What makes a good team?By Ben FletcherBen is Professor of Personal & Organizational Development at the University of Hertfordshire,England.Teamwork is about team work, not about team players. Sounds simple, but that statement cutsacross key research on teams in the workplace. The idea that you need to play to the differentstrengths of individuals personalities when putting the team together is a way of limiting thepotential performance of the team - not of maximizing it, as is often claimed.What do we mean by the term team? I use the term to refer to any work situation in which anumber of people are organized around a common set of objectives. So it can be large or small,temporary or permanent, fixed or fluid, project-based or functional - it depends on the objectivesand how broad theses are in the context of the organization. In some organizations, teamwork isa cure for bureaucracy - the team membership cuts across the normal structures. In someorganizations most of the work is done on a project-by-project basis in teams whose membershipcomposition changes depending on the task. Team-based problem solving is also more commonas organizations become more complex.Most organizations believe that team composition - picking the members of the team - isimportant in team success. It is. But not, I suspect, for the reasons commonly thought.One major influence in the area of effective teamwork has been the American psychologist, Dr.Meredith Belbin. He identified 9 Team Roles that are seen as contributing to team success.According to Belbin, in every organization there are people who will naturally - because of theirpersonality - take on each of the various roles. For Belbin a team should be put together withcoverage of these 9 key areas. Many organizations around the globe have taken notice of thisapproach.According to Belbin the important mix for the team needs toinclude: The creative type who generates ideas called the Plant The extrovert who has good networks (the Resource Investigator) The dynamic individual who thrives on the pressure (the Shaper) The person who soberly evaluates the usefulness of ideas (the Monitor-Evaluator) The cooperative team player (the Team-worker) The ones with specialist skills (the Specialist) Those who turn ideas into solutions (the Implementer) The person who get issues completed (the Completer-Finisher) The person who keeps the team together effectively (the Co-ordinator).
Do you know what type of team role you fit? If you do then that should trouble you. You need tobecome more flexible if you are going to be successful. You should be able to take on any role asnecessary, and be able to dispense with your natural tendencies. The Belbin prescription iscompletely the wrong way to consider teams. By playing it this way you are building-in inherentweaknesses into the team when you should be developing strengths. You are not playing tostrengths but playing to weaknesses. You are also accepting and encouraging these weaknessesand building them into the team. If team selection is necessary, then the best or FIT test peopleshould be chosen (i.e. those that are FIT - Flexible-Innovative-Trainable) (see HOW to think,live and work powerfully). Research has shown that FIT people are able to take the necessaryroles and do the necessary tasks as appropriate to the demands of the situation, and not to be aprisoner of their personalities.Consider the Belbin roles a bit further. Even Belbin admits that each role has weaknesses: thePlant cannot communicate well and ignores incidentals; the Co-ordinator is seen as manipulative,the Monitor Evaluator cannot inspire, the Implementer can be inflexible and slow, theCompleter-Finisher poor to delegate, the Resource Investigator loses interest, the Specialist haslimited uses and is an anorak, the Team-worker can be indecisive and the Shaper can rub peopleup the wrong way. Would you want to be in a team with these players (or be one of them)? Youshould not. You want team players that can be responsive, not rigid.For Belbin, making a team work is a bit like baking a cake: you need the right ingredients, thereare quite a few of them, they cannot be used in many other ways, and there is quite a bit to gowrong because the cocktail can also be a poisonous one. I would recommend a differentapproach. By all means take a methodical and systematic approach to selection of team members(have a look at FITness at www.fitcorporation.com), but also make sure that the team is properlymanaged and tasked. Make sure that you know what each person is doing and that you have goodcommunication channels - both formal and informal. If you want a bit of fun in the process ofmanaging a team meeting, you could be a little creative and adopt Edward de Bonos SixThinking Hats Approach.For each problem or issue get the whole team to weardifferent hats: Information (gathering relevant material for all the options) Feelings (explore all the angles emotionally) Caution (look at all the reasons to be cautious) Benefits (all the benefits of different solutions) Creativity (dont just accept the normal solutions) Managing the Thinking (issues to consider).At least this approach gets all members to consider all the angles and provides a safe techniquefor members to raise potentially sensitive issues that for political or other reasons teams theymight normally suppress (but which might be critical).
Developing a good team is a simple thing, although most people make it complicated. There isno magic. There are no special ingredients. The best teams have the best and FITtest teammembers overall.(c) Professor Ben (C) Fletcher, 2002.This is a series on The HOW, WHAT & WHY of Business and Management? written byProfessor Ben (C) Fletcher.Ben is Professor of Personal & Organizational Development at the University of Hertfordshire.He is the founder of FIT Science which has taken over 20 years to develop. He is an Oxforddoctorate, a Chartered Occupational Psychologist, a Chartered Health Psychologist, and waspreviously Dean (Director) of one of the larger UK University Business Schools for 6 years. Heis on the Board of several companies, including being a founder director of The FIT CorporationLtd. - the commercial arm of FIT Science. He is a member of the IOD. He has publishedextensively and lectured worldwide.