Most of the people who have a Belbin Team Role analysis done go through the process just once. They may believe that because Team Role strengths and weaknesses come naturally, their Team Role profile is set in stone. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The relative rankings of the Team Roles can change over time, perhaps as the consequence of finding themselves in different jobs or positions or because a person puts in deliberate effort to build a strength or manage a weakness.
That’s why we strongly recommend that people go through the Team Role evaluation process more than once and ideally at regular intervals. While nothing compares to the novelty of the insights gained when someone reviews their very first Team Role report, having multiple data points serves a number of purposes, two of which we’ll examine in this article. First, we’ll see how one executive became a stronger leader after multiple Belbin analyses revealed a consistent pattern. Then we’ll look at a manager who is using repeated Belbin analyses to evaluate progress toward his personal development goals.
I recently consulted with Robert, a junior executive who has just moved into a new and challenging position in his company. In fact, it’s his third such assignment in recent years. (Robert is someone the company turns to when the stakes are high.) As he has risen through the ranks, Robert has carried with him a preconception that effective leaders need to be strong Coordinators (CO), the Team Role that represents people who are good at organizing teams around a goal and making sure decisions and tasks are assigned.
With this newest promotion, Robert wanted to ensure he understood how he could make a positive difference while in this job. So he decided to review what had occurred in the past to see what he could learn (he redid his Team Role analysis each time he changed jobs).
By comparing his three Belbin reports, Robert realized that, unfortunately for his preconception about “good leadership,” he never ranked strongly in Coordinator skills. This mentality that a good manager or leader needs to fit a certain description is common. But it’s a misconception. As Peter Drucker pointed out, the effective leaders he worked with had very different profiles in terms of their personalities and skills. They were effective because they had a true understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, and knew how to play to the former and manage the latter.
What showed up consistently in Robert’s Team Role analysis—despite the fact that three completely different sets of observers were involved—was that he was very strong in both Monitor-Evaluator (ME) and Team Worker (TW) skills. While he hadn’t exactly denied that pattern at first, he didn’t embrace it either in part because it didn’t match his preconception about leadership skills. (He had wanted to be a better CO because he thought that was what a leader needed to be!)
Finding someone strong in these two roles is somewhat unusual because they have some opposite characteristics. The ME role can often be seen by others as cynical or critical, but a strong TW is a people-pleaser. Now that the ME and TW pattern has shown up consistently, Robert better understands that his ability to offer analysis or criticism in a sensitive way has made him a very effective leader in his own right and using his own style.
Further, Robert’s new job involves a lot of data and information analysis, so his action plan includes developing the impartial aspect of his ME skills to make sure he is taking all the facts into consideration when evaluating data. But he also wants to be partisan when it comes to supporting his team, and understands that he will have to be clear with himself and others about when he is playing which role.
Finding the Best Fit on a Team
Another senior executive we’ve worked with, Theresa, heads up a policy group for an international institution. As you might imagine, this policy group needs to make close connections to many groups around the globe—which makes Resource Investigator (RI) skills highly prized, and many of the members (including Theresa) rate highly in those skills. The potential downside of having an abundance of RI tendencies on a team is that there can be lots of talking, lots of diversions off-topic, and not much follow up.
What is lacking on this team is someone who can make sure the group sets goals and takes action when necessary—the Coordinator. Fortunately for the group, Theresa rates second in CO skills; the action-oriented Shaper role is her third highest set of skills. She understands that her policy group will underachieve unless she uses her CO and SH skills to push people to set goals and establish priorities and gently prod them into taking action.
Theresa’s action plan has deliberate steps she’s taking to emphasize these skills and includes do another Belbin analysis in six months to make sure her efforts are effective and she’s doing a good job in the CO role. For example, if she doesn’t come across as strong in supporting others (a CO skill area), then that’s something she will need to work on.
How often to repeat?
If you have been or expect to be working with the same group of people regularly, then think about redoing your Belbin analysis once every year or two. Doing a regular check helps establish what roles are consistent for you (as Robert discovered) as well as help you find areas of strength to build on or weaknesses that you need to get better at managing.
If you have just joined a new group or taken on a new job, then increase the frequency to every 6 to 9 months initially. The first Belbin analyses done in these situations are often based on very limited data and the results can be skewed because people are more likely to exert their “let’s all get along” ideas and aren’t yet comfortable exerting their “I don’t care if you don’t like my opinions” traits. Testing again after the team has had time to gel gives a truer picture of how the team members interact.
The benefits of higher frequency also pertain to someone like Theresa who has put together a development plan to build specific strengths. In those cases, you need to wait long enough to see if your actions have had an effect, but don’t want to go too long in case they haven’t. Redoing your Belbin six to nine months down the road works well in those instances.
Here’s one more situation where redoing a Belbin analysis is helpful: If you’re currently in a position where you feel you’ve been very successful and have loved working with the team. Redoing the analysis will help you more fully understand what you’re doing well when you’re at your best.
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About the Author
Max is the CEO of 3Circle Partners. He brings a depth of knowledge and experience from his career in general management and consulting in North America, England, Europe and Asia. Max has assisted CEOs and senior leaders within client organizations with the design and implementation of Interaction Planning processes, team based organizational development programs and Lean Six Sigma initiatives.More Content by Max Isaac