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Team Role Testing – Belbin Typology

The Belbin Team Role Test

According to this approach all team members have a so-called team role. This role is formed by a combination of personal character and talents and describes the characteristic way someone contributes to the team in conjunction with other members. This team role changes over the years as a person develops and is not a fixed construct (such as personality traits which are assumed to be more or less stable over time).

The objective of a Belbin team role test is to determine the characteristic roles that individuals possess and to find the strengths and weaknesses in the team composition. Another objective is for team members to gain an understanding of and have respect for the team roles that other people play – which perhaps is the main benefit from this approach.

The basic idea is that each team needs its own mix of different team roles in order to perform successfully and there needs to be a balance in the roles the team members play. If a team is unbalanced possibly the following symptoms could arise:

* Not goal-oriented enough and too much freewheeling,

* Re-inventing the wheel too much and not making enough use of the available information,

* Not enough focus on internal organization and finishing of activities started,

* Being too nice to each other and not really tackling and solving problems,

* Too much preparation and not really getting started.

A test like Belbin’s can give an insight into the team roles normally played by the team members and what the balance of the team is like – and thus explain some aspects of poor team performance. Unfortunately the idea that one can design teams is a controversial one – and open to much debate. Some years back as part of an experimental exercise within a major company in Europe I was a participant in a management game where team organisation was devised based on Belbin and we had to perform over a long weekend running a virtual company being stressed with all sorts of problems. There were obviously control groups put together at random and the outcome of the test was measured based on the survival of the virtual company as well as profits made. As expected little difference was seen between the designed and random groups in terms of outcomes was seen although I felt at the time a better understanding of fellow team members was a useful outcome. Overall there is little peer reviewed evidence that such approaches work.

There are also problems with this approach from a more theoretical perspective. Firstly the original concept was meant for individuals to gain an insight into their own propensities which is fine but when we switch to considering the categorisation of team members prescriptively that is where issues start arising – this can even extend to some HRM people using such approaches for selection and assessment. Which is very risky thing to do given that the team role test for all its apparent face validity has limited criterion related validity – and using such tests might have problems if you cannot objectively justify the outcome. Type tests can also be a crude pigeon-holing mechanism for fitting people into a number of boxes, grossly over-simplify a personality profile (MBTI has only four scales for example), smaller scales can miss out on important details and  cut off points from one category to another can mean a very small difference in score can result in being moved from one category to the next. Also Belbin is an ipsative test where each item is simultaneous concerned with more than one dimension and the dimensions are not independent as a score of high along one scale necessarily means a lower score is achieved on another. As a result an ipsative test can show what dimensions are relatively important for an individual but cannot be used to compare across individuals. This is because it is possible to have a profile where the secondary characteristic score is ‘higher’ than another person’s primary tendency – accordingly such comparisons have little meaning. Moral of the story use such test only for what was intended.

Belbin’s original research devised around eight major team roles: and lately have added an extra dimension of ‘specialist’: Company worker, Chairman, Shaper, Innovator, Resource investigator, Monitor-evaluator, Team Worker, Completer- Finisher

Here is the link to the Belbin Site where you can get further information and take a full test: Belbin: The home of Belbin Team Roles

2 comments to Team Role Testing – Belbin Typology

  • I think Belbin has this completely wrong – seems to me he thinks building a team is a bit like baking a cake. Get the right ingredients and all is going to work – nonsense – and no evidence. As Professor Fletcher puts it: Quote ‘The Belbin prescription is completely the wrong way to consider teams. By playing it this way you are building-in inherent weaknesses into the team when you should be developing strengths.

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