People are not the same – obvious perhaps, but true – and in any workplace team there will be a wide variety of types, preferences, attitudes, skills, knowledge, etc. All these differences will interact together and produce different team behaviours. Ultimately, the effectiveness and efficiency of your team will depend on whether these differences work together or against each other.

So, understanding the people in your team is crucial. As a manager or executive you need to know each individual in order to bring out their best possible contribution to the team effort. What role should they play within the team? What role would they like to play? What role would be best for them (and the team?) As ever, these questions can seem daunting when faced with a group of individuals whom you must turn into a functioning unit.

Worry not and think positive. There are many theories and models available to help you. One of the more established is that of Belbin’s Team Roles.

A team role is defined as: “A tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way.” Nine roles were identified by Dr. Meredith Belbin during a period of research at Henley Management College, England.; as follows:

Action-oriented roles:
IMPLEMENTER – organised; disciplined; puts ideas into practice; may be inflexible.
SHAPER – energetic, pushes forward; thrives on pressure; may lose patience with others.
COMPLETER/FINISHER – sees things through; conscientious; deadline-focussed; may be inclined to worry.

People-oriented roles:
CO-ORDINATOR – leader; confident; provides focus; may be domineering.
TEAM WORKER – caring; diplomatic; works to resolve conflict between members; may be indecisive.
RESOURCE INVESTIGATOR – networker; enthusiastic; explores new possibilities; may lose interest in ‘old’ ideas.

‘Cerebral’ roles:
PLANT – creative; unorthodox; produces original ideas; may ignore details.
MONITOR/EVALUATOR – careful and accurate; objective; sees the ‘big picture’; may appear over-critical.
SPECIALIST – expert; dedicated; knowledgeable and skilful in a specific area; may dwell on technicalities.

Effective teams have a balance of roles; each role making an important and distinct contribution. However, that is not to say that every team must have at least nine people! One individual can fulfil the function of more than one of Belbin’s roles and that same individual may perform different roles in different teams and over the course of their career. Team roles are not fixed in stone. The important thing is to know what each member of the team has to offer and to play to their strengths and to manage their weaknesses.

Think (positively, of course!) about your team in the workplace. Is the team balanced? Are you clear as to who is fulfilling which roles? Are any of the roles missing; if so, who can develop the skills to take on that role?