Belbin team roles (personal capabilities, part 6)ΒΆ

Tags: personal, zestsoftware, work, capabilities

Part of my personal capabilities series .

A Belbin teamroles inventory (to me) is the most useful test you can do both as a team and as an individual that works in teams.

The basic summary is that, within a given group, people tend to fulfil one or more of 8 basic roles. If you miss a role in your group, you can be hampered; other roles have a one-person-only-please limit. Remember that person that always seems to end up taking charge? Are you the person that ties up the loose ends? Are you constantly spewing forth new ideas?

Each role comes with strengths and with weaknesses. I'll illustrate it by giving some personal examples. I've done the test a few times over the course of 6 years. Three times in a university setting, once just by myself on the internet and once at my current workplace Zest software .

My number one role: monitor/evaluator (Dutch: waarschuwer). Consistently the number one. In every test. And with a, for this role, ridiculous high score. I'm smart and I can analyse well. A definition of this role is "you have a capacity for shrewd judgements that take all factors into account and you seldom give bad advice". Not that I don't make mistakes, but if I really advice against something, I'm often right.

Some drawbacks that I notice in myself. I can be long winded: talking for a long time so that everybody loses my point. Critical and intelligent also equates often to distant and cold. And there's a risk of slamming an overly negative brake on creative discussions and processes.

A point about drawbacks: some drawbacks are allowed drawbacks. They're a package deal. If you want the benefits of a monitor/evaluator, you'll just have to learn to live with some of those attached drawbacks. At the same time, those drawbacks are something I want to be aware of so that I can limit their detrimental effect.

Numbers two and three: company worker/team worker (Dutch: bedrijfsman of teamwerker) and shaper (Dutch: vormer). In the earliest tests company worker was the clear number two, in the more recent ones the shaper takes that spot. I've got a story that illustrates I really have some shaper characteristics later on.

A company worker is loyal (something that's really strong in me). Perfectly willing to do nasty or menial tasks. I can translate goals or customer wishes into practical tasks. Brainstorming how to convert a goal into specific tasks is one of the things I like most.

As a company worker, the demands of practical work can make me a tad conservative. A finely honed system or work approach: don't throw it away before its time. And if I see no practical use in something, it is virtually impossible to motivate me (though loyalty goes a long way).

The second number two spot candidate: shaper. I totally do not fit the "nervous energy" and "aggressive extroverts" characteristics you often see in descriptions of this type! I do have a tendency and desire to technically structure the projects I'm working on or the processes I'm working with. Doing design work on the architecture. Writing programs/scripts that are used to manage the software. Keeping the overview, juggling tasks (and people to do them). If there are obstacles of if there is a looming deadline: I don't mind that much and I'll continue functioning, structuring and pushing myself (or others) along. A shaper is said to be one of the most effective members of a team in guaranteeing positive action.

One of the Belbin summaries I have lists the following three drawbacks that I recognize: prone to provocation, irritation and a tendency to offend others. Those are listed under the heading "allowable weaknesses" but I severely dislike them. Having a technical argument: OK. Being part of a war in a student club: OK, a long as you still can play on the same soccer team with the opponents. But offending persons: bah.

The story with the shaper-drawback that I mentioned. We did this Belbin test with a couple of PhD candidates and got split into two groups afterwards to do some task. We soon discovered that the groups were divided in the most sub-optimal way possible :-) In my group were 4 finishers: ready to do a lot of work and waiting for instructions. And I was the 5th member and my shaper role came front and center: 4 people waiting for structure and instructions. That's what they asked for and what they got. But in the feedback round afterwards I got some hefty feedback that I had given structure, but that I had also driven a 40 ton main battle tank over some quite sensitive feet. Ouch.

For projects, I can function well both as a shaper and as a company worker. In the first case, I try to maintain the overview and try to steer the process and try to have a lot of influence on the architecture. In the second case I'm a loyal team member that gets tasks done.

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My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.

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