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FAQ’s on the Belbin Team Role model, assessments and reports

 The purpose of this FAQ facility is to provide free information for people using or planning to use Meredith Belbin's Team Role model and other Belbin tools techniques and philosophies.

The answers and information provided represent my own personal views and opinions, except where stated otherwise.

If you have any questions relating to the Belbin Team Role or Work Role methodologies that are not answered here please contact me at: barrie.watson@cert-uk.info

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Barrie Watson

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FAQ’s on the Belbin Team Role Model

Q What exactly is a Team Role?

A Dr Meredith Belbin defines a Team Role as "Our tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way."  Although the original research and most people's association with the Team Role model relates to teams there is strong evidence to support the view that these natural tendencies exist in workplace activities outside the formal team. (It's worth reading Management Teams - Why They Succeed or Fail by Dr Meredith Belbin if you are interested in learning more about Belbin Team Roles and the original research.)

Q Where can I obtain a detailed description of the Belbin Team Role model?

A You will find a description of the Team Role model and useful background information in the book Management Teams - Why They Succeed or Fail by Dr Meredith Belbin which is available from Amazon. For a FREE four page summary explanation of the Team Role model email me at barrie.watson@cert-uk.info and I shall be pleased to send you a copy. (Note: It will be sent to you by email as an attachment.)

Q I have expanded my understanding of Team Roles but still have difficulty with the role of 'Specialist'. Can you help me?

A A lot of people get confused about the 'Specialist' role and tend to think of it in terms of a person’s function rather than behaviour.  This is particularly so at a senior level, for example, the production or operations director may regard the finance director as a ‘Specialist’.  The true behavioural ‘Specialist’ however is driven by the pursuit of knowledge and information.  These people just love the process of learning.  It pervades everything they do and they want to go into things very deeply, thus they will be seen as truly knowledgeable by everyone and not just those who are impressed by their functional expertise.

Q I use the Belbin model but need something to help me explain it, preferably of an interactive nature. Can you suggest anything?

A Yes, there is a Belbin DVD called Fire Toast and Teamwork. If you want more information on this contact me at barrie.watson@cert-uk.info and I shall provide you with full details. There is also a very good but rather old DVD from VideoArts called called Building the Perfect Team. Both explain and demonstrate the use of the Team Role model well and each comes with a trainer guide and exercises, If you want something simple, but not really interactive, CERT has produced an audio slideshow which puts the message across simply and clearly. You can obtain it free by requesting it by using the Contact Us link.

Q Does the Belbin Team Role model only apply when working in a team?

A Although the original research looked at how people behave and interact in teams it is my opinion that the nine clusters of behaviour used by the Belbin Team Role model have applications outside formal team work.  For example, building productive relationships between work colleagues by helping them identify and use complementary qualities.  I also believe that the tendencies identified by Belbin methodology are still there when we are working alone, for sure I have a preference for using my natural Shaper/Resource Investigator strengths whatever the circumstances and I think this general principle applies to most of us.

Q After studying the concept of Team Roles may I ask if you feel that a person’s Team Roles change in different situations?

A There is indeed a dynamic element to Team Roles and, of course, there is scope for modification to respond to different situations and circumstances.  People do have their individual recurring patterns of behaviour however and, generally speaking, behaviour modification will mostly be of an incremental nature.  The general principle is that When the going get’s tough, people revert to type, even though they may feel or claim to be behaving quite differently.  Thus, the natural enduring pattern of a person’s Team Roles may not change as much as many people would believe.  The management of Team Roles however is open to more scope for change but this should not be confused with changes to the natural Team Role order.

Q What books can you recommend for explaining the Belbin Team Role model?

A The three books I recommend are: Management Teams - Why They Succeed or Fail, Team Roles at Work, both by Dr Meredith Belbin. The first describes the experimentation leading to the development of the Team Role model and the second is really about what the title implies.  I also recommend a new book called Succeeding at Work written by a small team of us who wanted to share our experience of applying the Belbin methodology to improve personal and team performance.

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FAQ’s on the Belbin Assessments and Questionnaires

Q Is it compulsory to be accredited or certificated to use Belbin Team Role profiling assessments?

A No, it is not compulsory, because Belbin Team Role assessments are of a behavioural rather than psychological nature and the reports are generated by the Interplace computerised expert system. It is highly recommended however that consultants, trainers, facilitators and others involved in giving advice and feedback attend an approved Belbin accreditation course.

Q In the past I have used a self-scoring Self Perception Inventory can I still use it?

A There is much misunderstanding about this so let me provide you with an extract from a Belbin communication put out in October 2001: "Many of our telephone calls request information on the copyright of Belbin materials, in particular, the use of the self-scoring Self-Perception Inventory (SPI) or Belbin questionnaire published in Meredith's book Management Teams Why They Succeed Or Fail (1981). To clarify our position, we own the copyright and do not allow this questionnaire to be reproduced in any form. Certainly individuals may purchase the book and complete the SPI for their own personal development, but any wider usage is an infringement of copyright. In fact, we do not recommend the use of this questionnaire anymore, as it is obsolete (no Specialist Role), lacks the balance of Observer input, and most importantly, does not offer responsible advice." I hope that makes it clear but if you still have any doubt about the copyright of any material you are using do contact me and I shall be pleased to clarify things.

Q I understand computer software is available for producing Belbin profiles, how can I find out more about it?

A Just email me at barrie.watson.cert-uk.info and ask for a free Interplace brochure.

Q How can I obtain the new computer generated reports?

A There are a number of options for obtaining the latest Belbin reports generated by the Belbin Interplace computer system. To find the best option and best price for you use the Reports link on the cert-uk.info website or email me.

Q Where can I get the latest Belbin questionnaire?

A To obtain the latest assessment forms free of charge email me and I shall be pleased to provide copies.

Q I have been told there is a facility for adding 360 degree feedback. Is this true?

A Yes, the facility for adding Observer Assessments to provide feedback on how others see you has been available for a number of years now. This is one of the big advantages of the Belbin Interplace system as it provides a much more robust multi-perspective profile than methods based on self-reporting only. If you would like to see examples of some of the reports based on the feedback of observers do contact me and just ask for " Free Example Reports".

Q What's the name of the book containing the Belbin Self Perception Inventory and information about the Team Role model?

A The original book written by Dr Meredith Belbin describing the development of the Team Role model and containing the self-scoring Self Perception Inventory was called Management Teams - Why They Succeed or Fail. The revised edition of the book is available from Amazon.

Q The original edition of the inventory included 8 team roles and the specialist role was not included. I have recently seen a copy of the inventory where each of the 8 sections contain 10 items. Are there now 10 team roles?

A The Specialist Team Role did not become apparent until the methodology was applied in the business world, a few years after the publication of Management Teams - Why They Succeed or Fail which described the original experiments of Dr Belbin.
The current version of the Self Perception Inventory has 10 statements in each section because they include a 'control' element - a statement that is used to provide some indication of the robustness of the results. There are still only 9 Team Roles.

Q Is there a discount available for registered charities to obtain the latest version of the Belbin reports?

A Not officially but if you contact me at barrie.watson@cert-uk.info I shall try and help you in some way as my company, CERT-UK, does have an annual charity support budget.

Q Why is the observer assessment different from the self-assessment?

A The two assessments have a different perspective and purpose. The Observer Assessment is constructed to elicit what behaviours have been observed by work colleagues using a practical evidential approach. This is not so appropriate for use by the self as many people are not able to stand back and realistically assess their qualities in this way. The Self Perception Inventory is therefore designed to provoke people to think how they would naturally behave in given situations as a way of eliciting their Team Role tendencies using a degree a self-reflection.

Q Can you please explain the advantages and disadvantages of Belbin profiling?

A I think the main advantage is in how it provides a non-confrontational and non-hierarchical language to describe a person's natural behavioural tendencies. The fact that it is behavioural based (rather than a psychometric assessment) and easily understood and used by people at all levels in an organisation is of course a big advantage, plus of course the facility for observer feedback.
The main disadvantage is that as behaviour is more open to change the assessments need to be done at reasonably regular intervals. This may however be regarded as an advantage and something that should be encouraged.

Q If I answer the questionnaire again, in a different frame of mind or with different emotions, will my results change significantly?

A Obviously, when a person completes the Belbin Self Perception Inventory it will be influenced by recent events and circumstances but it still provides a useful indicator of their natural workplace behavioural tendencies, providing the person has been honest when completing the inventory.
Generally speaking this behavioural pattern is quite enduring as it is influenced by DNA and genetics and related to a person’s established personality and although the way a person manages their behavioural pattern may change the order of their natural behavioural preferences does not normally change that much.
It is not unusual however for people to believe or claim to have changed a lot when in fact they haven’t. This is one of the reasons we have provided a facility to add observer feedback using the Observer Assessment which involves work colleagues reporting observed behaviour. This feedback is very powerful and enables a more robust profile and additional reports to be provided by embracing the profound conclusions of Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do.”

Q Are the Belbin Team Role assessments available in languages other than English?

A Yes.  The latest version of the assessments and reports are available in a number of other languages including: Chinese, Czech, Danish, Estonian, French, German, Italian, Polish, Romanian. Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish. Other languages are currently being translated and up to date information can be obtained by contacting me at barrie.watson@cert-uk.info of using the website Contact Us facility.

Q What is the maximum number of Observer Assessments that can be used?

A The maximum number of observers can be set as high as 20 but my guidance is that it is limited to a number you judge to be appropriate bearing in mind that the observers must know the person well in a work context, which is typically between 4 and 6 people.  A useful analogy is to imagine a stone being thrown into water.  The ripples near to the point of impact are much more pronounced and while it may be possible to see the ripples a long way from the point of impact they will be much less distinct.  In the same way, although it is possible to increase the statistical sample by getting more observers people who are close to the person being observer are likely to provide much more reliable observations. I would therefore tend to opt for quality rather than quantity.

Q With regard to the observer feedback is it constructive rather than negative as I don’t want it to dishearten people?

A  Although the Observer Assessment (OA), does make provision for providing feedback on any, what we describe as allowable weaknesses, the downside of a person’s Team Role strengths.  This is an important part of the self-improvement process as without having awareness of the perceptions of others it is quite probable that a person would miss the opportunity to remedy any weaknesses.  I would also like to emphasise that the Observer Assessment is based on people reporting what they have seen, whereas the SPI is a reflection of what the individual perceives to be their natural behaviours.  The process need not be negative therefore and it should be seen as a constructive part of helping each other to improve for the benefit of themselves and their colleagues.

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FAQ’s on Using the Belbin Reports

Q Is it possible to use Belbin assessments for selection and career planning purposes?

A By using the Belbin Interplace Self Perception Inventory (SPI), Observer Assessment, Job Requirement and the Job Observation assessment the process of matching people to jobs can be greatly enhanced. This applies equally to the selection and recruitment process and to career planning and personal development decisions. For more information email me at barrie.watson@cert-uk.info and ask for a free copy of A Guide to Matching People to Jobs.

Q I am particularly concerned at present about resolving a personality clash. How can the Belbin model help with this?

A This issue can be dealt with by using the Belbin Working Relationship report, an example of which, along with other Belbin reports, can be obtained by clicking here. This report enables differences in natural behavioural tendencies between the two people to be identified and areas of difficult chemistry to be pinpointed.

Q How can I use the Belbin Working Relationship report to improve workplace relationships?

A I find that the best way to use this report is to get both of the people to jointly:

- Identify where there is difficult Team Role chemistry.

- Cite examples of where they have experienced difficulties with their working relationship.

- Identify what they do well together by complementing each other. Agree a working relationship strategy.

Q Is there a link between learning styles and Belbin Team Roles?

A I strongly believe there is a link between learning styles and Team Roles as both are influenced by the same things, our DNA, Genetics and Personality. For example, I am a "Shaper" and prefer to learn by doing and tend to be motivated to learn primarily as a means to achieve.

Q How would Belbin profiling benefit a Management Development Programme?

A A Management Development Programme would benefit in the following ways:

1. By enhancing managers' awareness of their own management style which could then be used as a basis for improving their personal effectiveness.
2. By providing managers with a better understanding of their subordinates and thereby enabling them to tap into these natural preferences when assigning work and when planning their future development.
3. By equipping managers with the ability to select effective teams and diagnose underlying weaknesses in existing teams.

Q Are there any particular mixtures of Belbin team types that work (and don't work!)?

A This is a good question. There are in fact a number of Team Roles where the chemistry between them is likely to be difficult. For example, the Shaper/Monitor Evaluator, the Resource Investigator/Specialist and the Plant/Implementer.
Without having any understanding on what underlies the causes of this difficult chemistry frictions and possible avoidance behaviour is likely to result. With the knowledge of Team Roles and appropriate interventions these difficult relationships can be reconciled and turned to positive advantage by utilising the complementary to produce highly productive synergistic relationships.
The Belbin Interplace Working Relationship report is very effective in identifying Team Role chemistry problems and providing valuable advisory and diagnostic advice to help with managing relationships. (If you would like to receive an example of the Working Relationship report please email me and I shall be pleased to send you a copy free of charge.)

Q We need to motivate our staff and would like to know how to assess what would most motivate each individual?

A I suggest you consider getting each person to do a Belbin profile. This will provide you with valuable insights about each person's natural behavioural tendencies. This information can then be used to help decide who should be doing what and, as far as possible, ensure natural preferences and motivations are taken into account. For example, Monitor Evaluators are motivated by having the opportunity to analyse problems and prevent superficial decisions being made based on emotion rather than logic. They are not likely to be motivated however by being placed in situations that require a lot of people empathy or quick results.

Q Can you please tell me how the Belbin Team Role inventory can be used to improve team performance?

A The Belbin Team Role model can be used to improve team performance in a number of ways. Here are four of them:

1. It helps each person to be clear about their natural contribution when working in a team.
2. By sharing this information between team members each person is aware of the role of other team members and can use this information to improve synergy.
3. By analysing the Team Roles of the whole team the team balance can be checked and steps taken to remedy any imbalance.
4. Hierarchy within teams is de-emphasised and individual contributions are encouraged on merit as teams apply the Team Role model.

Q Can you kindly advise if Team Roles change with different team members and external factors e.g. company setting, cultural context?

A Yes. All of the factors you describe will have some impact on a person’s natural Team Role tendencies. It is important to recognise however that there is not unlimited scope for changing a person’s natural Team Roles as this is partly influenced by DNA and genetics. This becomes evident when the ‘going gets tough’ when you will see people reverting to their natural tendencies. Whilst some behavioural modification is quite realistic, particularly in managing natural Team Roles, my advice is always to build on what comes naturally rather than undertaking massive behavioural re-engineering.

Q What should I do to realise my full potential now that I am aware of my Team Roles?

A The first thing to say is be sure that you are clear about what your Team Role tendencies are before planning any personal development or your future career. Using the self-reporting questionnaires alone is not robust enough for such important decisions that's why I recommend combining the latest normalised computer version of the Belbin Self Perception Inventory with 4 to 6 Observer Assessments by work colleagues who know you well. Armed with this multi-perspective information and some deep reflection my advice to you is best summarised in the last paragraph of the answer to the previous question on this page. Follow this advice and I promise you will find your work more enjoyable and realise your full potential.

Q I am concerned that Belbin assessments do not take into consideration cultural influences. What is your view on this?

A This is something I get asked frequently, particularly when I am outside the UK. The fact is that as the Belbin Self Perception Inventory and Observer Assessments are trying to elicit a person’s natural or preferred behavioural tendencies they are indirectly taking cultural influences into consideration. This is due to a person's behavioural tendencies being, in part, the result of cultural factors. The fact that it does not specifically identify the causal influences is not very important in most circumstances in my opinion. It is more important to know what is than what caused it that matters and what we do with this information so don't get overly obsessed about the cultural influences or even waste too much time on the great nature/nurture debate if you are interested in results rather than theory.

Q Don’t team members get labelled as being less than competent in their least preferred roles and then they get passed over for future promotion?

A First of all let me say that the ownership of the Belbin profile is vested in the individual and if they are to get ‘labelled’ it should only be a result of them choosing to communicate their profile to others. This is something we should advocate of course once people are confident about their natural strengths and weaknesses. In doing so however we need to get the message across that none of us will be perfect in every way and will have natural strengths (talents) and weaknesses. I often illustrate this by using the analogy that some people are naturally left handed and weak with their right hand and don’t seem to have any reservations about saying “Remember I am not right handed”. As far as being “passed over for future promotion” is concerned I can’t accept it as an inevitable result. I can see however that where ‘Suitability’ (The behavioural fit) as well as ‘Eligibility’ (Skills, qualifications etc.) is taken into account someone may be passed over for a job as being unsuitable even when they are eligible. This is countered however by the occasions where someone who might have been passed over as being ineligible being appointed and developed because they were suitable. The fact is that it is not in the interest of anyone to place people into jobs in which they may under- perform of fail. We must strive hard therefore to get this message across and help people into jobs where they are most likely to succeed. I can’t pretend this is easy to put across to people who see things like Team Role profiling in terms of measuring who are the good and bad people but we need to tread a cautious but very clear path towards this end.

Q One of the participants asked me to comment on how her new Belbin profile report differed from her profile based on the self-scoring Self Perception Inventory from the original Belbin book. What advice can you offer?

A The only advice I can give you is that I would not recommend using the results of a questionnaire that is over 25 years out of date and uses non-normalised data as a basis for sound discussion and deciding what action to take. The old profile may of course be pointing the person in the right direction but I would not have enough confidence about it, and of course, confidence can be improved further by using the Observer Assessment facility that is now available.

Q After asking the team to complete a Belbin questionnaire, none of the team came out as coordinator. My preference was Completer Finisher followed by Specialist. Is it possible for me to "role sacrifice" and instead take on the role of Coordinator, as the team are missing this role.

A If your team is missing a naturally high Co-ordinator it is a reasonable strategy for someone to make a “Team Role Sacrifice” and try and adopt this role on behalf of the team. I would advise that this is done by someone who has CO as a manageable role however rather than a low or least preferred role as this would be asking a lot of a person, particularly when things get emotive or heated.

Q I had one person who was reluctant to accept the results of his Self Perception Inventory as he he didn’t care much for some of the negative Shaper attributes reported.  How would you deal with this?

A This is one of the most common causes of people being reluctant to accept the validity of their reports and here is one of the ways I deal with this:

1. I ask for people to obtain a minimum of four Observer Assessments whenever possible as this provides a more robust multi-perspective report.

2. Two of the additional reports available when there are four or more Observer Assessments show clearly the extent of any negative (allowable weaknesses) aspects of a person’s profile as follows:

- The Observed Team Role Strengths and Weaknesses report shows graphically the proportion of positive/negative features for each Team Role.

- The List of Observer Responses report shows the actual words reported by observers.

If you would like to receive free samples of these report please email me.

Q An ‘expert’ has asked about moving into a managerial position. His profile is ME/CF/SP – very logical and thoughtful but weak on social/people dimensions. He asked if it might be possible to compare his profile with a general managerial profile from the database and whether this would yield useful data to help him decide whether to remain an expert or make the switch into management. What should I advise?

A This is a question I get asked frequently and always give the same answer which is:  It is inappropriate, and possibly irresponsible, to offer advice on how a combination of Team Roles would match the requirements of a job using a job title as the basis for this.  The reason being that the job of a manager is contextually specific rather than generically constant.  For example, a manager responsible for getting the best out of a group of highly qualified and experienced scientists would be quite different from the requirements of one dealing a crisis situation and so on.  The only way to define the behavioural requirements (Team Roles) of a job is to use a process to identify the needs based on the job content and critical performance factors.  The Belbin Work Role model works well for defining the job and from this the Belbin Job Requirement and Job Observation assessment can help to define the Team Roles required to succeed.  This can then be compared with the characteristics of the candidate to elicit the match.  So, this should be the process used to help the person with the ME/CF/SP profile to make an informed decision.

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Other FAQ’s on the Belbin Methodology

FAQ's about the Belbin Work Role model

Q What exactly is a Work Role?

A A Work Role is defined as the mix of tasks and responsibilities undertaken by individuals or within a team. It utilises a colour classification system to clearly differentiate between four categories of work.

Q Where can I find out more about Belbin Work Roles?

A I shall be pleased to send you a summary explanation of the model if you email me at barrie.watson@cert-uk.info. For a full explanation of the development and features of the model I suggest you read Changing the Way We Work by Dr Meredith Belbin. (Published by Butterworth Heinemann)

Q The use of colours appears to be a bit of a gimmick to me. Is this really necessary?

A The use of colours serves as a form of shorthand to differentiate between the four categories of work. Once learnt, ambiguities and misunderstandings are avoided, just as with traffic lights.


Q If I give clear instructions I can't see the need to use fancy classifications. Am I missing something?

A The four classifications and the colour coding exists for the very purpose of helping ensure clarity. They also serve as an aide-memoir to prompt managers to decide under which of the four classifications work is being assigned. This is extremely useful in itself because many managers predominantly use one category only for assigning work, and thus, fail to unleash the full potential and motivation of their subordinates.

Q How can use the Work Role model to improve my effectiveness as a manager?

A Assigning and delegating work to others is one of the key functions of managers. The Work Role model will enhance efficacy of this by providing clear understanding between managers and each jobholders of what is expected.

Q Would my organisation benefit from using the Work Role model?

A Almost certainly, as many organisations fail to ensure people know precisely what is expected of them.  If you have any doubts about whether people are clear about what is expected of them I suggest you find out more about the Work Role model by using the form provided via the Contact Us link on the navigation bar or email me at barrie.watson@cert-uk.info.

Other Belbin FAQ’s

Active Learning Exercises for use with the Belbin Methodology

Q Are there any games or exercises that are helpful in providing active learning for the Belbin Team Role model?

A Yes, Belbin Associates has produced two exercises specially designed to provide active experience in applying the Team Role model. The exercises are called Contribute and Co-operate. I have also designed an exercise to help build productive working relationships.  It is called the Team Role Alignment Exercise.  For details please contact me.

GetSet Young Persons Behavioural Assessment

Q I understand there is a special Belbin Self Perception Inventory for young people, where can I find out more about it?

A There is a special young person's version of the Belbin Self Perception Inventory. This part of the GetSet system which also integrates an Observer Assessment facility and has the means of providing a comprehensive range of advisory reports. The Getset assessments and reports use a different terminology that is more user friendly to young people. It is particularly useful for those who have not yet gained any work experience. For more information contact elizabethann.watson@cert-uk.info or use the form available via the Contact Us link on the navigation bar.

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