Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Team Roles at Work, 2nd ed.
Article Type: Suggested reading From: Human Resource Management International Digest, Volume 19, Issue 5
R. Meredith Belbin, Butterworth-Heinemann, 2010, ISBN: 9781856178006
In Team Roles at Work, Meredith Belbin continues his exploration of team roles and their use in understanding the interactions between members of work-orientated teams. While its predecessor, Management Teams, concentrated on proving the concept of team roles, this volume takes a more pragmatic approach and is drawn from Belbin’s observations of how the roles apply to various situations in the workplace.
Owners of the first edition will notice a number of improvements to the formatting of this second edition, including the use of chapter summaries and shorter, more clearly signposted sections. Revisions to the text are less extensive, consisting mainly of changes of emphasis to key paragraphs and updated observations on the style of recent political leaders. As a result, the core structure of the book remains unchanged.
The opening chapters deal primarily with issues of recruitment and selection. Belbin starts by tracing the development of the modern workplace with an emphasis on why traditional methods of role selection can lead to disappointing consequences. Against this background, he outlines how team-role language, unlike selection methods based on qualifications or experience, can provide an empirically derived template to describe the behavior of individuals. Following this, he discusses the potentially conflicting demands of eligibility and suitability of a role, and briefly introduces the use of Interplace software in assessing the “fit” of a candidate with the demands of a given job.
The middle part of the book presents strategies for self-management, conflict resolution and the management of others. This section starts with discussion of how maturity can lead individuals to adopt coherent team-role behavior, resulting in more predictable and successful outcomes. However, it is also recognized that concentrating strengths into a few areas inevitably gives rise to deficiencies in the other roles, leading to the concept of “allowable weaknesses.” These chapters also discuss how individuals who are strong in certain roles interact with others, and indicate strategies for developing consistent team-role behavior while being flexible enough to avoid clashes, conflicts and misunderstandings.
The remaining chapters concentrate on management issues. Belbin first examines the options available when building a project team and, perhaps unsurprisingly, recommends that a range of roles will be required to support a project from inception to conclusion. This is followed by a consideration of successful and unsuccessful strategies used in succession planning. Finally, the concluding chapters contain reflections on leadership and the changing nature of organizational structures.
In contrast with the empirically led approach of Management Teams, this book takes a more anecdotal tone, with the frequent use of metaphors and informal examples. For me, the highlight of the book was the excellent explanation of the concept of allowable weaknesses and the repeated emphasis on the need for a coherent team-role profile. Additionally, although the explanation of team roles contained in this volume is necessarily shorter than that presented in Management Teams, it is adequate for those who do not require extensive justification of the concept.
However, while Belbin’s easy prose style is occasionally engaging, I felt that the more informal approach lacked overall immediacy and I was left with the impression that the text forms a scholarly monologue which demands careful thought and consideration if the lessons contained within are to be applied. For this reason, I would primarily recommend the book to those who are already familiar with the basic principles of Belbin’s work, or those who use Belbin’s Interplace software and require a more advanced understanding of how the team-role concept can be applied in the workplace.
Reviewed by Rob Palethorpe, of Palethorpe Training & Development, Chirk, UK.
A longer version of this review was originally published in Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 43 No. 1, 2011.