Belbin Team Roles and their Leadership Implications

September 16, 2011

by Tudor Rickards

Belbin team role theory had found widespread practical applications for diagnosing and influencing team behaviours. Yet its implications for team leadership have been widely ignored

Background provided from the University of Coventry confirms that Dr Belbin [b 1926] is a graduate of Clare College Cambridge and that among his academic positions he has held a visiting Professor in leadership at the University of Exeter. His team role theory can be traced to his seminal work [1981], Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail.

The Perfect team?

An influential historic article was by journalist Anthony Jay, who pointed up the core concept that a team needs members capable and willing to carry out the identified roles. The salient features of Jay’s article has more been recently [2004] republished. It covers the essential features of the team roles, and supplies the factor analysis associated with role preferences as:

[1] intelligence; [2] dominance; [3] extroversion/introversion; and [4] stability/anxiety.

Cognitive psychologists will recognise the connection with various classifications of psychological traits (although Belbin has always emphasised that the roles are preferred rather than innately fixed behaviour patterns).

Team role labels

The labels are not totally self-explanatory, and have changed somewhat over time. One simplification is into four roles with a focus outside the team, and four which are more internally-focussed. I will use the older terminology for consistence with materials cited below. More recent labels include Coordinator for Chairman.

Outward looking
Resource Investigator

Inward focus
Company Worker
Monitor Evaluator
Team Worker
Completer or finisher

Team Roles and Leadership theory

The outward facing roles anticipate much later leadership theories of distributed leadership.

‘Chairman’ is one of those slightly misleading titles, since he [or she] may well not be the leader of his team; nevertheless, it is team leadership that he is best fitted for. His early contributions are morelikely to take the forms of questions than assertions or proposals. He listens, sums up group feelings and articulates group verdicts, and if a decision has to be taken, takes it firmly after everyone has had their say.

The Shaper exudes self-confidence, which often belies strong self-doubts. Only results can reassure him. His drive, which has a compulsive quality, is always directed at his objectives. They are usually the team’s objectives too, but the Shaper, much more than the Chairman, sees the team as an extension of his own ego.

Some researchers have suggested that a team needs a ‘social’ leader, who is the permanent head of the group, and a separate ‘task’ leader who is in charge of a specific and defined project – much in the way that a nation needs both a Head of State, who is permanent, and a Head of Government, with a specific job to do. If so, the Shaper is the task leader and the Chairman is the social leader. The Shaper is the most likely to be the actual leader of a team both in cases where there is no Chairman, or where the Chairman is not, in fact, the leader.


Belbin’s work overlaps with notions of distributed leadership emerged. Jay wrote that“nobody’s perfect but a team may be”. Manz and Sims wrote of a team acting as a “superleader” with shared responsibilities for the various challenges facing it.

The Plant and Creative Leadership

Another outward focussed role is that of a Plant. Early work deliberately ‘planted’ a creativer individualo in a team to enhance its creative outputs. More recent work suggests that creativity is strongly associated with leadership. Here again, Belbin’s work suggests its implications for leadership research.

More research needed

Belbin’s team role theory has been seriously ignored by leadership authors. There is a considerable opportunity for valuable research in this area with practical implications.


The post was triggered by discussions recently with Manchester Business School Worldwide tutors. I am particularly grateful to contributions from Dr Richard Common, Susan Moger, Leigh Wharton, Stephen Parry and Louise Pinfold

Message for new LWD subscribers: Top ten legacy posts

July 10, 2011

Tudor Rickards, Editor Leaders we Deserve

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Stranded in Singapore. Blame the Volcano

April 17, 2010

So what’s it like to check up on your flight home to Europe? Get on to web to find a story about a volcano erupting in Iceland. Sad news, but not personal. Until you try to confirm that flight. Confusion reigning.

With a few hours spare before leaving for the airport in Singapore, we attempt to confirm flights. After an hour learn all is OK. Brief allayment of concerns. The airline can get us to Dohar. Almost immediate reversal of that information. No flights, sit tight.

So we did. Or at least we would have, but the hotel apologetically explained there were no rooms. Biggest convention of the world just starting (ironically, Hotel Asia trade fair). So, no flights, no hotel.

No room after Sunday

Local contacts (thanks Lim, Margaret) gave great emotional and practical support. They find Susan and myself serviced-apartment accomodation for the weekend. Short trip through business district. Solicitous staff at new place suggest we book with them until Monday but warn yes you’ve guessed it, they are 100% booked for next week.

Saturday am. Multiple calls to UK travel agent. Best get to the airport to arrange flights. Do so, where friendly staff can not help directly. Indirectly though, they help by explaining that their local office will open for business next on Monday. Orchard Road premises. Yes we can get there on Monday.

Return to apartment via MRT and market place for provisions, and then with the first taxi-driver on this trip who could not speak English. Not to be recommended. Driver heads back to airport. It’s true. You do shout louder if you are not understood.

Back to room. Calm down with nostalgic toast and marmalade acquired in Seven Eleven walk-in store. Later: watched Manchester City/United at a nearby Tiger Beer open-air local greasery spoonery. Great atmosphere. High-pitch high-decibel fans split pretty evenly for and against each team.

More news

It’s all a blur. Monday we learn we can get fresh tickets, but only for a flight on May 6th. (Yes I remember. Date of UK General Election and three weeks away.) No guarantee of a room beyond a few days. Dismay. Obsess over maps of the pollution over much of Europe and experts suggesting we may have to wait even longer. Then some more positive news. Maybe the air traffic authorities have been over-cautious. We wait for a call. Hello, is that Mr Godot? Your two friends are still in room 3.01.

Little triumphs. We keep renewing our room. Organise medical supplies from a local practice. Also sincere thanks to Moorlands Medical Supplies for their 48-hour special delivery service of our urgent request, once flights to Europe resumed.

Do something useful. So Saturday we stand in for colleagues who can’t get to the Singapore graduation ceremony of Manchester Business School WorldWide graduates. Returning to our hotel planning the next ten days, we discover we have been booked on a flight the following Monday.

Is it really happening?

Curious sense of not believing it will happen until we are on the plane… judging from the line of people at the check-in desk three hours before take-off, the entire planeload of refugees had been of a similar mind.


Image from Stephan of Icelandic volcanic activity which did not have such dire global consequences.