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A rowing team in a racing scull on the water.

Group structure

Working in teams is an essential part of organisational life, whether face-to-face, online, work or leisure. As you work out what you have to offer to other people through networking, it’s worth asking yourself what kind of role you tend to be good at when you have the opportunity of working in a group.

Psychologist Meredith Belbin has devoted his career to finding out what makes an effective team. He argues that however brilliant individual team members might be, it is the balance of roles in a team that determines its success (Belbin, 2004).

Belbin’s framework recognises nine important roles that are required for a team to be successful. Each role has different strengths and weaknesses that need to be balanced in an effective combination:

  • Plants are creative people who are good at generating ideas and solving complex problems but may be careless of detail.

  • Resource investigators are extroverted people who are good at developing contacts, identifying opportunities and resources in the external environment, but can lose enthusiasm towards the end of the project.

  • Coordinators can see the big picture, clarify goals and allocate roles and responsibilities; they often act as the chairperson for the team. They are good at delegating tasks to the right person but can be perceived as manipulative.

  • Shapers are task-focused people who provide the necessary drive to ensure that the group is kept moving and does not lose focus. They challenge the team to improve, make sure that all possibilities are considered, and that the team does not become complacent. However, shapers can become aggressive and offend other team members.

  • Monitor evaluators critically analyse ideas rather than generate them; they act as neutral and logical observers and judges of the team’s ideas and decisions. However, they can become very critical, damping team enthusiasm, and they lack the ability to inspire others.

  • Team workers are good listeners and diplomats; they are supportive and understanding of others, and good at smoothing over conflicts. Since the role can be a low-profile one, the beneficial effect of team workers can go unnoticed until they are absent, when the team begins to argue, and small but important things cease to happen. Because of an unwillingness to take sides, a team worker may not be able to take decisive action when needed.

  • Implementers convert ideas and objectives into practical actions. They are practical, reliable and efficient, and can be relied on to deliver on time. However, they may be seen as inflexible since they will often have difficulty deviating from their well-thought-out plans.

  • Completer finishers are perfectionists and make sure everything is ‘just right’. They may frustrate their team mates by worrying excessively about minor details and by refusing to delegate tasks that they do not trust anyone else to perform.

  • Specialists provide expert knowledge and skills. They are single-minded and self-motivated, but may dwell on technicalities.

Nine is a lot of roles to remember – but one individual can fulfil more than one role. Perhaps as you read through the list, some of them may have reminded you of aspects of yourself or people you have worked with.

A study of a large set of UK managers (Fisher, et al. 2000) suggests that there are plenty of coordinators and resource investigators available, but that coordinators can happily double up as team workers and implementers. Resource investigators also make good team workers, and can turn their hands to coordination as well. Completer finishers and monitor evaluators are more difficult to find. So if your talents lie in either role, it’s worth knowing you represent a relatively rare but valuable resource to other people.

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This article is from the free online course:

Business Fundamentals: Effective Networking

The Open University