Thursday, October 02, 2008


The management guru Meredith Belbin is usually credited with the discovery of the Shaper.

His theory, which he tested to destruction, was that the more intelligent a team were the better they would perform. So when he worked with groups of business-people, setting them group tasks and observing their teamwork, he rigged the teams so the highest IQs were all in the same team.

Out of eight teams the clever ones consistently came fifth. Returning to a blank piece of paper, and trying to come up with a new theory, he analysed all his teams and, using psychometrics as well as observation of teams at work, he found the following team-types:

Team worker

Resource investigator


Completer finisher
Monitor evaluator

How do these work? A summary after each set then:

Team worker (keeps the team harmonious and working together as it proceeds)
Implementer (actually does things)

Co-ordinator (chairs)
Resource investigator (knows someone who can help)

Shaper (provides energy, vision and drive)
Plant (has the ideas)
Specialist (the only self-explanatory one)

Completer finisher (tidies up, keeps records, proof-reads)
Monitor evaluator (checks it's being done properly)

Good teams have all types, although most people don't have one marked preference but two or three relatively equal ones. This means that a team of four or five will have most of the bases covered.

So what of these mysterious shapers? In the approximate words of Bryn Hughes, who trained me in all this some years ago. 'The shaper says, 'This is where we are going.' Opposition to that vision will probably make them more determined to go there. They will assume they haven't communicated the vision clearly enough and will work harder to achieve it. Hindrances, problems and let-downs will be their bread-and-butter. They love it. If there is more than one shaper in a team the rest of you may as well wear tin hats until they agree about the vision.'

The shaper is not necessarily the chair. In fact shapers can make poor chairs because they tend to bully.

But Belbin found that teams without them under-performed.

It costs £30 to do an individual on-line test, or an approved Belbin practitioner can come and take your team through it and help you work through the consequences.

When I worked at CPAS, in the youth and children's team, we used Belbin to analyse what team-type we were losing when someone left. It meant that, with several equally strong applicants for a job, we could look to replace missing team-roles and appoint appropriately.

Churches have different types of teams:

Paid staff
Leadership team
Sub-committees (fabric/mission)

There is often overlap, but you can see how the absence of any:

Team worker skills might mean the people keep falling out
Implementer skills might mean there is lots of talk but no work
Co-ordinator skills might mean everyone is off doing their own thing
Resource investigator skills might mean we know no-one who can help
Shaper skills might mean no drive or enthusiasm
Plant skills might leave a team with no ideas

(Specialist skills usually have to be bought in)
Completer-finisher skills means lots of projects started but none finished
Monitor evaluator skills means we have no idea how we are doing, compared to budget in particular, and silly mistakes are consistently remade

In properly-sized working groups (5-8) a team will often only be missing one of the types. But what an impact that will have. So, what do you need?

Teams are great. No one of us is as smart as all of us.

Wild guesses as to what I am in the comments box if you wish.


Caroline Too said...

Oh dear...

I can't stand Belbin... whilst it's not my area of expertise, colleagues who know more tell me that his 'proofs' were pretty circular

but my dislike comes from a different angle

Rather than asking if we've got the right 'sorts' of people, for example have we got a 'shaper'?

we could more helpfully ask

if we have the sorts of convesations where new ideas, out of the box ideas could be heard?

then we could ask if we provide the space for such ideas to mature, flourish and develop

if we attended to those relational processes (conversations and space making) then we might just find that many more people are capable of 'shaping' our creative thinking

but instead we hang around waiting for a shaper to turn up, frustrating those half thought through, half baked 'maybes' that could make a difference.

to misquote someone
"the fault, dear st lies not in our personality types but in our ill shaped talk and action"

Mike Peatman said...

Hi Steve

I know (like me) you're not a slave to these things - it's the light that they can shed which is helpful.

I think they are at their best for explaining why things are going as well as they might. I was once on a committee where someone always found the snags, and I sensed some irritation from the rest of the group.

Lo and behold a quick DIY Belbin test (I recycled one from CME) revealed the person's strongest area to be Monitor-Evaluator. Once the group understood that person's role, their critique could be appreciated.

I agree Caroline, that ideally thoughtful human relationships and conversations would be the way, but sometimes we're just not very good at working things out, and stuff like this helps (provided you don't take it too seriously)

Caroline Too said...

But that is my point, Mike

if we attend to the 'who' of a meeting

then we will be less able to notice what's going wrong with the process.

Our emphasis on personality types (such as Belbin or Myers-Briggs) doesn't, I think, throw light on the issue, it clouds what is important

and means that there is very little on the market that helps people work through the nuts and bolts of relating, team work and meetings/conversations.

and that's why, I'd suggest, that you're right: we're not very good at working things out... because we're looking in the wrong place...

sorry, this is my academic area of research so I could bore for England on it... just tell me to keep quiet if I block out the blog's flavour, faith and fun :-/

Chris said...

I think these kinds of tests / analyses are useful tools for helping to put some teams together, identifying areas that some teams may need to work on and other things. I don't imagine anyone would base a decision on including someone in a team or changing a team entirely on such an analysis. It might be one part of a process, but it wouldn't be the only thing I'm sure.

St - I tried to think about what you were, but it's been a while since we've seen you or done anything with you (we should probably pop by to say hi some time when we're down that way!). I then thought I should throw something completely inappropriate in the mix, but then thought better of it. Anyway, it's only a guess, so it probably doesn't matter too much... I wondered if you leaned towards being (in no particular order):

Some kind of Plant
A bit of a Shaper
You know plently of people who can help, but may not be a Resource Investigator
You might Coordinate a little bit, but I wonder whether that's out of necessity?
Probably do a bit of Team Working

St said...

Caroline, without throwing too many eggs at your area of academic research... no hang it all here's a whole box. I think you are missing the point.

For instance, only 1 in 20 people in this world tend to have original ideas. It is not that you need to make the conditions right. It is not that you need to relate better. It is not that you need to think outside the box. It is simply not possible to generate creativity without harnessing the abilities of the natural creatives. Those pieces of paper will remain defiantly blank.

Likewise if no-one is a natural affilliator, exploring getting to know people for the sake of it, a team will be unlikely to have a good contact book for specialists.

No-one is saying that teams without all the types can't cope, but it does help to know what bit is missing, what will not come naturally to your team and see who can work in that area at least temporarily.

And Belbin's work was pretty scintific in observing the results of his rigged teams. He was brave enough to publish his research even when it disproved his thesis that IQ was everything.

So Belbin is not about personality types - it's about team roles and preferences. You are not looking for a shaper if your team has no drive but someone who brings that preference to the table along with all the other things that make them them.

If you expect the shaping to be done permanently by someone for whom that is not a preference you will screw them up and stress them out - see Marcus Buckingham's excellent work on strength-finding as evidence here.

Belbin is a tool. It isn't the whole caboodle but it sure has helped a whole load of teams I have been a part of to understand themselves better, look to make up for their short-comings and to know, for instance, when someone leaves that, whilst there will never be another (name) your team now has no monitor-evaluator.

Chris. First two. Bang on. So proud.

Caroline Too said...


you wrote:

"For instance, only 1 in 20 people in this world tend to have original ideas."

Says who? Is that certain? Does nobody doubt it? is it possible to see things another way?

The very term 'original' is bound up in a whole array of linguistic norms and variable definitions.

"Natural Creatives", hmmm, if you follow the work of people like Keith Johnstone in working with theatre improvisation, he would certainly argue and then demonstrate how 'uncreative people' can be helped to be creative.

And then, what about those people who come up with original ideas that aren't recognised? For example, in many parts of the west originality is marked out in an ability to articulate the idea (ok, so not with music or art) but if you can't articulate your idea, does that mean that you are naturally a non-creative?

I'm sure you'd answer no to that question, st

so I come back to my point (and I really don't think that I'm missing any point even what you call The point.) which is that creativity is defined and constructed in the way we relate.

What seems natural, an attribute of our individual personality is from my perspective (which is called social constructionist), a social production not a product of our natural selves.

I'm washing the eggs off at the moment, and fearing that I've rattled a cage that would have been best left unquestioned.

St said...

Hey Caroline. This is in good spirit right? Right? Those egss were only metaphorical. I'm enjoying it anyway. I'll pay the virtual laundry bill.

Somehow it seems as bad to say 'I'm only my relationships' as it is to say ' I can't change my personality.' Both fall a bit short.

I spent a whole autumn on tour with a tool to help people who felt they had no ideas find new ways of getting them. I've published on this.

It wasn't a great success even though we used the best techniques available at the time.

You can squeeze anyone until a bit of creativity drops out but others will have six impossible ideas before breakfast. It is the latter we need to listen to first in meetings, not the monitor evaluators.

Team-types work tells us a whole load to help us do our team relationships better. We can't become a geat team simply by sitting round and trying to relate better. The doughnut bill would be astronomical and the work output minimal.

Love you.

Chris said...

St, I think you're shaping me with your plants. Or something.

I keep watching the films you recommend on your blog (some time ago now - it takes Lovefilm a while to send them). I always seem to enjoy them.

Those two comments may or may not be unrelated.

Caroline Too said...

oh dear, sorry virtual payment for the eggs was a bowl of porridge... should have been virtual... dunno what went wrong...

by the way, following Chris' comment... I followed your advice on books for holliday reading..."So many ways to begin".. slow burning but it got me caring about the main characters, lovely...

"Theft"... still struggling with this one.. not got into it... still hoping... that I'll go "aha" at some moment...

oh, just noticed word verification... twerp... what are you saying to me? :-)

RuthJ said...

Hi Steve, I'm new to the Belbin thing so I may be misunderstanding fundamentally, but isn't there a bit of a contradiction between 'Belbin is not about personality types - it's about team roles and preferences' and 'Wild guesses as to what I *am* ...'?

I mean, your personality type might be fairly constant (though some of us still nourish hopes that we may be able to change), but surely your team role could vary according to the team you found yourself in.

I guess you might still retain some preferences!

St said...

Absolutely. We all have several team strengths and will conmfortably move into areas of gap. What we will not do is become that which is way down our preference list and stay there.

I cannot become a monitor evaluator. It takes me almost all the way towards mental illness.

At the moment I am doing more co-ordination and chairing than my preference but that is mainly because there is no-one else to do it.