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A Model For Successful Teams

Posted on December 13th, 2016 by in Chemical Manufacturing Excellence


Despite the Hollywood notion that successful innovators tend to work alone in their garage, day and night until they finally make their breakthrough, nearly all modern innovation and breakthrough is born out of teams.

Teamwork is essential in solving complex problems, pushing for technological advances and making R&D work.

In this article, we’re going to look at a helpful model for describing the elements of successful teams.

The Belbin Team Role Framework

Dr Meredith Belbin is a UK researcher who set out to understand why some teams work well and are successful, and why some fail. In the 1970s he demonstrated that teams comprising of people with a range of different capabilities tended to perform better than teams that were less well balanced.

He found that successful teams tended to have members who exhibited a set of key behaviours and characteristics. Over time, Belbin refined his understanding of these key behaviours and encapsulated them in nine key team roles.

The ethos of his work can perhaps be captured well in this quote:

‘What is needed is not well balanced individuals, but individuals who balance well with each other.’ Dr Meredith Belbin

In most cases, successful teams have members who take on the role of all nine of the types. Each person might take on more than one role, and might take on different roles in different teams.

While each of us will have roles that we prefer, are more proficient in, or tend to adopt most readily, the purpose of this model is not to put everybody in a box. The purpose of this model is to describe the core roles most commonly exhibited in successful teams.

The 9 types

In another post we’ll look in more detail at some of the nine roles, paying particular attention to how they are exhibited in an R&D context. For now, the following gives a brief overview of the different roles Belbin came up with in his model.

Along with the names of the nine roles, the sections below give an idea of some of the common core strengths people in these roles often bring, along with some of their “allowable weaknesses” (which is a phrase used in Belbin’s model to describe some of the common and necessary costs of having someone in each role on the team).

Implementer – Disciplined, reliable, conservative, efficient. Turns ideas into practical actions. Effective organiser. Somewhat inflexible. Slow to respond to new possibilities. Sticks only to the proven and reliable.

Shaper – Challenging, dynamic, thrives on pressure. Shapes the ideas of others and strives to reach goals, with drive and courage to overcome obstacles. Drives other people to excel. Can be provocative. Offends people’s feelings sometimes. Prone to frustration and irritation.

Completer Finisher – Conscientious, painstaking, reliable. Delivers on time. Searches out errors and omissions. Inclined to worry unduly. Reluctant to delegate. Perfectionist.

Co-ordinator – Mature, confident, a good chairperson. Clarifies goals and promotes decision making. Delegates well. Identifies strengths of others and uses them for team gain. Can be seen as manipulative and sometimes delegates personal work.

Team Worker – Co-operative, mild, perceptive, diplomatic. Listens, builds understanding, averts friction. Defuses conflict and holds the team together. Can be indecisive in crunch situations. Easily influenced. Defers to others “What do you think?”

Resource Investigator – Extroverted, enthusiastic, communicative. Explores opportunities and develops contacts. Over optimistic. Loses interest once initial enthusiasm has passed.

Plant – Creative, imaginative, unorthodox. Solves difficult problems. Source of original ideas. Ignores incidentals / details. Too pre-occupied to communicate effectively. May neglect practical matters.

Monitor Evaluator – Sober, strategic, discerning. Sees all options. Judges accurately. Can lacks drive and ability to inspire others. Sometimes lacking in tact. Can be too critical.

Specialist – Single minded, self-starting, dedicated. Provides knowledge and skills in rare supply. Contributes only on a narrow front. Dwells on specialised personal interests. May have little concern for the “big picture”.

How is this helpful for us?

The effect of understanding this model (in more detail than the sections above have allowed), and applying it to innovative teams, can be profound. From recruitment of new members, to communication among the team or the division of work, understanding the team dynamics at play can be a game changer.

Some research carried out last year (which we’ll get into more next time) found that “team members all benefit from knowing each other’s Belbin Team Roles and the effect of their own roles on the teamwork”.

Just becoming aware of our own strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of others in our teams, is a helpful first step in fostering creativity and highlighting potential challenges before they arise (whether in communication, approach to problem solving, interactions with other teams or groups, frustrations with leadership styles or a whole host of other potential issues). Understanding the cause of barriers to decision making or creativity can help teams to find solutions, rather than continually experience frustration without knowing what to do about it.

I have personally found this model to be an enlightening description of the roles played out in the teams I am and have been a part of. Understanding the roles taken on by others has allowed me to flex my approach, work on improving communication and find effective ways to contribute to the overall success of the team.

Next time, we’ll look in more detail at a couple of the nine roles which are especially important in an R&D context.


All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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