Recently, as part of my induction, I completed a simple questionnaire as part of a Belbin team role analysis exercise. This sounds much grander than it really is, although the simplicity of these things always amazes me. Who would have thought that by taking a few minutes to consider ten different questions, each with eight possible statements, and ‘scoring’ yourself against three (or less) of those statements, you’d be able to see which role you typically take when working in a team environment. And who would have thought that, mostly, the damned things would be so accurate.
It’s the second time I’ve taken this particular test (the other common one is the Myers-Briggs personality test… I used to be an INTJ for that one, but that’ll have changed by now) and it’s proved itself to be accurate on both occasions. This is despite the fact that I’m not the same type of ‘person’ that I was when I first took the test. Impressive stuff.
The Belbin definition of a team role is:
“A tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way.”
Briefly, during the 1970s Dr. Meredith Belbin ran several experiments to try and determine what types of people, when combined in a team, produced the best results. One of the key principles he found was that every team needs a mixture of roles, and that every team member, as well as bringing a set of strengths to the team dynamic, also brings a set of ‘allowable weaknesses’. The idea being that not everyone is perfect and you need to accept that. Dr. Belbin discovered that every team needs a mix of around nine different types of team role, and that there should be at least four people with a mix of roles (some roles are interchangeable before any of you math heads leap on that).
Based on his findings, he devised a series of questions, the answers to which help to pinpoint your typical team roles, with each person having a primary and secondary role within a team environment. These typically aren’t things you can plan or cheat, they are reflections of your personality, manifest in the workplace, and whilst they will change over time, they can be hard to influence.
Yes, it’s one of those things that, to many, seems obvious and the very fact that a test exists to try and “theorise” about this kind of thing is tantamount to management-wankery. I disagree with that notion though, as it’s only because of the early-thinkers about this are of business (and life) that we have ended up with the idea of teams in the workplace (to a degree).
Obviously every team needs a good mix of the right kind of people. You need someone to provide ideas and excitement at the start, to organise and motivate people, you need people who will take that idea and question it, pull at it and delve further into the roots of the problem, you need people who will help keep things on an even keel, and you need the people who will sit and churn away until the job gets done. Those people are not one in the same.
Me? I was, primarily, a co-ordinator, a chairman, the type of person who gets all excited about new ideas and helps organise and motivate people at the start of a project. Unfortunately, coupled with my secondary role (resource/investigator) my “allowable weakness” amounts to the fact that I tend to drop things after the initial excitement has died down. I wish that weren’t true but it’s an easily identifiable trait. Hell, you need look no further than this website for an example. There are still things I had planned to do here that I haven’t gotten around to, and likely never will.
But what really got me was that, the first time I took this test, the outcome was completely different, but equally as accurate. I was still enthusiastic, still excited about new things but lacked the ability to organise and motivate others. Which would be true as the last time I took the Belbin test I was still very much a team member, not a team lead.
Is Belbin analysis useful? Yes. From a personal point of view, it was a timely reminder of my weaknesses and helped me to focus on them in the past few months. From a team point of view then, again, yes. Knowing that you are working with someone of, say, a similar nature to you allows you to realise, and plan to deal with, the potential conflicts that may arise.
As most technical communicators work with a variety of different people, in different parts of the organisation and almost by definition, those people have widely differing personality and team types, then any information which can help you to tailor your contact methods is surely a good thing.