Belbin and Teamwork

Why is teamwork so important?

Meredith Belbin demonstrated the importance of teamwork in achieving a successful outcome to a project.1 Belbin explained why an individual manager cannot achieve what a team can achieve through teamwork. For example, two of the qualities a good manager must possess are dynamism and patience.2 It is difficult for one person to be both dynamic and patient, but two people can. Teamwork now becomes important.

Belbin demonstrated why teamwork is important; a good manager requires many qualities, but they are often mutually exclusive.

The literature indicates that most growth organizations are started by teams, as opposed to individuals,3, 4 and that teamwork and team design are important elements in the senior management teams of growth organizations.5 We have already established that strength of leadership is important regarding the achievement of growth in an organization, thus teamwork should manifest itself through the leader and the other team roles.

The following two team roles must be present in a growth organization's senior management team.6 But they must be able to work together, i.e. teamwork.

  1. Someone who is enthusiastic, quick-off-the-mark, and extrovert. Must be a good communicator with people both inside and outside the organization. Adept at exploring new opportunities and developing contacts.
  2. Someone who is practical, with common sense, self-control, and hard working. Must tackle problems in a systematic fashion. Also loyal and more interested in work than the pursuit of self-interest.

One or both of these may be present in the leader, but it seems highly unlikely that one person could have characteristics relating to both team roles as they are mutually exclusive. It appears to be the working together of these very different team roles that create the successful growth organization, i.e. teamwork. As the team roles are so different, a strong and conciliatory leader is essential if the team is to succeed; the leader must recognize the importance of teamwork.

Perhaps the reason why the performances of small firms run by individuals is less dynamic than those run by a team relates to the limitations of the qualities of one individual, as opposed to teamworkers with a variety of individual qualities.

Qualities mutually exclusive

Belbin noted other qualities that are often mutually exclusive. He (or she) must be highly intelligent and he must not be too clever. He must be forceful and he must be sensitive to people's feelings. He must be a fluent communicator and a good listener. He must be decisive and he must be reflective.7

The first team role, number 1 above, is exemplified by Belbin's Resource Investigator. The second team role, number 2 above, is exemplified by Belbin's Implementer (click here for a description of all Belbin's team roles). Belbin's SPI psychometric test may be used to identify suitable team members, but other tests, e.g. the Team Management Systems (TMS),8, 9, 10 will also enable identification of the characteristics of the required team role.

Although it is possible to identify individuals with the above characteristics using psychometric tests, it is also possible that one or more of the senior management team members carries with them psychological problems, for example neurosis, paranoia and/or narcissism, that could have an adverse effect on the team. Narcissism in the workplace is an increasingly common problem, and it impacts badly on all teamwork. These problems need to be identified at an early stage. The narcissist is the antithesis of a teamworker.

To understand more about why teamwork is important, read Narcissism: Behind the Mask.

1, 2, 7 Belbin, R.M. (1981), Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail, Heinemann, London.
3 Mangelsdorf, M.E. (1992), The Inc. 500: Americas' fastest growing private companies, Inc., Vol. 14, No. 10.
4 Brockaw, L. (1993), The Truth About Start-Ups, Inc., Vol. 15, No. 3, pp. 56-64.
5 Vyakarnam, S., Jacobs, R.C. and Handelberg, J. (1999), Exploring the formation of entrepreneurial teams: The key to rapid growth business? Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, Vol. 6, No. 2. pp. 153-165.
6 Thomas, D.K., Murphy, W.D. and Fearn, G. (2001), 'Analysis of senior management teams in growth and lifestyle SMEs', The 24th ISBA National Small Firms Policy and Research Conference, Leicester, Conference Proceedings, Vol. 1, pp. 433-452.
8 Mergerison, C.J. and McCann, D.J. (1985), How to lead a winning team, MCB University Press, Bradford.
9 Mergerison, C.J. and McCann, D.J. (1989), How to improve team management, MCB University Press, Bradford.
10 Mergerison, C.J. and McCann, D.J. (1990), Team management: Practical New Approaches, Mercury, London.