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The importance of interpersonal skills
The importance of interpersonal skills

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3 Roles

Quite often in work situations we are asked to work with a group of people we have not met before and with whom we may seem to have very little in common. The group, which may be labelled a ‘team’, could be tasked to organise or produce something about which some of the members may know more than others. After a period of initial awkwardness perhaps, the group members start to find out more about each other and attend to their task. It is quite likely that each of the members will then tend to settle into (or start playing) a particular role for the group based on a mixture of their skills and character traits. For example, someone might offer to go away and find some essential information, another might draw up a schedule, checklists or an inventory, while another might start to suggest some different ways of tackling the task. There will inevitably be some vying for particular roles, or conflict amongst those members who have differing priorities. A number of management writers have analysed these situations and some have developed sets of descriptions for the typical roles people play in them. One of the most widely quoted of these was developed by UK academic R. Meredith Belbin (1981) (Figure 3). He went on to use this framework successfully in his consultancy work on team-building amongst groups of managers. His view was that in order for a group to become a balanced and effective team, the people within the group must play eight roles between them. These are outlined in Table 1.

Figure 3 R. Meredith Belbin
Table 1 Belbin's team roles
Role typeDescriptionCharacteristics
ImplementerLikes to get on with the team's task(s) and sort out practical detailsDutiful, practical and quite cautious; predictable and sometimes inflexible
CoordinatorEncourages team members to make their point but keeps the team going in the right directionCalm, self-confident and supportive; does not get involved in matters of detail
ShaperProvides drive and energy to the team's work, but can try to influence it with their own viewsOutgoing, dynamic, challenging; impatient and sometimes provocative
PlantOffers lots of imaginative ideas or specialist knowledge to the taskCreative thinker, often unorthodox; likes to work alone and not very practical
Resource investigatorProvides lots of information and has lots of useful contactsHighly communicative, enthusiastic and curious; easily bored
Monitor/EvaluatorLikes to observe and measure how well the team are doingPrudent, hard-headed and a good judge; at times rather unemotional
TeamworkerDoes things to keep up team spirit or moraleSocially orientated, sensitive and responsive; sometimes indecisive
Completer/FinisherMakes sure that all tasks are finished off completelyPainstaking, orderly, conscientious; can be anxious and find it difficult to ‘let go’
(Source: adapted from Belbin, 1981)

It is important to bear in mind that Belbin's roles are not something anyone is born into. They do not mean that, if you spot one or more of the characteristics in yourself or others, you must maintain a certain role. The roles are rather like acting roles in that they can be chosen and played. Indeed, in many groups – of smaller than eight people – some members need to play more than one role, switching between roles according to the needs of the team and the task. Changing roles from time to time is not only possible, but sometimes necessary as we change jobs and teams. Having said this, most people do tend to have a preferred first role, one that they feel most comfortable with. Can you recognise from the descriptions and characteristics in Table 1 which role you would tend to feel comfortable with? Could you manage to play any of the other roles without too much of a problem?

Activity 1

Timing: 0 hours 30 minutes

This activity asks you to reflect honestly on your own experiences. In particular, it asks you to consider how some of the ideas you have just read about interpersonal skills may help you to develop a better understanding of your experiences.

Think of a project or an activity in which you worked as part of a group or team. Then do the following tasks:

  1. Write a short paragraph of no more than three sentences briefly describing the project or activity.

  2. Write another short paragraph of no more than three sentences identifying from the descriptions and characteristics in Table 1 which role(s) you played in the activity? Bear in mind that in small groups some people have to play more than one role.

  3. Write another short paragraph of no more than four sentences, commenting on how effective communications were between the members of the group or team and identify any barriers. Bear in mind what you have read about the communications process and interpersonal relationships for this task.


In completing Question 2 you may have looked at the boxes headed ‘Characteristics’ in Table 1 to give you an idea of the type of role you may have played. Which of the characteristics most closely match yours? It is likely that you will find your characteristics in more than one box, which indicates that you may have took on more than one role. How about the other members of the group or team? Is there anyone else you clearly recognise from the descriptions and characteristics?

For Question 3 you may have generally agreed that communications were good, or you may remember particular problems. The important thing is to recognise why you think communications were or were not effective, based on what you have read.