The Big Idea: Creating the perfect team

Peninsula Team

June 18 2010

This weekend I completed the Caledonian Challenge – 54 miles in 24 hours across some of the roughest and most mountainous terrain in the UK. We made it in 23 hours and I would attribute some of that to physical fitness; some to mental endurance (sheer bloody mindedness) - but a great deal to the fact our team worked together exceptionally well. At 3am in the morning, head torch on and focusing on anything other than my blisters, I came to thinking why our team had worked so well on this particular event and that was when I knew what the next Big Idea would cover. As a small to medium sized business it’s essential you build the right team. No one has the luxury of hiding among the crowd and one individual who doesn’t fit in can upset the balance of the whole operation and set the overall business back. Recruiting the right person is essential. One mistake employers often make is looking for the qualities in individuals that they admire in themselves, rather than establishing the real attributes needed for the job in hand and for the overall team. Just because you may be an entrepreneurial individual with the drive to build your own business, it doesn’t mean you want the same qualities in everyone you employ. This is where the work of Dr Meredith Belbin of Henley Management College can come in useful. Belbin believes that everyone has a particular way of behaving in a team environment. You need a good mix of the different skill sets in order to create a team which will function well. There are many management theories on this, but Belbin is the one I feel is the easiest to grasp and the most useful for an SME to apply quickly and easily. ( Belbin believes there are nine main behavioural Team Roles that people tend towards – and often people don’t fall strictly into one role but exhibit tendencies towards several of these roles. They are as follows:- The Plant - creative, unorthodox and a generator of ideas. The Plant bears a strong resemblance to the popular caricature of the absent-minded professor/inventor, and often has a hard time communicating ideas to others. Resource Investigator – the enthusiast at the start of the project. Focused outside the team and has a finger firmly on the pulse of the outside world. A Resource Investigator will quite happily steal ideas from other companies or people. Excellent networker, but has a tendency to run out of steam towards the end of a project and to forget small details. Coordinator - often becomes the default chairperson of a team, stepping back to see the big picture. Confident, stable and mature and because they recognise abilities in others, they are very good at delegating tasks to the right person for the job. Clarifies decisions, helping everyone else focus on their tasks. Can be seen as manipulative, delegating all the work to others. Shaper - task-focused leader, abounds in nervous energy, high motivation to achieve - winning is the name of the game. Committed to achieving ends and will ‘shape’ others into achieving the aims of the team. Will challenge, argue or disagree and will display aggression in the pursuit of goal achievement. Two or three shapers in a group, according to Belbin, can lead to conflict, aggravation and in-fighting. Monitor Evaluator - fair and logical observers and judges of what is going on. Good at detaching themselves from bias, often the ones to see all available options with the greatest clarity. They take everything into account, and by moving slowly and analytically, will almost always come to the right decision. Can become very critical. Have a hard time inspiring themselves or others to be passionate about their work. Teamworker - the greasy oil between the cogs that keeps the machine that is the team running. Good listeners and diplomats, talented at smoothing over conflicts and helping parties understand each other without becoming confrontational. The beneficial effect of a Teamworker is often not noticed until they are absent, when the team begins to argue, and small but important things cease to happen. Because of an unwillingness to take sides, may not be able to take decisive action when it is needed. Implementer - takes what the other roles have suggested or asked, and turns their ideas into positive action. Efficient and self-disciplined, and can always be relied on to deliver on time. Motivated by their loyalty to the team or company, which means that they will often take on jobs everyone else avoids or dislikes. However, they may be seen as closed-minded and inflexible since they will often have difficulty deviating from their own well-thought-out plans. Completer Finisher - a perfectionist and will often go the extra mile to make sure everything is "just right," and the things he or she delivers can be trusted to have been double-checked and then checked again. Strong inward sense of the need for accuracy, rarely needing any encouragement from others because that individuals own high standards are what he or she tries to live up to. They may frustrate their teammates by worrying excessively about minor details and refusing to delegate tasks that they do not trust anyone else to perform. Specialist - passionate about learning in their own particular field. As a result, they will have the greatest depth of knowledge, and enjoy imparting it to others. They are constantly improving their wisdom. If there is anything they do not know the answer to, they will happily go and find it. Bring a high level of concentration, ability, and skill in their discipline to the team, but can only contribute on that narrow front and will tend to be uninterested in anything which lies outside its narrow confines. Evidently a balance between the different Team Roles is important to create an effective team which gets the job done. Why not look at your team and work out who falls into which categories and also ask your employees which categories they think they fall into? You may be surprised and find that some people aren’t functioning as well as they could simply because they are square pegs in round holes – shift the team around a little and you may see a change in someone’s performance. And when you’re recruiting, work out where the gaps are in your operation and try to find people with the right qualities to fill them rather than hiring “more of the same”. Looking at my team on the Cally Challenge, I could see we had an excellent balance of the different skill sets. On that occasion, it happened through pure chance – but it was a real demonstration how with the right team dynamic, you can achieve things far beyond that which you thought possible. Deborah Done, the author of our Big Ideas, is founder and director of Nab Communications, a freelance public relations agency which provides sensible and value for money PR advice to regional and national businesses.  

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