Over the last few years, work teams have become a common and increasing characteristic of organisational life. Organisational successes, gains in productivity, quality and profitability are all attributed to team working. There are a number of factors which contribute to the performance of teams; for instance, the organisational structure within which the team works, the type of task to be accomplished, resources available and the characteristic of the team and the team members. The last, the characteristics of team members, is the subject of this note.
Common wisdom dictates that if the best people are put together, a high performance team would inevitably result. Traditionally, the most skilled people, therefore, would be selected for the team. This approach is still prevalent in most organisations and there are many examples: a committee which comprises distribution experts; and urban redevelopment task force which comprises the best architects in the field. In all these cases, people are chosen for their membership of teams because of the job and task skills they possess; in other words, because of the functional role they perform. It has been found, however, that such an approach does not guarantee success. While it may be necessary that a team should comprise people who have relevant knowledge in the task area, it has been discovered that factors other than technical ability were more important in determining the success of a team.
Dr. Meredith Belbin, an UK based scholar in the field of management, applied the notion of behavioural roles to teams and identified nine sets of `team roles’. His concept of team roles was based on a study of successful and unsuccessful teams competing in business games. During a period of over nine years, a team of researchers based at Henley Management College, U.K. studied the behaviour of managers from all over the world, while they engaged in a complex management exercise. Their different core personality traits, intellectual styles and behaviours were assessed during the exercise.
In their observations, Belbin and his associates found that while carrying out team activities, managers tend to prefer particular behaviours. For instance, some were naturally imaginative - `good ideas' people. Some were good at checking details to make sure that every thing has been covered. Yet some others made sure that decisions are implemented and the task carried thorough to completion. It was also observed that individuals displaying these roles exhibited similar behaviour patterns over time. In other words, they `stick' to their roles. These different clusters of behaviours were identified and then given names. For example, the `ideas person' was given the name 'plant', the one who controls and organises the activities of his team - `co-ordinator', the one who tries to ensure that tasks are carried through to completion - 'Implementer' and so on. Belbin's research yielded nine team roles. A team role may be defined as the way we behave, contribute and interrelate when working in any team. It refers to `work preferences' i.e., the different ways that individuals approach tasks of the team. In the management games and in the subsequent research conducted in the field over the past twenty years, it has been found that certain combinations of behavioural roles lead to more effective teams. For instance, a highly successful team can be built around the co-ordinator, plant and monitor evaluator. Even though these team roles are not associated with particular job and task skills, they are considered crucial to task and goal achievement in that their presence or absence is said to influence significantly the work and achievements of teams.
Before moving to team role descriptions, one should keep in mind the underlying premises of Belbin's team role theory: 1. People working in teams tend to adopt particular roles.
2. They tend to prefer...