Effective teams with Belbin
Created by Hannah Strunge Nissen, March 2022
In 1981, the English psychologist Meredith Belbin developed a team role concept called the Belbin Team Role Inventory, which was made to optimize and balance teamwork. Team member selection can be challenging due to the complexity of creating a well-balanced team. The Belbin team role inventory is a great tool to make this process easier. In a well-balanced team using the Team Role Inventory concept, it is possible to weigh out the group's weaknesses and exploit the group's full potential. Belbin's team roles are composed and developed to create high-performing teams. Through years of human behavior studies, Belbin developed a model that explains how people cooperate and used it to find nine team roles which should be present in teams to ensure efficiency and quality. If all roles are current, the team has the potential to be a high-performance team. During the years after Belbin’s team role analysis was brought out, multiple studies have been conducted for validity and reliability. Approximately 20 years after Belbin's theory was published, Professor Stephen Swailes examined the team roles in different studies attempting to validate Belbin’s theory. Swailes found that the model is relatively valid despite indications of weak discriminant validity among some of the team roles.
Introducing Belbin's theory of Team Role Inventory
The success of a project is very dependent on people and whether they can work effectively together. It is not possible to change a person's personality characteristics, but it is possible to create a balanced team with people who can work effectively together. Knowledge of the group's personality characteristics can help the manager to create more effective and balanced teams. Belbin's team role inventory is one of the possible ways to do this . In 1981, the first edition of “Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail” by Belbin was published. It peaked in sales nine years after the first publication and has been popular ever since. Meredith Belbin made the Team Role model concerning management teams. Nine team roles were introduced, and the roles were defined as a pattern of behavior characteristics . People were keen to learn more about the Team Role profiles and discover how to get the advantage of the full potential. The Belbin methodology has had great success and is today used in more than 20 countries around the world for both private and public sectors .
Dr. Meredith Belbin
Meredith Belbin is educated at the University of Cambridge, where he completed a two-year course in psychology. Afterward, Meredith got a Ph.D. with a focus on the psychology of aging in the industry. Years after his doctorate he began a research project to study management teams in action. Some organizations were selected; games were conducted, and data was collected. This research formed the basis of the Team Role theory. Belbin continued his research, studying intellectual abilities and teamwork, and in 1981 his book on Team Role theory was published. 
Application and use of the Team Role inventoryThe model is based on nine years of different team composition experiments, personality tests, research, and observations on human behavior .
Belbin stated that individuals tend to have distinctive natural roles in teams. These roles are defined as nine roles with different characteristics. The model suggests that successful and effective teams need to have individuals who can perform eight key roles. Later in 1993 the model got refined and a ninth role was added . Team roles are defined as a pattern of behavior characteristic of, how a team member interacts with the rest of a team to help the progress of the team's work. If a team fills out all roles, the individuals will complement each other increasing their strengths and limiting their weaknesses . Belbin’s Team Roles is a method of measuring and advising individuals about their behavioral tendencies , while it is also a tool to help individuals, teams, and organizations to work more effectively. Belbin has developed a guide that can help find strengths and weaknesses within a group and define and develop high-performance teams. Managers can use the model to create teams with a great combination of individuals with different skills and personalities. A team with all skills represented has the potential to achieve efficiency and be successful in terms of reaching their goals, however, the team still needs to be managed properly in order to make this happen. . To create a high-performance team, it is therefore important to complete a Team Role inventory of team members and examine what the team posseses and what the team might be missing. Belbin Interplace  is a website, which can be used for recruitment and providing individual profiles. The website can assist companies and teams for recruitment, to ensure that team members fit the team and will contribute with more efficient work and better management. Additionally, the website can be used for career development and mentoring. This is done by providing feedback on behaviour in teams, personal strengths and possible career directions. Belbin Team Role inventory can provide information for managers and their teams, to understand, engage and develop different types of team members .
The Belbin Team Roles
In Belbin’s team role model, a role is defined by six factors: personality, mental ability, current values and motivation, field constraints, experience, and role learning. Furthermore, a team role is defined through its interactions with other team members. Following the nine-team roles are described:
- The plant [PL]: Creative, imaginative, and unorthodox. The plant is free-thinking, bright, and innovative. PL has multiple different ideas and generates creative ways of marketing but can have some difficulties communicating ideas to others and tends towards introversion.
- The resource investigator [RI]: Extrovert, curious, communicative, and enthusiastic. The resource investigator is creative just like PL but has a good involvement with people and has skills in using resources. RI is good at exploring new opportunities and makes sure that no stones are left unturned. On the negative side, RI easily loses interest when the initial enthusiasm has subsided.
- The co-ordinator [CO]: Mature, confident, and trusting. CO can tend to be a good team leader and is good at making the best use of team resources, by ensuring that all team members’ potential is used to the fullest. CO clarifies goals and makes decisions but can also be lazy and manipulative.
- The shaper [SH]: Challenging, dynamic, and creates pressure. The shaper succeeds in finding ways around obstacles, is highly competitive and driven, has good humor, and is resilient but the shaper can have a fierce temper, be impatient and provocative.
- The monitor evaluator [ME]: sober, strategic, and analytical. The monitor evaluator is logical and rational, ME is serious-minded and prefers to think things over, ME will make sure that the team strives to make balanced decisions. ME can be perceived as very direct, dry, overcritical, and skeptical.
- The team worker [TW]: cooperative, mild, and diplomatic. The teamwork is a good listener and averts friction, TE will support members in their strengths and improve communication between members. TE can be indecisive.
- The implementer [IMP]: Disciplined, reliable, and loyal. The implementer is realistic and practical, TE is practical, trusting, and tolerant towards others, while the implementer is carrying plans systematically and efficiently. TE can react slowly to new possibilities and is slow in its adaption.
- The completer [CF]: anxious, conscientious, and scrupulous. The completer is a perfectionist and searches for errors and oversights, TE is actively searching for aspects of work that need more attention and are driven by inward anxiety to get all things right but can worry unnecessarily and be afraid to make mistakes.
- The specialist [SP]: single-minded, self-starting, and dedicated. One can argue that this is not a team role but rather a functional role. The specialist contributes with technical knowledge and skills and is always very concentrated, but it can tend to isolate from the group.
The team roles can be categorized into three groups. 1. The thinking-orientated roles: plant, monitor evaluator, and specialist. 2. The action-oriented roles: shaper, implementation, and completer/finisher. 3. The people-orientated roles: co-ordinator, team worker, and resource investigator.
The team roles have different strengths and therefore perform better during different stages. There are six proposed stages of development: 1. Identifying needs 2. Finding ideas 3. Formulating plans 4. Making ideas 5. Establishing team organization 6. Following through.
Shaper, Resource investigator, plant and co-ordinator are most needed in the early stages in order to get the project running, where completer and implementer are more needed in the later stages in order to finalize the project . According to Belbin’s team role model, a team will perform successfully if all nine roles are represented in the team. Most people cover two to three of the roles, which means that a team of three to six people could potentially be optimal. Belbin has also made studies on what the optimal team size is, in general, Belbin states that the bigger the group, the greater the pressure towards conformity in order to be efficient and reach results. It can therefore be advantageous to create smaller teams that will maximize involvement and individual participation .
Optimization of Teams
Once the team roles are distributed and the group is constructed, the group will have the potential to succeed. For better team performance, Belbin came up with a theory on what the team and the project manager can do after the group formation to exploit the full potential of the group.
High performance teams
A team’s success depends to a great extent on having a team that sets goals which are not just of personal interest. A team manager should be a team motivator, set up goals for the team and engage in the work. Belbin defends the idea that high-performance teams need to have a balanced representation of all team roles . It is important to find a clever and creative Super plant – a person who is super talented in his/her field since the characteristics and skills of this role is key for a high performance team. Then it is crucial to find out what is required for the team to succeed. The Team Role balance should therefore fit the objectives of the project and clear definition of goals will be a condition for a well-functioning team  .
The compatibility between members in a team is important for effective work in a group but is very hard to assess. Team design can be set out in five principles.
- Members of the team have a valuable Team Role to perform (Belbin’s nine roles) and they can perform well in a functional role by drawing on professional and technical knowledge.
- Each team needs a balance in functional roles (professional and technical knowledge) and Team Roles.
- The effectiveness of a team depends on the team’s ability to acknowledge and adjust themselves and their relative strengths while engaging in their specific Team Role.
- Members will fit for some Team Roles but will probably not succeed in others. A team needs the required range of Team Roles to achieve effectiveness.
When a new manager looks for a new person for their team, according to the team role term, the fundamental need is to find someone who will fill the Team Role gap in the team, and not just find a person who is equal to the roles already there .
The effective team member
Belbin found out during his studies that those who were contributing most to the team’s performance were the individuals with the plant and implementer characteristics. Good members of a team vary in their natural skills and team roles while adjusting their ability to situations that need skills he/she does not possess and still maintains effectiveness. Good team members can determine when to emerge into a particular team role. Furthermore, the team member needs to know the timing of when their contribution is most appreciated, typically it is the compulsive talker or the introvert that possesses this skill. The characteristics of a good team player do not only depend on the job they do, but also in how they adapt their actions to fit different situations – they intervene because a job needs to be done . Another important skill as a team member is to be able to switch between different team roles. The skill of switching between roles is a skill that fits more managerial situations. If managers have more than one role to play in teams, it is important to determine what roles that need to be filled out, and by limiting their team roles they will provide more opportunities for other team members to develop their characteristic skills. While a team member needs to be able to adapt to different roles it is also a great quality to create roles for others and make sure to do some of the jobs that others avoid. A good team member is very likely to be added to a team because he/she is seen as someone who does the job and ensures other team members perform. The skill of composing and organizing teams will often be as important as the specialized skill may be.
Diversity in groups
With different qualities and skills, the degree of diversity and cooperation in groups will vary a lot through different sets of groups. Belbin believes that with a great amount of diversity a team will perform better, and the management will improve. Others have found that diversity can contribute to creativity and innovation, but also increase the possibility of a relationship conflict. Diversity can be explained in different categories. There is the surface level diversity, which can be race, age, and gender and there is the deep level diversity, which are knowledge, skills, and experience . Deep level diversity represents the characteristics from which Belbin is measuring his Team roles. Studies have shown that team members with surface-level diversity are more prone to have lower levels of satisfaction, worse communication, and higher levels of conflict. Surface-level diversity can be affecting performance whereas the deep-level differences can contribute positively to the task. Furthermore, it is shown that diversity in groups (compared to groups with similar members) is better at focusing on a task, considering the perspectives of others, and exerting more effort, which can contribute to more creativity and higher performance.
Limitation and validation
Belbin’s team roles have achieved a great amount of success during the last 40 years. His methods are still used and have evidence for producing more effective teams and management. But in the continuation of his success, there has been conflicting evidence from other studies. A. Aritzeta, S. Swailes and B. Senior have made 43 studies to investigate Belbin’s team role theory. Looking at the results from analyzing the different team roles, it was shown that discrimination between some of the roles was low, which also means that the nine team roles cannot be differentiated from each other. These results created a possibility for making new groups and parring the team roles two by two. This could be done to better discriminate between the roles and is therefore proposed in their study. Most of the studies have shown average or high effects of Belbin’s team role theory and it is therefore concluded that the team role model has acceptable validity, and the model is therefore useful for measuring individual characteristics when interacting with other team members.
The Belbin theory allows the determination of the nine team roles but does not give much guidance on how to properly balance a team, when not all team roles are present. This can be a challenge when looking at smaller teams than eight people. Furthermore, is it assumed that when employees fill in the Belbin questionnaires, they will answer sincerely on how they will act and not how they want to act. The Belbin team role inventory is therefore really depending on how employees answer the questionnaires .
Although there are disadvantages of using Belbins approach it is found to be very useful for project managers. By using the Team role inventory the manager gets a wide perspective on their employee's skills, characteristics, and management styles, which all can participate in more effective and successful teams.
R. Meredith Belbin. (Third edition 2010). Management Teams – Why they succeed or fail. Elsevier Ltd,1-185. The book is concerning Belbin’s studies on managing teams and explains how the Team role theory came into being. The study takes us through Belbin's journey, from which the theory of team roles was developed. The book gives project managers the opportunity to use Belbin’s theory and his methods, as well as read about different cases where the theory has been used. The book is Meredith Belbin’s original book, but third edition, meaning that the book is updated and rewritten with the newest theory.
Swailes, S., & Mcintyre-Bhatty, T. (2002). The “Belbin” team role inventory: reinterpreting reliability estimates. Journal of Managerial Psychology. This article concerns the Belbin Team role Self-perception inventory (TRSPI). In the article, a weighted formula is used to investigate the reliability of TRSPI. For a rather large dataset, it was found that the model is relatively valid even though it could be difficult to separate some of the role characteristics from each other.
Aritzeta, A. Swailes, S. & Senior, B. (2007). Belbin’s Team Role Model: Development, Validity, and Applications for Team Building. Journal of Management studies. 96-118. This article examines the Team role Selp-perception inventory and tries to argue why it is valid despite the criticism the theory has met. The TRSPI are examined through empirical studies, and it was found that the model has validity, even though it was discovered that it could be hard to discriminate between some of the roles. Finally, the paper provides coverage and research on teamwork, while suggesting new research areas.
Fisher, S. G., Hunt, T. A., & Macrosson, W.D.K. (2000). The distribution of Belbin team roles among UK managers. MCB UP ltd. The paper is looking at the Belbin Team role theory, focusing on the eight team roles. The paper describes different studies on UK managers to examine their personality characteristics. In this paper, it is discovered that the two team roles: co-ordinators and resource investigators are more common in UK managers. Furthermore, the paper gives more supportive information regarding Belbin’s theory.
Higgs, M., Plewnia, U., & Ploch, J. (2005). Influence of team composition and task complexity on team performance. Emerald Group Publishing Limited. 227-250. This paper investigates the influence of team composition on team performance. The methodology used for team diversity is the Belbin Team Role Model. 270 employees did the self-assessment Belbin questionnaires, by looking at this data teams were developed for the experiment. An analysis of the data from the teams showed that diversity in teams has a positive effect on team performance when tasks are complex but can be disadvantageous in teams with less complex tasks.
Fischer. S.G., Hunter. T.A., & MacRosson. W.D.K (2001). A validation study of Belbin’s team roles. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology. 10:2, 121-144. In this paper, a study was made on 55 teams, which were created on Belbin's team role theory. The 338 participants in the team had a great diversity according to managerial levels and organizations. A matrix was used to evaluate the convergent and discriminant validities of the Belbin team roles. The study showed that the Belbin team role model has a lack of both convergent and discriminant validity. Furthermore, it was revealed that the Belbin team role theory can fit into a five-factor personality framework.
B. Carter., A. W. Phillips., K. (2017). The double-edged sword of diversity: Toward a dual pathway model. Wiley-Blackwell. This paper examines how diversity influences individuals and groups. It is argued that diverse groups will focus less on forming a relationship and use the differences to perform in the task, by using their different opinions and perspectives. The paper states that it is about finding the right balance in the group. Finally, a theoretical model is proposed on how diversity affects group processes and performance.
AXELOS. (2017). Managing Successfull Projects with PRINCE2. The Stationery Office. PRINCE2 provides the basics for managing a project successfully and is proven to be the best practice and governance for project management. PRINCE2 is one of the most used methods for managing projects globally. The management method is based on experience from projects, project- managers and teams, etc. PRINCE2 is designed so it can be applied to any type of project. furthermore, it can help organizations improve across multiple areas.
- ↑ 2002, Swailes, S, The Belbin team role inventory: reinterpreting reliability estimates
- ↑ 2017, Axelos, Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 2007, S, Swailes, Belbin's Team Role Model: Development, Validity and Applications for Team Building
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 2010, R. M. Belbin, Management Teams – Why They Succeed or Fail,
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 BELBIN associates (2022), https://www.belbin.com/>,
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 2000, S.G. Fisher, T.A. Hunter and W.D.K Macrosson,The distribution of Belbin team roles among UK managers
- ↑ 2001, S.G. Fischer, T.A. Hunter and W.D.K MacRosson, A validation study of Belbin's team roles
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 2017, Carter, Ashli B,The double‐edged sword of diversity: Toward a dual pathway model
- ↑ 2005, Malcolm Higgs, Ulrich Plewnia, jorg Ploch, Influence of team coposition and task complexity on team performance