natural. Often a person has 2-3 naturally strong team roles, and the ideal situation would be to always be able to contribute as part of these roles.
- Team roles a person can act in. Should be given to other team members if they are strong in these roles. However, if the team is missing someone who is naturally strong or has the preference to be in these roles, a person who can act in a specific role should take it.
- The last team roles are those the person should avoid, which makes it important that other team members have these qualities. It is crucial for a person to announce that he/she is lagging in competencies in a certain field if the person is set in a role that is far from their natural strong roles.
Why use this method?
The results of working with the Belbin Team roles theory are to get a better understanding of oneself and the other team members and understand how and why a person acts the way they do. In this way, he/she still gets a better understanding of:
- How to increase team effectiveness.
- The recognition of dissimilarity.
- How to communicate better in your team.
A project manager needs to have efficient and open communications with the team members.
When should it be applied?
Belbin's team roles is a good tool for project managers and organizations to apply to get a better understanding and utilizing the natural talents and motivations of staff.
Belbin's team roles method is an ideal tool to apply when project managers are working towards:
- More effective teams.
- Better communication in the teams.
- A more supportive environment inside the team.
- Less conflict inside the teams.
- Better cooperation between team members.
- Better work environment.
- A shared perception of team roles.
The 9 Team Roles
Each team role has its characteristics, functions, and allowable weakness. The functions are a description of the positive properties that contribute to teamwork, where the allowable weakness covers smaller less appropriate behavior which can come to show when the person works under stress. 
|Team Roles||Characteristics||Allowable weakness||Function|
|Resource Investigator (RI)||Resource Investigators are usually enthusiastic extroverts and can naturally communicate and negotiate with people. They are adept at exploring new opportunities and developing contacts. RIs are not a great source of original ideas but are effective when it comes to picking up others’ ideas and promoting them. They have the ability to think on their feet and probe others for information.
|RIs are generally relaxed people with a strong inquisitive sense and a readiness to see the possibilities in anything new. However, unless they remain stimulated by others, their enthusiasm can rapidly fade.||Resource Investigators are good at exploring and reporting back on ideas, developments, or resources outside their immediate group. They are the natural people to set up external contacts and to carry out any subsequent negotiations.|
|Teamworker (TW)||Teamworkers possess a mild and sociable disposition and are generally supportive and concerned about others. They have a great capacity for flexibility and adapting to different situations and people. TWs are perceptive, diplomatic, and caring and tend to be good listeners. Because of these qualities, it is hardly surprising that they are popular with their colleagues.
|Their concern about creating harmony and avoiding conflict can make them indecisive when faced with having to make difficult solo decisions.||The Teamworker may be legitimately compared to the lubricating oil in a car engine. They are not always appreciated for how important they are until they are not there. Because of their ability to be able to resolve interpersonal problems, TW’s come into their own when situations are tense, and people feel uncared for and not appreciated.|
|Co-ordinator (CO)||The distinguishing feature of Co-ordinators is their propensity for helping others to work towards shared goals. Mature, trusting, and confident, they delegate readily. In interpersonal relations, they are quick to spot individual talents and to use them in pursuit of group objectives.
|The natural goal focus of CO’s can sometimes lead them to manipulate others to achieve their personal objectives. In some situations, they are inclined to clash with Shapers due to their contrasting management styles.||Co-ordinators are well placed when put in charge of a team of people with diverse skills and personal characteristics. They perform better in dealing with colleagues of near or equal rank than in directing junior subordinates. Their motto might well be "consultation with control" and they usually believe in tackling problems calmly.|
|Plant (PL)||Plants are creative and innovative, which makes them a source for original ideas and proposals. They prefer to work by themself aside from the rest of the teams as they use their imagination and often work unorthodox. The plant tends to be introverted and react strongly to criticism or praise.
|Their ideas are often radical and may lack practical constraints.
They do not always manage to communicate with other people who are on another wavelength.
|The team will usually need to use Plants in the initial phases or if a project is at a standstill.
Too many PLs in an organization may be counterproductive as they tend to spend their time reinforcing their own ideas and engaging each other in combat.
|Monitor Evaluator (ME)||Monitor Evaluators are serious-minded, prudent individuals with a built-in immunity for being over-enthusiastic. They are likely to be slow in making decisions preferring to carefully think things over. Usually, they have high critical thinking ability. They have a good capacity for shrewd judgments that take all factors into account. A good ME is unlikely to make intuitive and reckless mistakes.
|They deal in facts and logic rather than emotion when considering options. MEs are often regarded as over-critical and can be seen to be slow and boring.||Monitor Evaluators are best suited to analyzing problems and evaluating ideas and suggestions. They are very good at weighing up the pros and cons of options. In a managerial position, their ability to make high-quality decisions consistently is likely to make them highly regarded.|
|Specialist (SP)||Their main distinguishing feature is their love of learning. They see learning and the accumulation of knowledge as the main reason for their existence and their single-minded and resolute pursuit of this end is their main motivation. The SP is likely to be recognized by colleagues as an expert to turn to for help and guidance.
|The SP will usually try to avoid being involved in unstructured meetings and discussions or those of a social nature. They may also be somewhat unyielding when challenged about the validity of their knowledge or field of expertise.||While Specialists may not be regarded as natural team players, teams will be wise to engage the SP as a means of providing in-depth research. As managers, they command respect because of their in-depth knowledge, and they can be used to mentor others to raise their technical expertise.|
|Shaper (SH)||Shapers are highly goal and oriented people with great drive and energy. They push themselves and others and tend to overcome obstacles by sheer determination. They tend to be highly assertive and have very directive management styles. Shapers also tend to be competitive and like to win.
|SHs are not noted for their interpersonal sensitivities and can be argumentative and even aggressive.||Shapers are generally perceived as ideal managers because they generate action and thrive under pressure. They come into their own when quick and decisive action is called for to overcome threats and difficulties or when progress towards goals and objectives is unacceptably slow.|
|Implementor (IMP)||Implementers are characterized by their practical approach and possess higher than normal levels of self-control and discipline. They are prepared to work hard to ensure things are done as prescribed systematically. They are likely to be regarded as someone who will not seek personal agendas and self-interest.
|They are likely to be regarded as someone who will not seek personal agendas and self-interest. On the downside, IMPs may be inflexible in accepting new ways of doing things, particularly if they are radical or impracticable.||Implementers are valuable in an organization because of their reliability and capacity for application. They succeed because they are efficient and because they have a sense of what is feasible and relevant. While many people might stray from favoring the tasks they like to do and neglect things they find not to be to their liking an IMP is more likely to do what needs to be done systematically and relentlessly.|
|Completer Finisher (CF)||Completer Finishers have a great capacity for attention to detail. They constantly strive for perfection and correct errors. CFs are quite introverted and require less external stimulus than most people. The CF can be trusted to do work to the highest standard and to complete it on time.
|The combination of striving for perfection and meeting deadlines often creates anxiety though and CFs are likely to be reluctant to trust others to do work to their own high standards.||The Completer Finisher is invaluable where tasks demand close concentration and a high degree of accuracy. The standards they set make them well suited to situations where precision and high standards are essential. CFs will also demand the same high standards from people around them and therefore create their micro-culture where the only standard acceptable is perfection.|
The roles are by the Belbin method divided into three categories: Action-oriented (Shaper, Completer Finisher, Implementer), Social-oriented (Resource Investigator, Teamworker, Co-ordinator), and Thinking-oriented (Plant, Monitor Evaluator, Specialist). (see Figure 1: The Belbin Team Role Circle)
Key stages for success in the team
As projects and tasks progress, the different team roles will need to step up. The above figure is showing the key stages of a project and which team roles should be in focus according to the Belbin method.
The shaper and Co-ordinator are both very focused on the goal and more aware than others on what the target should be, which is why they are crucial at the beginning of a project. However, it can be hard to fulfill the needs without any ideas on how things should progress. This is where the Plant and Resource Investigator thrive by creating and exploring ideas in their own ways, these ideas will need to be put into a formulated plan to survive, which is a task for the Monitor Evaluator. MEs are natural planners especially when it comes to planning far into the future, but they will need the help of the Specialist to secure a high standard. These plans are in the meantime still on a piece of paper and will stay there unless they are “sold” to someone.
The Resource Investigators are known for their infectious enthusiasm and work well as sellers. However, while making contacts there will at times be a need for a more diplomatic approach, which is a task for the Teamworker, who can act if the project is met by resistance. Once general acceptance of several measures has been achieved, it will be necessary to establish an organization that can bring the project to life. The Implementer will contribute by building systems, phases, and procedures, and have a focus on special tasks while the Co-ordinator will make sure that the right people have the proper responsibilities.
Finally, the Completer-Finisher will make sure that the finishing details are in order, and the fruit from the previous work of the Implementer should have made the project able to reach its goal.
It is shown that every team role is important for the overall project progress, and success is achieved by including and withdrawing the different members of the team at the right times. (see Figure 2: Key stages for success)
According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of synergy is when “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”  A team is a self-employed, dynamic, and living unit. A good and efficient team is based on large common relations to opinions, values, norms, and the will to function as part of the team.
To reach team synergy, according to the Belbin analysis, a small amount of each of the 9 team roles needs to be represented, where the task at hand decides which roles should have the main emphasis. If there is an imbalance of the represented roles based on the task it will create “noise” and reduce the efficiency of the team. Such a team will have a low amount of real usable output and would work more like a collection of individuals that each tries to sell their own ideas and criticize the others, instead of working as a functional team. 
Limitations of the Belbin analysis
- A person cannot only be measured by their team-related behaviors. Several other factors are a part of a person’s makeup, including personality. The Belbin Report is not a psychometric instrument and therefore does not measure personality attributes. 
- The model does not take into account hierarchical relations between people. 
- Belbin Team Role Theory can be used to predict team performance when used in a work setting and not in a home or social setting.
- The fundamental research made by Dr. Meridith Belbin was made in the 1970s and focused on upper-management level executives in Britain. This is not to say that Belbin can not be used on other cultures, but the original research focused on a specific demographic 
- Project Management Institute, Project Management: A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK Guide) – Sixth Edition, Project Management Institute, 2017, pp. 52-56 This book provides processes and knowledge areas that comprise best practices in project management. The pages mentioned, introduce the ways that uncertainty enters project management aspects. It casts light on how uncertainty is perceived and how it affects project management.
- 2010 R. Meredith Belbin., Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail - Third Edition, Taylor & Francis Ltd This book gives a deep dive into the Belbin method and is an interesting read for those who have responsibility and authority for guiding organizations in their selection of management teams.
- 2015 Belbin Associates. Belbin for Students A simplistic overview of the different team roles and how they behave.
- ↑ Project Management Institute, Project Management: A guide to the Project Management body of knowledge (PMBOK guide) – Sixth Edition, Project Management Institute, 2017
- ↑ 2016 J. R. Olsson, N. Ahrengot, M. L. Attrup. Power i Projekter og Porteføljer
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 2010 R. Meredith Belbin., Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail - Third Edition, Taylor & Francis Ltd
- ↑ 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 2015 Belbin Associates. Belbin for Students, https://www.belbin.com/media/1336/belbin-for-students.pdf
- ↑ 2016 Belbin Associates. Team Role Circle, https://www.belbin.com/media/1490/team-role-circle.pdf
- ↑ 1981 Dr. Meredith Belbin, Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail, Heinemann
- ↑ 2014 Belbin. A Comprehensive Review of Belbin Team Roles, https://www.belbin.com/media/1158/belbin-uk-2014-a-comprehensive-review.pdf
- ↑ 2016 Belbin Associates. Key stages for succes
- ↑ 2016 Mind Tools. Belbin's Team Roles https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_83.htm
- ↑ Zebulon Severson. How to Create Team Synergy and Keep it Going. https://www.workboard.com/blog/team-synergy.php /
- ↑ 11.0 11.1 11.2 Belbin Associates. The Limitations of Belbin. https://belbinnorthamerica.com/the-limitations-of-belbin/
- ↑ 2018. 12 Manage. Limitations if the Belbin team roles method. Disavantages. https://www.12manage.com/methods_belbin_team_roles.html