Beyond The Team

Reviewed by: 
Meredith Belbin
Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann
Alistair Schofield, Managing Director, Extensor Limited

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Belbin’s expertise in the area of teams developed during a nine year period when, working in close association with Henley Management College, he developed a model of team performance that distinguished between the functional roles people play and their team roles.  In other words, a distinction between the technical and operational knowledge people contribute to the team as opposed to the behavioural way in which they make their contribution.

Belbin’s findings were originally published in his book “Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail” and further developed in his subsequent book “Team Roles at Work”.  However, the focus of these and many other commentators’ books has been on the composition of teams, rather than on the work that they are intended to perform.

By Belbin’s own candid admission, Beyond the Team is an attempt to redress the balance by shifting the focus back onto the work to be performed.

As with his work on team roles, Belbin breaks work roles down into an easy to understand framework.  Through the study of both productive and unproductive groups, Belbin concluded that there were seven categories of work activities and, to get away from the ambiguity of language, he decided to colour-code these characteristics.  Four were those that could be expected by the people requesting the work while the other three were those that could be introduced by the people performing the task.  Without giving a full explanation, the following provides a flavour of these seven categories:

  • Blue – Prescribed work that an individual must perform such as a direct instruction from the boss.
  • Yellow – Work involving personal decisions as well as personal accountability.
  • Green – Tasks than can be performed in different ways depending upon circumstances.
  • Orange – Tasks requiring collective decisions and shared responsibility.
  • Grey – This is what we do when the work expands to fill the time available.  It may be useful work but it is not work that was specified as part of the original task.
  • White – This is where team members add their own creativity to the process.  Sometimes this can lead to breakthroughs, but it can also lead to dangers.
  • Pink – Named after a “pink elephant”, this is work that in the eyes of the job holders contributed nothing and added no value.  An example is form-filling for the sake of it.

Unfortunately, unlike with team roles, no simple self-assessment process can determine which category different pieces of work fall into.  Never the less, I believe the framework can be useful to organisations in helping them reduce bureaucracy (pink work) and focus more time an effort on the productive tasks that produce results.

In my own experience, the increasing pace of change is causing people to spend more and more of their time engaged in discussions and meetings.  If this is to be productive, then there needs to be just as must emphasis placed on the practical outcomes of meetings and team working as on the team process.  Unfortunately, I fear that in many cases, meetings are counter-productive in so far as the cost of the time spent in meetings exceeds the value of the benefits derived.  It is for this reason that I believe Beyond the Team makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the subject.

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