Totem-WheelUnderstanding how teams work

When a group of people work together with a clear purpose, the autonomy to do what they are naturally great at, combined with complementary approaches to getting things done, amazing things can be achieved.

The reality is of course that we rarely work in such high performing teams.  Why don’t we always see such amazing outputs from the teams we work with?

Often it’s because teams have been pulled together from the people who are available, willing to volunteer, or those with the technical expertise or experience required.  That’s not necessarily the best way to get a great team.  We’re often working hard to make the best of a far from ideal situation.

When we want a good team, we often focus our efforts on making sure we have people who have the technical expertise or experience we need.  Have we got someone with leadership experience on the team for example, who can cover Finance, HR, Operations of some kind, and so on…

Whilst this approach can be very helpful for making sure you have the knowledge around the table that’s critical, it is not the fundamental ingredient for great teamwork. What if all the people around the table are risk averse?  Or all but one team member are creative types, and there’s one person who is more interested in implementing?

Totem Lollipops

So part of what makes a great team is having a group of people working to their strengths, and appreciating the benefit each other person brings.  It’s helpful to understand the different aspects of work and the different styles or preferences that we tend to see and one way to dig into how we can build a great team is to use the Belbin Team Wheel.

Belbin Team Wheelbelbin

Each person in a team will have aspects of that wheel that they have natural strengths in. Here’s a breakdown of those strengths:

Plant – Generating ideas on what to do

Coordinator – Coordinating people, delegating tasks and keeping the focus on the overall goal

Investigator – Connecting with people outside of the team, networking and kick-starting momentum

Shaper – Energising people to get to the desired outcome at pace and maintaining momentum

Specialist – Pulling in specialist expertise as required to get the job done

Evaluator – Critically evaluating the work and managing risks

Team Worker – Keeping people in the team happy

Implementer – Getting on with the tasks to be done

Finisher – Checking everything has been finished and done correctly

There are benefits and downsides to each of these preferences or natural styles of working, which is why having a team made up of too many people with one style can be damaging or make it difficult to achieve your goals.  So it’s important to have a blend of working styles within a team – not simply the technical expertise required to achieve a specific goal.

The key to using the Belbin Team Wheel effectively is to develop a better understanding of these different ways of working, and how we can make the best of them.  A few tools that can help develop your understanding of others can be found in Transactional Analysis and Kahler’s Five Drivers.

Feel free to hop on over to Belbin and take a closer look.