The Limitations of Belbin

August 11, 2009 Max Isaac

We know that Belbin can help to improve team performance.  But can one use Belbin Team Role Theory in all situations?

Well, for starters, a Belbin Assessment can’t make a cup of coffee.

But seriously, there are limitations to using the Belbin Team Role Assessment:

1. Specifically designed for teams

The information that you can learn from completing a Belbin Assessment can be useful at three levels: personal development, team development, and culture change.  However, the assessment is used to measure your behaviors when working with a team.  This can be on a one-to-one or a one-to-many basis, but always reflects how you work with other people.

2. Designed to be used in a work setting

Belbin Team Role Theory can be used to predict team performance when used in a work setting.  The extensive research behind the Belbin Assessment applies to using Belbin within a work setting, not at home or in a social setting.  (We tend to see people behaving in similar ways at home as they do at work, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

3. Measures behaviors, not personality

A person cannot only be measured by their team-related behaviors.  There are several other factors that are a part of a person’s makeup, including personality.  The Belbin Assessment is not a psychometric instrument, and therefore does not measure personality attributes.  However, Belbin can be used to find clusters of behaviors (which form the Belbin Team Roles), which if effectively deployed in a team will result in improvements in team performance.

If you need to make an important decision in your organization, it is crucial to use other decision-making factors along with Belbin.

4. Has a Cultural Bias:

The research that established Belbin Team Role Theory has mainly focused on upper-management level executives in Britain.  In Britain in the ’70s, when Dr. Meredith Belbin was doing his foundational research, these executives would be middle-class white men.  This is not to say that Belbin cannot be applied to other cultures, but the original research focused on a specific demographic.

Therefore, how can you use Belbin best?

  • Discover patterns of behavior in a work setting
  • Receive non-defensive feedback from observers (the Belbin Assessment uses adjectives and retains observer confidentiality)
  • Increase coherence between how you see yourself and how others see you
  • Uncover hidden talents and strengths
  • Quickly see the dynamics and composition of a team (especially useful for new managers, project teams, and virtual teams)
  • Increase team performance through an understanding of how the team roles are distributed among team members
  • Become more effective by playing to your strengths

Do you see other limitations to using Belbin Team Role Theory in your organization?  Have your say in the comments below.

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