Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail (3rd ed.)
Article Type: Suggested reading From: Human Resource Management International Digest, Volume 19, Issue 3
R. Meredith BelbinButterworth-Heinemann2010ISBN: 978 1 85617 807 5
The concept of team roles has become familiar to many management trainers following the initial publication of Management Teams almost 30 years ago. By suggesting that effective teamwork relies less on qualifications and experience and more on a complementary mixture of interpersonal styles, Meredith Belbin’s original studies introduced an easily-understood framework for analyzing the complex interactions involved in group work and increasing the chances of success in any team endeavor.
Now in its third edition, Management Teams remains principally an account of the empirical process that led to the discovery of the initial eight team roles. In studies at Henley Management College, teams were set the task of competing in one of two complex business simulations. By correlating the results of these management games with the psychometric-test profiles of the participants, Belbin was able to identify the common behavioral factors that were likely to lead to success. In the years that followed, a process of repeated experiment and analysis eventually led to the identification of the characteristic roles that significantly influence teamwork.
This edition includes a new preface and changes to the chapter structure to group discussions by key themes. The final chapter now offers a 30-year retrospective (including the derivation of the ninth team role) and a number of case studies. The book no longer contains a self-perception questionnaire, but instead includes a voucher that can be redeemed for an online version provided by Belbin Associates. Additionally, a web-link is also provided to a copyrighted one-page handout of the theory, although a similar summary is not reproduced in the book.
Belbin states that he has deliberately resisted the temptation to revise his original text in order to avoid the distortions that come with hindsight. As a result, each chapter provides a narrative on the experimental work underpinning one particular aspect of his work and presents accompanying discussions and reflections largely in their original form.
After outlining his method in the opening chapter, Belbin goes on to provide an account of how groups made up of the brightest individuals can perform relatively poorly in team situations. Following this, Chapter 3 notes the tendency of group leaders to recruit in their own image, leading to unbalanced teams that may lack the key skills for success. As a direct result of this discussion, he proposes that all successful teams require a pragmatic, organized individual who focuses on getting the work done. This leads directly to his “implementer” team role.
Subsequent chapters address the need for creativity and leadership, and provide insights into the derivation of the plant, resource investigator, coordinator and shaper roles. These are followed by a chapter recounting the observations which led to the identification of the roles of monitor-evaluator, team-worker and completer-finisher.
One early application of the team-role archetypes was in analyzing team performance in the Henley management games. By varying the composition of the groups undertaking the exercise, it became possible to predict the relative performance of each team and isolate the underlying factors. These experiments inform the next two chapters of the book, which deal with the characteristics of unsuccessful and winning teams respectively. Subsequent chapters discuss issues of team size, the additional personal qualities required by good team members and the design of an “ideal” team. Finally, the discussion of the historical material ends, somewhat incongruously, with a reflection on how team-role theory may be used to improve the performance of government.
One concept that Belbin addresses is that of transferability – whether it is possible to extend conclusions derived from an artificial management game to other, more general contexts. Although the text provides contemporary examples drawn from Belbin’s wider consultancy role, the question is even more relevant when viewed from the perspective of a modern-day reader. The original Henley experiments were largely conducted in the 1970s, and appear to have simulated a “traditional”, male dominated, executive-led, bureaucratic organization. This impression is compounded by the use of dated, gender-specific language in some sections of the book. Since the world of work has changed remarkably since those days, it is reasonable to ask whether conclusions derived 30 years ago are still relevant in today’s workplace.
The final chapter provides a retrospective that partly addresses these concerns. This chapter introduces the ninth team role, the specialist, and provides several case studies written by third parties. While short, these successfully illustrate the wider application of the theory.
Overall, the combination of Belbin’s easy prose style and the use of chapter summaries means that this is a very accessible work. While the focus on empiricism will not appeal to all readers, it provides a fascinating insight into the development of one of the most influential management theories of our time. It is also a worthwhile companion to Belbin’s more pragmatic Team Roles at Work.
Reviewed by Rob Palethorpe, Training and Development, Wrexham, UK.
A longer version of this review was originally published in Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 42 No. 5, 2010.