Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Good teams collect differences

No-one assembles a soccer team of eleven goalkeepers. Teams that just have the brightest people, or the most technically skilled, will not outperform others.

Instead, successful teams must contain all the different technical skills required to do the task, along with the right personalities and priorities. I've appreciated the insights from researcher Meredith Belbin that teams need to cover eight basic roles:
  • A Chairperson is necessary to pick the people, to listen, encourage and focus and co-ordinate the effort.
  • Then there's what Belbin calls the 'Shaper' who is task-oriented and can (sometimes impatiently) act as the spur for action.
  • A generator of Ideas and proposals, someone who can be quite creative and intelligent, but not necessarily bound in details that could hold the creativity back.
  • Belbin's Monitor-Evaluator is almost the opposite, better at analysis than creativity. This is the person who checks things out, points out flaws in an argument and keeps an eye on the clock!
  • Without a Resource Investigator little progress can be made: this role involves keeping the team in touch with the world around it and marshalling the raw materials and other resources necessary to make progress.
  • The Team Worker is usually likeable and popular, keeping everyone going by encouragement and understanding and support.
  • The Implementer is a practical organizer and administrator who turns ideas into action.
  • The Completer-Finisher helps the team to meet its deadlines with a relentless focus on follow-through.
If those are the general roles that have to be covered, most teams also need access to a technical Specialist who brings access to scarce knowledge or skills.
No one is equally strong in each of these areas; but most of us can do reasonably well in several of them, even if we are best at just one or two. An important emphasis, though, is to ensure that each of these roles is covered in practice. 
In the teams I run it's something I now consciously pay attention to and, though I naturally do best at the Chairman, Implementer and Ideas roles, I'll make sure that the others get done, even if I have to do the Monitor-Evaluator stuff because no-one else is!!