Understanding diversity primer: 9. Team roles

By Gabriele Bammer


What is the range of roles that members of a team need to cover in order for the team to be effective? What strengths and weaknesses are associated with each role?

Teamwork is common in research on complex societal and environmental problems. The Belbin team roles identify nine clusters of skills that need to be included within a team for it to be most effective. An individual can bring more than one cluster of skills to the team, with most people having two or three Belbin team roles that they are comfortable with.

Each of the nine roles described below is considered to be equally important and each has strengths and weaknesses. Different roles are likely to be required at different times during a team’s work.

Resource Investigator
These team members use their inquisitive nature to find ideas to bring back to the team.
Strengths: Outgoing and enthusiastic. Explore opportunities and develop contacts.
Weaknesses: May be over-optimistic, can lose interest once the initial enthusiasm has passed, may forget to follow up on leads.

These team members help the team to gel, using their versatility to identify the work required and complete it on behalf of the team.
Strengths: Co-operative, perceptive and diplomatic. Listen and avert friction.
Weaknesses: Can be indecisive in crunch situations, tend to avoid confrontation, may be hesitant to make unpopular decisions.

These team members focus on the team’s objectives, draw out other team members, and delegate work appropriately.
Strengths: Mature and confident. Identify talent and clarify goals.
Weaknesses: May be seen as manipulative, may over-delegate and offload their own share of the work.

These team members tend to be highly creative and good at solving problems in unconventional ways.
Strengths: Creative, imaginative, free-thinking. Generate ideas and solve difficult problems.
Weaknesses: May ignore incidentals, be too preoccupied to communicate effectively and may be absent-minded or forgetful.

Monitor Evaluator
These team members provide a logical eye, make impartial judgements where required and weigh up the team’s options in a dispassionate way.
Strengths: Sober, strategic and discerning. See all options and judge accurately.
Weaknesses: Sometimes lack the drive and ability to inspire others, can be overly critical and may be slow to come to decisions.

These team members bring in-depth knowledge of a key area to the team.
Strengths: Single-minded, self-starting and dedicated. Provide specialist knowledge and skills.
Weaknesses: Tend to contribute on a narrow front, can dwell on the technicalities, may overload the team with information.

These team members provide the necessary drive to ensure that the team keeps moving and does not lose focus or momentum.
Strengths: Challenging, dynamic, thrive on pressure. Have the drive and courage to overcome obstacles.
Weaknesses: Can be prone to provocation, may sometimes offend people’s feelings, may be aggressive and bad-humoured in their attempts to get things done.

These team members are needed to plan a workable strategy and carry it out as efficiently as possible.
Strengths: Practical, reliable, efficient. Turn ideas into actions and organise work that needs to be done.
Weaknesses: May be inflexible, slow to respond to new possibilities and slow to relinquish their plans when better ones arise.

Completer Finisher
These team members are most effectively used at the end of tasks to polish and scrutinise the work for errors, subjecting it to the highest standards of quality control.
Strengths: Painstaking, conscientious, anxious. Search out errors; polish and perfect.
Weaknesses: Can be inclined to worry unduly, reluctant to delegate, may take perfectionism to extremes.

Differences in team roles and how well those contributing to the research work together

The aim of identifying team roles is to encourage those working together on a project to pay explicit attention to ensuring that each role is adequately filled. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses likely to be exhibited by those filling each role can also help maximise effectiveness and ameliorate friction.

Concluding notes

Unlike the other aspects of diversity considered in this primer, which are wide-ranging in their effects on how problems are understood and acted on, understanding different team roles is specifically about helping those contributing to research or other projects work together more effectively.

The Belbin group has developed a commercially available psychometric test that allows team members to determine which clusters of skills they have. They also recommend that team members use Belbin’s “Observer Assessment” to elicit feedback from people they work with to gain insight into which team roles others see them playing and value.

Anything to add?

Particularly welcome are examples of how you identified and combined different team role skills in your research. Is there anything that you would add to the descriptions above? Are there any lessons to share?

If you are new to understanding diversity is there anything else on team role skills that would be useful?

Sources and references:

The main source is the Belbin website, which presents the Belbin team roles, which have been lightly adapted here (https://www.belbin.com/about/belbin-team-roles/). Team role skills were originally developed by Meredith Belbin and colleagues in investigating how business management teams functioned.

Biography: Gabriele Bammer PhD is Professor of Integration and Implementation Sciences (i2S) at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at The Australian National University in Canberra. i2S provides theory and methods for tackling complex societal and environmental problems, especially for synthesis of disciplinary and stakeholder knowledge, understanding and managing diverse unknowns, and providing integrated research support for policy and practice change. She is also a member of blog partner PopulationHealthXchange.

The Understanding Diversity Primer comprises the following blog posts:

1. Why diversity? (April 21, 2022)
2. Mental models (April 28, 2022)
3. Perceptions of good research (May 5, 2022)
4. Power (May 12, 2022)
5. Values (May 19, 2022)
6. Interests (May 26, 2022)
7. Culture (June 2, 2022)
8. Personality (June 9, 2022)

This blog post:
9. Team roles (June 16, 2022)

Still to come:
10. Advanced considerations (June 23, 2022)

6 thoughts on “Understanding diversity primer: 9. Team roles”

  1. Dear Gabriele,

    Thank you for the insightful topic, it is very interesting and helpful to measure the clusters skills of transdisciplinary team project. From my experience, to keep up the high spirit of the collaborative team is a skill. I believe that high spirit is fostering the effectiveness of the collaborative project. Is there a method measuring it?

    Thank you,

    Best regards,

    • Thanks Manal for this good question. This does not seem to be addressed directly in the Belbin team roles, although there are two team roles that probably contribute to maintaining enthusiasm in the group – resource investigator and teamworker. But perhaps others know of other tools that measure this attribute. Suggestions welcome!

  2. I use the Team Diagnostic Survey (https://6teamconditions.com/team-diagnostic-survey/). It’s been rigorously tested in a variety of settings & sectors and is quite comprehensive. The TDS also includes measures of psychological safety, the focus of the team leader’s activities, and the leader’s effectiveness in coaching the team. It covers a lot of ground as a one-stop tool to help a team start off well, readjust, and measure change. There is exceptional community support for practitioners, too.

  3. I use another diagnostic in my work and have considered adding the Belbin. Tools like the Belbin have a place in understanding and contributing to the effectiveness of research teams. For one, they invite rich, evidence-based conversations, even without running the assessment. The Belbin gives data to explore how these roles are expressed within a team and demonstrate that these roles may be sprinkled across the hierarchy of job titles and career stages. Research teams have skepticism about these tools, though. It often is expressed by attacking reliability and validity or cost, but under that is fear. If we have data, we may have to address it and that is deeply uncomfortable. I understand that tendency. Looking in the mirror or stepping on the scale doesn’t always “bring me joy” either. However, these are powerful tools for creating a shared understanding of what’s happening in our teams and making them better. These tools are partners, not pugil sticks.

    • Thanks Anne – heartily agree. I’ve used it with undergraduate and masters coursework students and they’ve found it helpful to learn about themselves and other team members. What’s the other diagnostic you have used?


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