Today’s security professionals must know how to design and implement security transformation programs on an enterprise-wide scale. In order to be successful at this, not only must they be technically savvy, but they should know how to build, lead and manage a team effectively for this purpose.
When dealing with teams, many people mistakenly assume that some team roles are more important than others, when in reality, all participants are equally essential. The diversity of skills makes a team versatile and is reinforced by the active involvement from all parties. Each role, trade or character type has its own strengths and weaknesses, which should be identified, harnessed and optimized (or reduced, in the latter case) in order to enhance the team’s overall performance. There are several existing resources for thoroughly exploring these complex human dynamics. One of the strongest ones available is the Belbin Model.
Dr. Meredith Belbin designed a personality test, known as the Belbin Team Inventory, in which he defines nine team roles that are necessary for a team’s optimal performance.
Through a 360-degree feedback mechanism (which includes the individual’s as well as the observers’ evaluation, mutually contrasted with one another), this test is designed to identify an individual’s personal behavioral traits and interpersonal strengths. It is not uncommon to see, however, that many people score strong tendencies towards multiple roles.
Based on the assessment of the individual’s behavior within a team environment, Belbin sorted these nine roles into three main categories which include the action oriented roles, the people oriented roles and the thought oriented roles.
The action oriented roles and their strengths are the following:
- Shaper: outgoing and dynamic people who help the team improve by finding the best problem-solving methodologies. The Shaper is responsible for keeping track of all the possibilities while avoiding the team’s complacency. Shapers usually welcome complications and unexpected outcomes as challenging opportunities that could lead to great outcomes: they have the courage to take them on when others feel like quitting.
- Implementer: assumes the role that translates the team’s concepts and ideas into practical action plans. Because implementers are very disciplined, well-organized and work systematically in an efficient way: they are the team member who everyone counts on to get the job done.
- Completer-Finisher: makes sure that deadlines are met and checks for omissions and errors. Because they tend to be orderly, conscientious perfectionists, they will pay attention to every single detail and ensure the job is completed on time.
The people oriented roles and their assets comprise:
- Coordinator: who usually assumes the role of the chairman or traditional team-leader. Because they tend to be excellent listeners, they intuitively recognize the intrinsic value each team member can contribute to the group. With this personal strength, along with their calm and good nature, they are able to delegate tasks efficiently and guide the team to what they observe are the main objectives.
- Team Worker: is the member who takes over the role of the negotiator within the team while providing support and ensuring a productive environment in which everybody may work together effectively. Team workers tend to be charismatic and therefore popular and outgoing, which makes them very capable in facilitating team cohesion while encouraging people to get along.
- Resource Investigator: assumes the role of identifying and working with external stakeholders in order to enable the team to accomplish its objectives. Resource investigators are typically enthusiastic, extroverted and outgoing making others receptive to their ideas. Because they tend to be curious and innovative, they can easily establish contacts, explore available options and negotiate for resources on behalf of the team.
Finally, the thought oriented roles and their potency characteristics include:
- Plant: the person who comes up with innovative ideas and methodologies. He/she is usually introverted and might prefer to work in a separate environment from the rest of the team. Plants do, however, thrive on praise and find difficulties in dealing with criticism.
- Monitor-Evaluator: is the objective member every team needs for analyzing and evaluating the ideas that other people (usually Plants) come up with. They can easily weigh pros and cons of all the available options before arriving to a decision.
- Specialists: these are the individuals who possess a specialized knowledge and experience that is required to get the job done. Their contribution to a team-work environment is reserved as the expert in the field, and they are usually fully committed to the area of their expertise. Their priority lies in maintaining their professional status, and they take great pride in their abilities and skills.
One of the core foundations of the Belbin Team Inventory is that a team can be considered well-balanced when all nine roles are present and participate actively. When we recognize our individual role within a given team, we can further develop our strengths and manage our weaknesses in order to improve our contribution to the team.
If several members within a given team have similar behavioral styles or team roles, the team becomes unbalanced and doesn’t function up to its full potential. The underlying cause for this is that similar behaviors imply overlapping strengths, which can foster interpersonal competition rather than cohesion or mutual collaboration. Additionally, similar behaviors mean similar weaknesses, which can be extrapolated as a general weakness of the entire team. Belbin’s nine role definition also includes the identification of the characteristic weaknesses that tend to accompany each team role. These “allowable” weaknesses should be recognized in order to allow for improvement.
The weaknesses of action oriented roles typically include:
- Shaper: might not always be considerate of other people’s feelings and be argumentative.
- Implementer: could be rigid and have a hard time changing.
- Completer-Finisher: might have difficulties in delegating and suffer from unnecessary worry and anxiety.
The weaknesses associated to the people oriented roles are usually the following:
- Coordinator: may tend to be manipulative in nature and might delegate too much of his/her personal responsibilities away.
- Team Worker: might struggle to maintain uncommitted positions during decision-making processes or discussions, and have a tendency to be indecisive.
- Resource Investigator: might me overly optimistic and can quickly lose enthusiasm.
The drawbacks of the thought oriented roles include:
- Plant: because of their unconventional ideas and suggestions, these may be seen by the rest of the team as impractical. The introverted nature of the Plants can make them poor communicators and might tend to overlook given constraints or parameters.
- Monitor-Evaluator: because they are strategic in their methodologies, as well as critical thinkers, they are usually regarded as unemotional or detached. They might be poor motivators who react to a given circumstance instead of instigating it.
- Specialist: because their contribution is limited to the field of their expertise, their participation is restricted, which may lead to technicalities and concerns at the expense of a wider scope.
After many years of studying teamwork, Belbin broadly defined a team role as “a tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way”: a tendency that people normally adopt when they assume a particular team-role. The individual and interpersonal behaviors might, however, depend to some extent on the situation, since it is not only related to one’s own natural style of working, but to the interaction with others and the actual work itself. This means that each one of us may behave and interact quite differently according to the nature of the team members and/or the work we are exposed to.
How to use the Belbin Team Inventory as a tool
The Belbin Team Inventory is a rather handy tool, and can be used in different ways, like in managing interpersonal differences within a given team, for example, or in considering how to construct a balanced team properly before a project starts, or in developing oneself as a team member.
The Belbin model can be used to analyse an existing team, as well as a helpful guide to develop the team’s strengths, and manage its weaknesses. The following tool can be very helpful in analysing team membership, checking for potential strengths and weaknesses within the team:
- Observe the individual members of your team over a period of time, to see how they perform individually, contribute and how they conduct themselves within the team.
- Make a list of the team members which includes their observable characteristics: both key strengths and weaknesses.
- Make a comparison between each team member’s strengths and weakness with the descriptions provided by the Belbin Model. What team role would you say best describes each person more accurately?
- Once you feel you have identified each individual’s corresponding role, answer the following questions:
- Are there any roles missing from the team? Which ones? If so, which are the strengths that are most likely to be missing from the team overall?
- Is there are prevalent team role that many of the team members share?
When there are teams of people who perform the same job, there will be specific predominant team roles. In a team of business consultants, for example, there might be numerous Shapers and Team Workers, as opposed to a research department which will mainly consist of Plants and Specialists. These are perfect examples of unbalanced teams, which might be lacking key approaches and outlooks.
If the team is considered to be unbalanced, the first step is to identify the overall weakness that results from the team. The following step would be to recognize areas of potential conflict. An example would be an excess of Shapers that might weaken a team if each one wishes to drive the team in different directions.
- Once potential weaknesses, areas of conflict and missing strengths have been identified, identify the options you have to improve and change this. Consider:
- Whether one or more team members could develop or adapt how they work together and with others in order to avoid potential conflict of their natural styles.
- If an existing team member could compensate by adopting different a team role. Through awareness and intention, this is sometimes possible.
- Whether new skills need to brought onto the team to compensate for the weaknesses.
The Belbin Team Roles model may introduce more coherence into the team.
It is important to mention, however, that although the Belbin model can be very useful, it should mainly be regarded as a good guide for building a team. One shouldn’t mistake this for depending too heavily on it in order to strive for perfection, which might restrict other potential strengths a team and its members may have. It is basically up to the team leader’s professional intuition to evaluate and decide for him/herself what would be the greatest overall benefit. Perhaps the main concept to learn here today is that in order to have a very high performing team, “the key is BALANCE”.
Leron Zinatullin is a business-oriented information security specialist with several years of proven experience in legal and regulatory compliance. He has extensive knowledge and practical experience pertaining to analyzing and solving governance, risk, compliance, information security and privacy issues. You can read more from Leron on his blog.