Thinking about the team in a different way.

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It's not often that we get to choose the teams that we lead or work in. More often than not they are assigned to us or we are assigned to them. This makes it vital that we understand the nature of the people that we work with and how we prefer to work in a team.

Probably one of the most influential frameworks for understanding a team is Belbin's balanced team model. The model proposes nine traits that are needed for a team to operate effectively. When encountering the model for the first time it is common to start to think about which people on the team represent a particular trait. The assumption is that a person embodies a single trait Oh, Mike's a typical completer finisher. He doesn't rest until the job's done, Alison is a specialist. She really focuses on what she does best. I've never seen her take on something where she feels unsure or, I love having Sue on the team. She's a real resource investigator. She can find the right person, place or product for anything! This is erroneous. Although we tend to have a particular aspect that we favour it is quite possible, even desirable, to be able to undertake more than one trait.

So, how can the model be used to inform your thinking about a team? Here are three effective methods:

1. Conduct an audit of the team. This can be done by you alone or by the team as a whole. Where is the team strongest and weakest? What traits does the team require in its role? If the purpose of the team is managing a project you probably don't want too many bright spark plants but the team will really need implementers and monitor evaluators.

2. Strengthening team leadership. Which traits do you demonstrate as a team leader? Are you distributing tasks within a team in a way that makes the best of the key traits of its members?

A discussion focus. When a team is formed or reaches a transition point an open discussion about the purpose of the team, its direction of travel and its success criteria can become a battleground if the team members feel personally challenged or threatened. A model, like Belbin's, creates a neutral focus for the discussion because its about the traits, not the personalities.

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