Teamwork is usually not the favourite activity of many students. The classic view of group work is, one group member is very quiet and does not contribute to the work, one wants to do everything in detail, one is only getting on everybody’s nerves and has no clue what is going on, and finally one must do everything alone. These negative stereotypes about teamwork usually deter students and announcements of upcoming groupwork trigger scepticism.
I will try to shed a different light on the bad reputation of working together in a team. If the different types of team members are better understood, the whole process of teamwork will work easier and smoother and will also lead to a better final product. Each student brings certain abilities to the table that have positive effects on the teamwork process and certain character traits that complicate it.
Belbin defined team member roles that are usually present within a team, and each member can be assigned to a role, which include the Coordinator, the Implementer, the Team Worker, the Monitor-Evaluator, the Resource Investigator, the Plant, the Specialist, the Shaper, and the Completer-Finisher. (I shared the link to the article below). Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each role can help to utilize the strengths and to deal with the weaknesses. To illustrate Belbin’s theory of the team roles, I compared each role to an ingredient of a cake. If each ingredient is put together in the right proportion and everything is processed with the right kitchen tool, the final product will be a delicious cake.
The Coordinator - Eggs
Coordinators, being calm and good-natured, fulfil the classical team-leader role and guide the team towards the objectives. They are excellent listeners, recognize the value of each team member, and delegate tasks very effectively. Coordinators are the eggs in the cake recipe which are necessary for every dough. Eggs make sure that the whole dough with all ingredients rises when it is baked to become light and fluffy. Hence, the Coordinator facilitates the work by giving each team member the task that fits his/her strengths for a fluffy working process.
But Coordinators also tend to delegate away too much personal responsibility and can be manipulative. Therefore, it is the responsibility of other team members to ensure that the Coordinator also works on tasks during the group work.
The Implementer - Flour
Implementers get things done and work disciplined, systematically and efficiently. Thus, they equal the flour as basis ingredient of all cakes. Flour is usually needed in larger amounts; therefore, other team members should leave larger or more difficult tasks to the Implementer as a reliable worker.
However, Implementers may be inflexible and resistant to change; hence, the flour must be also dosed as too much of it makes the dough difficult to process. It is important to show the Implementer alternative strategies and advantages of these alternatives.
The Team Worker - Milk
Team Workers provide support and ensure that everyone works together effectively. They are the flexible, diplomatic, and perceptive negotiators of the team. Therefore, Team Workers equal the milk in the cake recipe because they connect all ingredients, or team members, to form a cohesive dough or team. Without the Team Worker, the work would be dry and difficult, and it is important to let them deal with disagreements among members to find a smooth solution.
However, Team Workers tend to be indecisive and to maintain uncommitted positions during discussions and decision-making. So, decision-making should be left to other team roles.
The Monitor-Evaluator - Butter
Monitor-Evaluators analyse and evaluate the ideas of other team members. They are smart and objective, and carefully evaluate all alternatives before deciding. Monitor-Evaluators think very critically and strategic. They are the butter in the cake making the teamwork smooth, watching over all developments and changes, and keeping all ingredients, or team members, together in a unified and homogenous team.
On the downside, Monitor-Evaluators are reserved or unemotional and are poor motivators who rather react than instigate. Like too much butter making the dough more unhealthy than tasty, the team members should listen to the monitors regarding important decisions but should push them to take new innovative directions.
Resource Investigator - Sugar
Resource Investigators are innovative and curious. They explore available options, develop contacts, negotiate for resources, and contact stakeholders. This role is like the sugar in the cake recipe. Basically, everyone likes sugar which adds the necessary sweetness, or resources, so that ordering clients will like the cake. Hence, the Resource Investigators’ contributions should be valued and used.
But they are also inflexible and do not always react adequately to change. Therefore, others should show them alternatives and watch them during unexpected changes.
The Plant - Salt
The Plant as a creative innovator comes up with new ideas and approaches. Like salt in a sweet cake dough, they add unusual ideas to the work that might not fit in at the first sight. However, adding salt supports the sweetness of the dough, and the Plant’s new ideas can give the project work an unexpected and unique twist.
Plants are often introverted, poor communicators, and tend to ignore parameters and constraints. Hence, it is important to integrate them, listen to their thoughts and give them clear instructions regarding their tasks.
The Specialist - Chocolate
Specialists have specialized knowledge that is needed to get the job done and commit themselves fully to their field of expertise. So far, all basic ingredients are mixed to bake a normal cake, but the chocolate gives the cake its specific flavour. The Specialist, as the chocolate of the team, adds very valuable knowledge that improves certain parts of the work significantly. Thus, this knowledge should be used, but the team members must be aware that it is only useful in the Specialist’s field of expertise.
The Specialist’s contribution can be limited, and lead to a preoccupation with details at the expense of the bigger picture. Thus, the team should not exclusively rely on the Specialist, like real chocolate which alone cannot be turned into a cake.
The Shaper - Mixer
Shapers as dynamic and extroverted characters challenge and stimulate the team to improve through questioning norms and finding the best approaches for problem-solving. Shapers see exciting challenges in obstacles and often push further when others want to give up. They are the mixer which is highly necessary for cake baking. Shapers mix the work up and bring up alternatives or approaches that the others might not have thought about; they are also very good motivators and without them, the work is usually harder (as it is easier to process the cake dough with a mixer than with the hands).
However, Shapers can be argumentative and offend other team members’ feelings. Thus, it is important to understand their extrovert and direct character and take it as a motivation rather than an offence; or to clearly tell the shapers when their behaviour is perceived as rude.
The Completer-Finisher - Oven
Completer-Finishers ensure that no errors happen and watch every detail. They are very concerned with deadlines and appointments and will push every team member to finish tasks on time. Thus, Completer-finishers are the oven which finalizes the whole project and ensures that nothing gets burned.
However, Completer-Finishers’ weaknesses are that they may worry unnecessarily and have difficulties to delegate. So, it is wise to stick to the deadlines the completer-finisher suggests but not to take his pushes to complete the task as a personal offence.
Hopefully, the knowledge of this categorization of team member roles will help you within the next project and you might lose the fear or scepticism of group work. It is also important to mention that specific tasks require specific approaches to teamwork and adjustments to the handling of different roles; just specific likes or intolerances require diet, lactose-free, or fruitcakes. However, always remember: In the end, everyone likes a good cake.
Belbin, M. (n.d.). Belbin's Team Roles - How Understanding Team Roles Can Improve Team Performance. Mindtools. Retrieved from https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_83.htm