Have you ever wondered why certain teams seem to work effortlessly, while others lumber along, seemingly moments away from self-imploding? What gives?

One of the most interesting theories is that of team roles: the idea that teams that work together effectively have a balance of team roles. Each member understands their strengths and how they contribute to the team’s skill set. Too many of the same role and there’s destructive competition, and if roles are missing, the team just doesn’t seem to fire.


Team Roles Defined

According to Belbin Associates, effective teams have a balance of nine different characteristics.

  1. Resource Investigator – Inquisitive, outgoing, and enthusiastic, the resource investigator explores opportunities. But they may lose enthusiasm once the initial excitement has passed. They may even forget to follow up on a lead or assignment.
  1. Teamworker – Helps the team to gel and complete the work required of them. While noted for their cooperative and diplomatic nature, teamworkers can also seem indecisive and avoid confrontations that may be necessary to achieving their goals.
  1. Coordinator – Coordinators are master delegators. Mature and confident, they identify talent and leverage it for the betterment of the group. But taken too far, they can be seen as manipulative and may even over-delegate the work, leaving themselves little or nothing to do.
  1. Plant­ – Highly creative free-thinkers, plants are good at problem solving in unconventional ways. However, they may even be so concerned with creativity that they forget incidentals and do not communicate effectively.
  1. Monitor Evaluator – Logical and impartial, the monitor evaluator approaches work in a dispassionate way while seeing all options accurately. As great as they are at evaluating the options, the monitor evaluator may be seen as an overly critical employee who is slow to come to a decision. This is generally because they are continuously weighing the options for every decision.

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  1. Specialist – Specialists, as their name implies, are experts in their field. Dedicated, single-minded self-starters, they tend to contribute in a very narrow manner, sometimes getting hung up on technicalities. They may also overload you with information that is not necessarily pertinent to the matter at hand.
  1. Shaper – Shapers provide the drive the team needs to keep moving forward without losing focus or momentum. Challenging and dynamic, shapers thrive on pressure but can sometimes offend other people’s feelings. They may even risk becoming aggressive or ill-tempered in an attempt to complete a task or meet a goal or deadline.
  1. Implementer – Able to plan a workable strategy and carry it out with efficiency, implementers are practical and reliable. They are experts at turning ideas into action items but may be slow to respond to new possibilities that lie outside of their plans, even when the new ideas promote positive changes.
  1. Completer Finisher – Most effective at the ends of tasks, completer finishers work to polish the final product and ensure all of the quality standards are met. They are painstakingly conscientious about their work, searching out and correcting errors. However, they may be inclined to undue concern and are reluctant to delegate. Some even may be accused of extremism in their perfectionism.


Balance Is The Goal

Even though Belbin has identified nine different characteristics in effective teams, these groups do not need to consist of nine people. Rather, all nine characteristics are represented by the team’s members. In many cases, one person may naturally gravitate toward two or three roles, fill one or two more and prefer to avoid the rest. This allows for smaller teams to work with maximum efficiency as long as all nine characteristics are represented. The goal then becomes balance. If a team is comprised of teamworkers, who tend to be indecisive, it may be difficult for a team to make swift decisions about the direction of their work. Similarly, if a team lacks a completer finisher, the group’s work may lack polish and fail quality control measures.

What role do you find yourself naturally playing on work teams? Is there a characteristic that is missing on your current team?

Do you find yourself playing one or more roles? Are there any that are particularly distasteful to you? By asking these questions first of yourself, then of your teammates, it will quickly become apparent which characteristics are solidly in place, which are missing and which are over-represented in your team dynamic.

You may begin to see why your team is functional or dysfunctional, but moreover it can give you a language to improve and build on your successes.

Author: Peter Diaz
Peter-Diaz-AuthorPeter Diaz is the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute. He’s an author and accredited mental health social worker with senior management experience. Having recovered from his own experience of bipolar depression, Peter is passionate about assisting organisations to address workplace mental health issues in a compassionate yet results-focussed way. He’s also a Dad, Husband, Trekkie and Thinker.

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