Team Skills is the result of a very extensive research
programme carried out over a decade by a team led by Dr. R. Meredith Belbin.
This remarkable study not only proved that different people have quite
separate and distinct skills to bring to a team but also what they are
and how to measure them. It also explains why so many teams fail.
The research programme started in 1969 at the Administrative Staff College,
Henley, Oxon. and involved dozens of teams of middle managers. Sometimes
these teams were formed by chance, sometimes by the managers themselves
and sometimes by the researchers. Some of the teams were designed to fail
or to test a hypothesis. All the managers had a proven track record and
were being groomed for the Boardroom. A large amount of data was known
or acquired about them. They were subjected to a battery of psychometric
tests. All this data meant that the researchers were able to measure the
'input'. The main activity they were involved in was to play a business
game. Perhaps not quite the real world but a real task and problem and
considered to be a good measure of the 'output'; i.e. everybody involved
accepted that the best teams won. As well as the input and output, the
actual 'process' was measured. Trained observers sat with the teams and
noted everyone's contribution. Records were kept of proposals, comments,
opposition, building, informing, asking, managing and then the vast amount
of data was examined and discussed until hypotheses began to emerge. These
were then tested and some were rejected or possibly changed and tested
again until towards the end of several years of study, the research team
was able to predict the finishing order of the contesting 'companies'
by simply looking at the test results of the members and not even having
to interview them.
The outcome of all this intense study was the discovery of nine team roles.
All teams are made up of these and there are no others. The roles can
be predicted by psychometric tests and are adopted by their owners consistently;
whether they are in the office, on a voluntary organisation committee
or just thrown together with a few others as a project team. Some combinations
are very much more effective than others are and organisations that recognise
and use people's strengths tend to be more successful than others.
It should be noted also, that they all tend to have allowable weaknesses
and these will have to be tolerated in order to have the strengths that
go with them. It is interesting to note that many people have remarked
subsequently, that it was the realisation that their weaknesses were 'part
of the package' that has helped them most of all. They have rid themselves
of some self-doubt, a feeling of guilt almost, that has enabled them to
concentrate on their strengths, and to good effect. A team does not have
to have nine people in it however, as by doubling or even trebling up,
all the roles can be brought together in a team of three or so. Dr Belbin's
preference for team size is four. Teams can fail because of bad composition,
a key role missing or, as he found in his study, often because of too
much of a good thing. Teams, which on paper looked like they were completely
unbeatable, would often perform abysmally.