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How do you improve the balance of management teams and increase their effectiveness?

Barrie Watson
By Barrie Watson

When organisations make strategic or complex decisions, the statistical probability is that they are made by a team comprising an unbalanced mix of people. A situation that is likely to result in lower quality decisions being made.

This is borne out by the research of Dr Meredith Belbin who, 18 years ago, proved the importance of using balanced teams to achieve the best results. Dr Belbin identified nine clusters of behaviour, which he called 'team roles' that individuals adopt when participating in a team. You can download our free Fact Sheet explaining these team roles from this page.

During extensive experiments at Henley Management College it became clear that teams comprising a balanced mix of team roles outperformed unbalanced teams. Subsequent research has also demonstrated that teams outperform individuals when dealing with high risk or highly complex issues - a fact that gave birth to the expression “nobody’s perfect, but a team can be”.

To explain how this balance may affect team performance let’s focus on just two of the nine team roles: the Shaper and the Monitor-Evaluator.

The Shaper is naturally challenging and dynamic, thrives on pressure and has the drive and courage to overcome obstacles. These qualities however also have a downside when the Shaper operates as a solo decision maker as such a person is quite capable of leading a multitude into an act of folly.

The Monitor-Evaluator on the other hand is sober-minded, discerning, analytical, evaluates all the options and judges accurately. Again, such strengths come with a potential weakness. In isolation the Monitor-Evaluator may be guilty of paralysis by analysis.

Using these two team roles as an example it is not too difficult to imagine the potential for conflict, despite the fact that each needs the other as a counter balance. Compound this situation by the fact that there are nine team roles, all of which are required to ensure a balanced team, and is understandable that the soft option of fostering compliant behaviour is pursued often with drastic results.

As there are far more Shapers than Monitor Evaluators in senior management positions it is reasonable to assume that this holds true for senior management or executive teams. It is also likely that these senior teams suffer from the cloning tendency, possibly exacerbated by the successful entrepreneurial high profile leader proclaiming “We need more people like me”.

It is true to say that the bold risk taking, hard driving style may be just what is needed for setting up a new enterprise and getting it off the ground or for turning around an organisation that is on the rocks. However, once a business is established and successful, a different approach is required.

The solo leader needs to become a team leader to avoid the hard won gains and successes being squandered by impulsive high risk solo decisions or by strategic decisions being made by teams comprising acolytes and sycophants who merely endorse the decisions of a charismatic leader.

Unquestionably, strategic decisions that involve a significant level of risk and complexity are better made by a balanced team.

But what can be done when the team is already in place, do we have to accept what we are stuck with and carry on in the same way?

The answer is, first, identify what you do have in terms of team roles and to be aware of any gaps by identifying the natural team roles of each team member.

Even if you are ‘stuck with the team’, you can, armed with this information, devise a strategy for making the most of what you have and for managing any weaknesses. This may involve bringing people in for specific projects or using special sub-teams or concurrent teams. Or as a more permanent solution, it may be appropriate to appoint someone to the team to fill a critical gap.

This is a brief but hopefully useful outline of what can be a great challenge for senior managers: getting the balance of the team right. I will be presenting a half-day workshop for UK Training in London on 20th November where I will be personally helping people to understand these key principles and improve the performance of their management teams. If you would like to join me then please visit this page to find out more.



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