Categories
Broader LSP

LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® and Belbin

Introduction

As well as being an LSP practitioner since 2017, I have been an associate at Belbin since 2014, where I deliver many of their workshops around the world as well as running accreditation courses. Belbin is one of the world’s most widely used tools for improving team performance, and I would like to take a closer look at how Belbin and LSP can enhance each other.

The managing partners of Belbin with their unique LEGO ducks (L-R, Jo Keeler, Meredith Belbin and Nigel Belbin).

The Nine Belbin Team Roles

In the Belbin model, there are nine Team Roles, with each representing a cluster of behaviours that contributes to the team. Each Team Role has strengths that make a positive contribution to the team but they are always accompanied by weaknesses that have the potential for a negative impact. The Team Roles each have their own name, which you can read more about on the Belbin website. They are:

Plant

  • Creative problem solvers with lots of original ideas
  • But may lack practicality and struggle to explain their thinking

Monitor Evaluator

  • Objective thinkers who analyse all the information and make decisions
  • But can lack enthusiasm and be seen as negative

Coordinator

  • Confident delegators who recognise the talents of others
  • But risk being seen as manipulative and offloading their own share of the work

Implementer

  • Process orientated organisers who will put in the hard work
  • But can be inflexible and slow to respond to new ideas

Completer Finisher

  • Perfectionists who will check for errors and demand high standards
  • But can be seen as anxious and unwilling to delegate

Resource Investigator

  • Enthusiastic opportunists who love to network outside the team
  • But dislike detail and can be easily distracted

Shaper

  • Directive and competitive, (re)focusing the team on the objective
  • But can be easily provoked and offend others

Teamworker

  • Supportive and emotionally perceptive, encouraging harmony in the team
  • But can be indecisive under pressure and avoid situations involving conflict

Specialist

  • Providing expertise and depth through research and knowledge
  • But can dwell on technicalities and ignore issues outside their narrow focus

Your Individual Belbin profile

Everyone shows a little bit of all of the Team Roles but there will probably be two or three that you play strongly in a particular team at a particular time. Our Belbin profiles are situational because Belbin is all about how we behave, and our behaviour can change quickly with all the variable factors that influence it, such as the interactions with other team members, the task at hand, and external influences. Therefore, your Belbin profile is not fixed. And because Belbin is about behaviour it means that other people have a valuable perspective on your Belbin profile. The way you think you are behaving is not necessarily that same as how other people see it, and different people may see different aspects of your behaviour depending on what professional relationship you have with them. So to get an accurate sense of your personal Belbin profile, Belbin combines data from a self-perception questionnaire as well as data from questionnaires from at least four of your colleagues.

Although looking at your Belbin profiles can be insightful, the real benefit of Belbin comes when your individual profile is combined with the profiles of your team mates.  

So what makes a successful team?

The first item is: Presence of the Team Roles and team size. Successful teams are about capability as well as capacity, meaning that the team members are not there just as extra pairs of hands because of the volume of work, they are there because of they provide diverse skills that no one person has alone. In Belbin terms, a team needs representation of the required Team Roles. This usually means that all nine Team Roles need to be present amongst the team members but this doesn’t mean that you need nine people. That is because each team member can take on more than one of the Belbin Team Roles. Although the ideal team size will depend on various factors, the Belbin view is that it is certainly in single figures. Four or five members is often a very good size because it means that there is space for individuals to express their Team Roles, and closeness for the individuals to understand each other’s Team Roles. Bigger teams often have difficulty keeping up with each other and will often naturally bud off into sub-teams, allowing the Team Roles to flourish.

People have a tendency to recruit people who are like them because we like people who are like us. This can mean that we end up with teams full of people with the same strengths and weaknesses. This lack of depth in the team’s behaviour pool may mean that they struggle to adapt to a changing world.

Secondly: Playing to the strengths and containing the weaknesses. A lot of people spend quite some time and effort working on their weaknesses, only to bring them up to a level of mediocracy, at the same time sacrificing time when they could have been playing to their strengths. This is often because there is a fallacy that organisations need well rounded people. What is needed is not well-rounded individuals but well-rounded teams. We must accept that individuals have strengths and weaknesses as a package, and if you want someone’s strengths you must also accept their weaknesses as well. The team needs different members whose

strengths and weaknesses complement each other. What this should mean is that outwardly the team only displays strengths because all the weaknesses have been covered by the strengths of the Team Roles from other members. But this is dependent on the third thing that makes a successful team…

Third: Team members who understanding their own and others’ strengths and weaknesses. This is where Belbin comes in. Completing a Belbin questionnaire and receiving a Belbin report will give individual team members an understanding of their personal Belbin profile. But the real benefits come when they begin to understand the Belbin profiles of their fellow team members as well because they begin to understand the dynamics and culture of their team. They may see overlaps or gaps that can explain why the teams has succeeded with certain things but really struggled with others. These gaps and overlaps can inform the team about who needs to do what. We would all love to just play our preferred Team Roles, but that isn’t always what the team needs. If a team of five members has five Implementers and no Completer Finishers, this tells you have an overabundance of one role and a gap for another, and therefore, some of the team members may have to have to step away from their preferred Implementer Team Role and one of them will have to step into fill the Completer Finisher gap as a manageable role. This conscious and open adaptation means that the team becomes aware that their team mate ‘takes one for the team’. They will also have the language of Belbin to enable constructive and non-judgmental dialogue about team working that recognises and values the varying contributions that the members make.

A team that has range of the Belbin Team Roles has a broader set of talents that it can call upon to meet the demands of a changing world. However, this diversity can cause friction unless the team members understand their own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of their colleagues, valuing everyones varying contributions. Belbin gives teams a framework and vocabulary to do that.

The connections with LSP

There are obvious areas of interest when you think of how Belbin and LSP can inform and enhance each other but before that, it is worth noticing the similarities in their values and objectives. My own methods of using Belbin with clients is facilitative like LSP, meaning that I provide the client with a tool and a method for using it so they can find their own answers, which have greater value than the answers I could give them. But what really draws me to both is that they are about helping people to understand themselves and then each other, encouraging contribution, and seeing difference not as a source of division but as a source of strength. And of course, using that to make leaps in organisational performance.

Belbin around the LSP table

Part of the success of LSP may be that it reaches everyone in a cognitively diverse audience. This can be understood through the Belbin framework because there is an aspect of the LSP process that meets the needs of every Belbin Team Role, from the focus for the Shaper to the psychological safety for the Teamworker, and from the detail and deliberation for the Monitor Evaluator to the stimulation and discussion for the Resource Investigator. The process of LSP also creates parity among the Team Roles that you may have in the room. The 100/100 principle means that the usual dominance of the Coordinator and Shaper is tempered so that the often-overlooked voices of the Monitor Evaluator and Completer Finisher may be heard, whose opinions may prevent the team wasting time and money on a project that hasn’t been considered carefully enough. It may seem easy to label the Monitor Evaluator as the fabled lonely guy but only a good understanding of the Belbin Team Roles will help a facilitator realise that anyone can be the lonely guy. If a team is overpopulated with Completer Finishers, the resulting culture of perfection and meticulous detail may mean that even an enthusiastic and opportunistic Resource Investigator could be the lonely guy in that team.

How Belbin can support the LSP facilitator

The extra insights from Belbin could help you as a facilitator perceptively adjust your approach to get the best from the people in the room. Although as facilitators we won’t have favourites, we do all naturally tend to get along with people who are similar to us because we can understand them more easily. With a knowledge of Belbin, a facilitator has a better chance of understanding all of the behaviours in the room, and valuing their contributions, even those that are totally different to your own. You will be able to anticipate that when the tension grows in the room, you may need to be tolerant if the Shaper becomes demanding, and encouraging if the Teamworker withdraws, or when creative solutions are needed you may have to help the Plant explain their unorthodox ideas so the others can understand, and frame the questions so the Implementer can make the connections more easily.

A knowledge of Belbin could also give the facilitator a deeper insight into the issues that the team is facing, and help you create the right questions for the team. It could be that the team struggle to make decisions or lack attention to detail in their finished product. Could it be that particular strengths are missing because a specific Team Roles are absent or under used or could it be that the overabundance of one Team Role means that the weaknesses of that role are prevalent.

Teams may have an over-representation of some roles and an under-representation of others. The people who have roles that are under-represented may be critically important to the team but may struggle to fit in with the culture of the team because of their different way of operating.

The risk for the facilitator is that you make assumptions and stop asking questions, leading to bias. The insight that Belbin can give you into individual personalities, the opposing styles, the team culture, and outliers, could turn into pre-conceptions and mean that you start to consult rather than facilitate. But the counter argument to this is that we all have biases, the difference is that once we know about them, we can adjust for them. A good facilitator has to be perceptive and able to adjust the workshop as unexpected things come to light, and with an understanding of Belbin, you could be in a better position to notice those things, understand them and deal with them, and be an even better facilitator.

“I think there’s great synergy between LSP and Belbin. To be able to describe how we feel, how we approach work and how we like working with others, we need a common language. Belbin helps here as it describes our behavioural contributions. LSP then complements Belbin beautifully because it gives you the platform for that communication to take place. So using both, Belbin and LSP, you have the common language  and the environment, which facilitates ‘leaning in’ . This combination leads to the outcome being so much more than if you used either one separately.”

Jo Keeler – Managing Partner at Belbin.

This is an edited version of Geraint Wyn Story’s article that first appeared in The LSP Magazine in April 2021. Many thanks to Michel Cloosterman for permission to reproduce the article here.

If you liked this article you may be interested to see the YouTube video of Geraint’s webinar with Jo Keeler where they discuss LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®.


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