Picture of a lot of hands meeting in the middle

How do we make the most of our strengths? How can we work best with our PIs and our students?

In today’s blog I want to focus on working in a team and how the Belbin framework can help. Now most postdocs work in teams. That might be as part of a research group, within a department, within a collaboration. It might be a multidisciplinary team there are various ‘teams’ you might be a part of. The key thing is that we seldom work alone, even if our research is a solo endeavour. We still have to communicate that to a wider audience, we have to be part of our research community, our academic discipline, all these things that involve interacting with people and to some extent working together. So even though we might not describe them, as teams, we have to get on with a lot of people and sometimes we can struggle with trying to understand what it’s like from someone else’s position and how we can work best and contribute using our strengths, using our innate preferences to a tee.

What is the Belbin Framework?

The Belbin framework is a profiling tool. It’s specifically aimed at how you work with a group of people or a team, so it’s aimed very much at how you work with others. It will show you how important feedback from others can be, that’s certainly the thing that I really found of benefit from using Belbin which I have done for about 20 years now. 

Belbin was set up by Meredith Belbin. What he was really interested in was how you can get teams that work well together, that are made up of bright spark people. Along with finding out how and why you can get bright, sparkly people in teams that just collapse. He wanted to find out what made teams tick. 

Belbin is reliable, it’s easy to understand, and it has a lot of advantages. The greater the diversity in thinking and approaches, I think the better research is, after all we’re all different. But what that can mean is that sometimes we struggle with other people who are very different to ourselves, how can we best work together? Or even understand how people would like their information? 

What sort of environment would they like? Where are they going to thrive? How can we work together as a team? All great questions that Belbin can help answer. 

How does it work?

I want to emphasise this is not about putting you in a box. None of the profiling tools I work with (I’m MBTI qualified as well) do that. They provide you with information that you can then wrestle with. To ask does that reflect me. How? What can I do with this information? What does that mean to how I work day in, day out? 

Team roles and building team roles is about preferences. You’re all fantastically superhuman postdocs, I don’t want to limit you to being in a box. So don’t think that this constrains you, I think this liberates you. This gives you a framework to think about your strengths and your preferences and how best to use them.

What are the Belbin Team Roles?

There are nine team roles within the Belbin framework. These are: Resource Investigator, Teamworker and Co-ordinator, these are known as social roles. Then there are Plant, Monitor Evaluator and Specialist, known as the thinking roles. Then there are Shaper, Implementer and Completer Finisher, known as the action or task roles.

Social Roles

Those within the social roles would organise and delegate. For example, if you’re having a big meeting, they would be the ones asking you to do this or do that. They would pass out work and have a good idea of who’s in the team and what would work for a given set of tasks. Social roles will comprise of those who will remember people’s birthdays and organise the Christmas party or the secret Santa. They want harmony within the team. Results investigators are always out and about. They’ll either be on their mobile phones, going to chat to people at conferences, they will be the people that go they do this in Harvard, or they do that in Sydney. Let’s go. Let’s go and bring those things back to base. They will be brilliant networkers.

Thinking Roles

Plant people are those that you can put in a team to provide lots of flourishing ideas. They are ideas, people, creative. You also have the monitor evaluators. These people will be quite quiet, I imagine during a meeting and then pop up at the end to go, we haven’t thought about this. And everyone goes, oh, how did we miss that? Monitor evaluators?

The final thinking role is the specialist. This can be quite a bit of an odd one because you are all super specialists in your field. You wouldn’t be a postdoc if you weren’t. In that team meeting they will be presenting their specialist knowledge, rather than coming up with vision for the group or checking everyone’s okay, they are most comfortable presenting their specialist knowledge.

You are all specialists in your field. Absolutely. But the specialist team role is about wanting to bring that specialist knowledge to the table over and above other things.

Action Roles

Shaper – the shaper knows exactly where they want to go. They have a clear vision, and they want to get there.

You will also want a complete finisher, this is someone who tightens up that last bit of detail, doing that last twist on the bolt in this case, these are the people you want proofreading your paper, they will find the errors. They love that attention to detail, they love everything to be correct and accurate.

Finally, there is the implementer you need one of these to plan out a workable strategy and carry it out as efficiently as possible.

As the saying goes teamwork makes the dream work!

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