Belbin Team Roles Essay

Teams are a key component of modern work practice. This has highlighted the importance of theories relating to the operation and effectiveness of team work (Buchanan, 2004). Much work has been devoted to seeking a formula for success. (Pritchard, 1999). One of the best known and widely used methods is Meredith Belbin’s work on team roles which is based on research commenced in the 1970’s and was published in 1981. Belbin put forward that management teams require a mix of individual characteristics working together to be most effective.

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His roles numbered 8, this was revised to 9 later with the addition of the specialist role. (Belbin,1981) The growing commercial success of Belbin’s original book and increasing adoption of the work in organisations (Furnham,1993a) resulted in greater evaluation. Furnham highlighted several question marks in terms of the Team Role theory and in turn Belbin himself and others have generated further assessment and debate on the subject. The author will review aspects of criticism brought against Berlin’s work, evaluate these criticisms along with Belbin’s own response to the comments.

Part of Belbin’s original work was the Belbin Team Role Self Perception Inventory (BTRSPI). Whilst acknowledging the support the inventory had received from management trainers and consultants, the validity and reliability of this test was questioned by Furnham and later by others (Fisher,1996 )(Senior,1998). Furnham challenged that the psychometric qualities of the test were poor and as a ipsative test is prone to the inherent problems of such a test (Johnson et al,1988).

He also questioned the way the questions were asked which could “easily lead to poor reliability”. Thirdly he raised concern given the measure was neither theoretically nor empirically derived. In addition to Furnham’s observations, the definitions of the 8 roles and the construction of the team role model were questioned by Brouek and Randall (1996) and Fisher,Macrosson & Sharp(1996). It has also been argued that the role model is relevant to a static business environment but not so in times of rapid change and fluidity in business.

Furnham’s work focuses on his concerns that the BTRSPI is taken and utilised as a psychometric test, which effectively allocates a role. This he argues is based on his observation of the use of the inventory “.. a number of commercial organisations and management consultancies use it not only in training courses but in actual team building and development”(Furnham, 1993b) As such he argues that the reliability and validity of the test is questionable.

This view is later supported by Fisher et al (1996) with particular concern in terms of the test–retest reliabilities of the test. Belbin responded to this criticism directly and stated “the BTRSPI as a self standing psychometric test does not exist” (Belbin, 1993b) He argues that Team Roles relate to observable behaviours not personality types, as such they are not fixed . Further preferences could change over time given other circumstances and situations. He also indicated that Furnham had utilised an outdated version of the inventory and that the developed model “interplace” was in wide use.

This particular resource made the question of ipsative testing irrelevant as it included line manager input and could be organisation and role specific. He further argues that the original BTRSPI included in the 1981 book was “a quick and useful way of intimating to readers what their roles might be” Relating to Furnham’s concerns of the derivation of the measure this would appear to be the case, however others have stated that the measure over the 30 years since its introduction has been empirically tested and gained support (Pritchard,1999) (Fisher,1996) .

The definition and construction of the roles has been debated in much detail over; specific roles, the number of roles present and the ability of individuals to play more than one role at once or to play different roles depending on the needs of the team. (Dulewicz,1995)(Senior,1997). The Action, Social, Thinking breakdown of the team structure is aligned with the works of McCann & Margerison (1993) and others and has to date not been replaced by a convincing alternative approach.

McCrimmon’s comments are based on empirical evidence however the successful adoption of ‘Belbin’ as part of a modern management approach as evidenced by Xerox (Titterton,2010) along with recent academic writing provides support that Belbin’s approach has merit and validity albeit with limits. Pritchard,1999) Belbin’s Team Role theory has been in place and utilised for almost 30 years, it has attracted criticism mainly relating to the selection process within the original BTRSPI, the caution is valid but as Belbin himself stated the inventory is not a psychometric test and discourages the use of it in this way (Belbin,2009). Its continual utilisation, development, and enhancements give it credibility in a practical application.

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