The scientific research that gave birth to the Belbin Team Role theory started in the 70’s when funds were assigned to researchers from Cambridge and College of Henley to study the use of computer in management. The research started from a recurring phenomenon observed at Henley College that some teams performed better than others despite their homogeneity in terms of qualifications and experience. The problem related was that there seemed not to be a straightforward way to forecast which combinations of managers yielded the best results. A management exercise was created in a controlled research environment where teams entered a competition under the observation of researchers. There were two innovative points about this approach that were that (1) the outcomes of the exercise, namely the teams' performances, could be measured and compared on a single axis of success; in this case it was the amount of financial assets1 gathered by each team; and (2) that the ‘input’ of this process was quantitatively measured based on the observation of researchers and on psychological tests that members of the teams had to take beforehand. In this way they could form different combinations of members based on the tests; check their performance and find causal links between input and output. The research went through five stages in which each member that wished to participate took the tests voluntarily and the financial outcomes were measured as an indicator of success. The stages evolved from observation and learning from the exercises to forming different combinations of teams; from which they could build and test hypothesis and start making forecasts. Later on team members were allowed to form their own combinations, which led to further learning and to more sophisticated forecasts. Nine years of research concluded with a very close prediction in a final exercise and a sound and compelling model that could be used in the consultancy world.
The first hypothesis to be tested was based purely on mental ability; the starting point was that cleverest people tend to get the best results when solving problems individually, therefore it was reasonable to think that a team formed by highly clever members would obtain better results than a team with a lower average intelligence. The Critical Thinking Appraisal2 (CTA) was used to measure mental ability and members with the highest CTA scores were grouped together in teams called Apollo teams. The outcomes of the experimentation were quite revealing and contrary to the expected results. The Apollo companies turned out to be a big disappointment; out of twenty-five companies that competed in different exercises, only three came in the first place (i.e. 12%) and the rest felt out of the podium. Only a small percentage were indeed effective teams, which clearly indicates that collective cleverness on its own was not a sufficient ingredient for success and definitely not an accurate predictive criterion. The results were useful to analyze the flaws in Apollo teams and to draw useful principles in building effective teams. Members of these companies engaged in abortive debate trying to convince other members of their point of view. Apollo companies usually got involved in open confrontations of ideas and strategies; they tended to act on personal beliefs and maintain their opinions without consideration of what others were doing or thinking. As a result there was a limited constructive debate and teamwork, which neutralized every potential individual contribution.
Managers are expected to produce results, and a reasonable way to measure results in companies is in terms of financial outcomes. That’s why financial assets were chosen as the criterion to evaluate team effectiveness. CTA or Critical Thinking Appraisal measures the mental ability of a person in five...