A TEAM'S COMPOSITION

How come some teams are great in delivering success and some teams don’t work?
When things don’t work, it is obvious to all and it often has a profound effect on the people involved, as well as the project or objective to be achieved.
In the 80's, Dr Meredith Belbin and his research team at Henley Management College set about observing teams, with a view to finding out where and how these differences come about. By studying the dynamics of teams they wanted to discover if – and how – problems could be pre-empted and avoided.
As the research progressed, the research revealed that the difference between success and failure for a team was not dependent on factors such as intellect, but more on behaviour.
The research team began to identify separate clusters of behaviour, each of which formed distinct team contributions or ‘Team Roles’.
A Team Role came to be defined as:
A tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way.
It was found that different individuals displayed different Team Roles to varying degrees.1

1 Belbin's book on Management Teams presented conclusions from his work, studying how members of teams interacted during business games run at Henley Management College. Amongst his key conclusions was the proposition that an effective team has members that cover eight (later nine) key roles in managing the team and how it carries out its work. This may be separate from the role each team member has in carrying out the work of the team.

Belbin defined initially 8 team roles. All these roles necessarily need to be present in the team and it is the complementarity of the team members and the team’s interaction that creates the success.
 

The teamroles as originally defined by Belbin
Chairman
• Process monitor, playmaker, sets priorities
• Decides on team goals and defines roles
• Able to obtain the respect of the team members
Possible less desirable behavior: Dominant, rigid, inflexible
Shaper
• Feeds goal setting
• Directive leader that brings the sense of competition in the group
• Sees to that things happen, but may cause friction within the group
Possible less desirable behaviour: Demanding, pushy
Plant
• Creative, intelligent, a source of original ideas
• Has an eye for the fundaments
Possible less desirable behaviour: Less practical, sloppy
Monitor-Evaluator
• Conscientious, objective
• assimilating, interpreting, evaluating
• Keeps the group from pursuing the wrong objectives
Possible less desirable behaviour: Endless doubting and weighing,
                                                 less enthusiast
Resource Investigator
• Networker, salesman/woman, diplomat
• Excellent improvisor with many internal and external relations
• Has drive
Possible less desirable behaviour: Less attentive on aftercare and
                                                 follow-up, quickly distracted
Completer-Finisher
• Takes care that nothing goes wrong; checks details personally
• Doesn’t tolerate carelessness and laxity; sees to the finishing off
Possible less desirable behaviour: Less sight on headlines, may be
                                                  experienced as naggish
Team Worker
• Cares for harmony and good communication within the team
• A good listener, builds on others ideas
• Coaching attitude, focussed on strengthening the team spirit
Possible less desirable behaviour: Less assertive, indecisive
Company Worker
• Transfers decisions in plans and executable tasks
• Cares for the group to aim for reaching the objectives by working in a logical and methodical way
Possible less desirable behaviour: Less flexible, suspicious against
                                                 new ideas and methods

A team’s success is based upon the team members’ complementary roles and the interaction between them.

Winning Teams

From the chapter ‘Winning teams’ of Belbin's publication:

A composite picture of the typical group that figures most prominently at the top of the results table can now be built up. Of the various contributing factors, the most positive indicators were the attributes of the person in the Chair, the existence of a good Plant, a spread in mental abilities, a spread also in personal attributes laying the foundation for different team role capabilities, a distribution in the responsibilities of members to match their different capabilities, and finally, an adjustment to the realization of imbalance. These points now seem worth enlarging upon.

1. The person in the Chair
Here it proved important that there should be an affinity between the measured personal attributes of the person in the Chair and the good Chairman profile that our research had identified. This formula portrayed the successful Chairman as a patient but commanding figure who generated trust and who looked for and knew how to use ability. He would not dominate proceedings but he knew when to pull matters together if a critical decision had to be reached or a meeting had to close. In practice he always worked with, rather than against, the most talented contributors to the group.

2. The existence of one strong Plant in the group
Winning companies were characterized by the inclusion of a Plant who was a good example of the type. Expressed in everyday language this meant that a successful group needed one very creative and clever member. Creativity could be treated as an entity in itself and distinct from high intelligence and analytical ability (which might be termed cleverness). In this sense creativity in a Plant was more important than cleverness. But if both were combined at a high level in a single person this was a great advantage. Creativity and cleverness, however, both had abrupt lower thresholds. For example a clever and very creative Plant could be a great asset to a group whereas a very creative Plant of only average cleverness was unlikely to make the grade, usually by failing to establish any team role credibility in a group. The failure of a Plant to fulfil himself in a team role was the most distinguishing mark of ‘winning’ groups that were in fact non–winners. Plants that disappointed were sometimes found to be creative in an inappropriate way; for example they were literate rather than numerate or had little interest in the undertaking.

3. A fair spread in mental abilities
The spread in measured mental abilities appeared to have material bearing on group fortunes. The best results were associated with groups containing one very clever Plant, another clever member, and a Chairman who had slightly higher than average mental ability while other members of the group were slightly below average in mental ability.
This formula is certainly not one at which we might have arrived by chance experience or by common sense. Yet with hindsight some of the advantages of this pattern are easily seen.
A brilliantly clever and creative Plant is an asset to a group, but only if ultimate responsibility lies with another (the Chairman). A visionary also needs the stimulus of another lively mind of similar calibre on whom he can sharpen his wits. Every group needs someone able to find the flaw in imaginatively conceived but possibly unsound propositions (the Monitor–Evaluator with his dry and intellectually dispassionate attributes). In the absence of a Monitor–Evaluator, another member of the group of the requisite mental ability could profitable interact with the Plant, except for another Plant who usually introduces specific team role competition. The positive advantage of having other team members of slightly lower mental abilities had puzzled us for a while. A possible explanation was that the gap between them and their fellow members caused them to look for other positive team roles: strong competition on one front had the effect of encouraging them to find ways of fulfilling themselves on other fronts. At any rate teams with a wide spread of scores in mental ability were observed to pull together better than teams that were intellectual homogeneous.

4. A spread in personal attributes offering wide team role coverage
Winning teams were also characterized by a membership which offered, on the evidence of their scores, a good spread in likely team roles. Winning teams seemed to need in particular one Completer and at least one Company Worker. In one of the exercises, which gave greater scope for negotiation, the Resource Investigator type seemed advantageous in having one good example of an introvert and another of an extrovert. Although there were differences in pay–off behaviour between the different groups, if a general point is to be made it is that a winning group has a wider range of team role types of member increase the result of a team while also minimizing the unconstructive friction that occurs when two or more people compete for the same role.

5. A good match between the attributes of members and their responsibility in the team
One mark of winning teams was the way in which members found useful jobs and team roles that fitted their personal characteristics and abilities. It was impossible to forecast how this would work out, but retrospective analysis of records suggested it as a feature of winning teams. In general it does not seem the rule that people get the work they deserve. It is more common to find that individuals take on jobs most in line with their experience irrespective of how well they have performed. In the less successful teams the allocation of work was dominated without any further thought by the claim to have done something like it in the past. Winning teams on the other hand found ways of reducing their reliance and dependence on one individual for a critical function unless he had already shown signs of excelling. The way in which finance was sometimes handled illustrates the point. Many groups placed responsibility for finance in the hands of a Financial Director, usually the person who claimed to have had most financial experience. In a number of winning groups the risk of getting the wrong person in the job was minimized by a more flexible arrangement. For example, pairs of people would look after specific functions, one of which would be finance. A sharp–minded member could therefore work alongside someone used to dealing with figures. The flexible pairing system also provided an opportunity for an able member to transfer his attention to some other critical aspect of the group’s activity, provided he showed the inclination and had a useful line. In other words the best match between people and jobs came about through allowing informal arrangement to modify any mismatches that would otherwise have existed.

6. An adjustment to the realization of imbalance
Weaknesses can be compensated for by self–knowledge. While this is an accepted maxim governing individual behaviour its truth can be extended to groups. This sixth feature of winning teams came to the fore in our research project. If it was less evident in earlier experiments the reasons are understandable. During the early stage of the project the participants were either not aware or had only a fleeting acquaintance with the team role theory of groups. It is rather doubtful whether even partial knowledge did much to help their team effectiveness. In some instances it made inter–personal adjustment within a team more difficult. For example, some members who fancied themselves as Plants failed to take account of other team roles of which they had less appreciation and which could be critical at certain
stages in group affairs. In fact most of the real learning took place at the end of the exercise with the assistance of the debriefing, too late, of course, to influence personal behaviour. In the second case a very different situation prevailed. The seminar participants had already absorbed a fair amount of team role theory and technique, and had engaged in some practical reinforcing exercises before the game began. This experience did not, however, always result in adaptive behaviour. Once the process had started the excitement of the difficulty in appreciation how a general theory could be applied in practice. But there were some teams in which members consciously took account of their potential team role strengths, while being equally conscious of and compensating for their team role weaknesses. These teams in making the most effective deployment of their resources could become runaway winners surprising themselves as much as others. The value of seeing the important tasks in terms of the underlying team roles was well illustrated by several other teams unbalanced in their composition but with a good deal of self–insight. The prevailing pattern was that at its first meeting the team would identify its area of weakness and then appoint someone to look after the jobs that looked as though they belonged naturally to the missing team role.
For example, a team would discover that they lacked a Completer. The implication was that deadlines and schedules would be forgotten. One member of the team would therefore be appointed to cover this aspect of the team’s operation, usually the member regarded as having personal characteristics closest to the missing team role. The effect would be that the likely weakness of the team would not be exposed during the exercise, while the team would still succeed in playing to its strength. In other instances the discovery that a group had no Plant led to a search for the nearest team role. This was usually that of the Resource Investigator, who was likely to be the most enterprising, or the Monitor–Evaluator, who was reckoned to be at least clever. One of these two would then set about creating some new ideas and strategies appropriate to the challenge ahead. This often worked out not too badly. As the team would have other strengths, the overall performance of the group would be a good deal higher than might have been guessed at the outset.