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Jo Keeler

Belbin Associates


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Stuck doing work that doesn’t come naturally?


Gallup tells us that employees who play to their strengths are six times more likely to be engaged. Nice work if you can get it, but what happens if you don’t have the opportunity? What if your team relies on you to do the kind of work that just doesn’t come naturally to you? You can’t just say ‘no’ – right?

Taking one for the team?

Teams need all kinds of diversity, in order to survive. In an ideal world, teams would be designed for balance, not least in the kind of contributions individuals can make. There are those who keep an eye on the bigger picture, while others check the finer details. There are some who are great at driving things forward, while others keep relationships in the team sweet and make sure things are running smoothly. But in real life, teams don’t always work that way.

In Belbin terms, we all have “preferred” behaviours (that come naturally to us), “manageable” behaviours (that we can adopt when the occasion demands) and “least preferred” behaviours, which are best avoided. We call these behaviours or contributions ‘Team Roles’.

If we’re put in a situation where we can’t play to our Team Role strengths, we’re making what’s known as a Team Role sacrifice. In other words, we’re forfeiting the opportunity to play to our strengths, in an attempt to do something that’s not so intuitive. And if there’s no one else around who can take over, we’re doing that so that the work gets done.

This is a double-edged sword. When it happens from time to time, it can help to cultivate new behaviours we didn’t know we possessed. When it’s long-term, it can mean that we stop honing our strengths (we call this ‘Team Role strain’) and suffer from lower levels of engagement. According to Gallup, only 13% of people are engaged at work. In the UK, it’s down to 8%.

So is it just a case of taking one for the team? Or is there something you can do about it?

It depends.

Talk, talk talk…

To your manager. To your team. You need to speak out and let people know that the problem exists. But of course, this depends on how strong your working relationships are.

Understanding your Belbin Team Roles – and those of your team – can help open up that conversation, and depersonalise it. Rather than saying that you don’t want to do the work and be seen as a cherry-picker, it’s a case of looking at the kind of behaviours that work entails, and analysing the disconnect between those behaviours and your own strengths.

In his seminal book, Management Teams, Dr Belbin recommends declaring what’s called a ‘Team Role void’. In other words, you let your fellow team members know that a certain contribution is needed in the team, that it’s missing, and that you’re trying to plug the gap.

It’s a case of enabling the team to refresh its idea of why that contribution is needed, how its performance affects the team’s success, and what kind of problems the lack of that behaviour could mean for the team.

Here’s the thinking behind it.

As things stand, the team is relying on someone who doesn’t want the role (and therefore is unlikely to perform it particularly well). It could be that another solution exists which would increase the team’s effectiveness overall, but that that solution hasn’t been explored, because the status quo works – just about. It’s an opportunity to regroup and assess who might be best suited to taking on the role without preconceptions.

From the discussions that arise, you might discover something unexpected. Perhaps someone else would love to do that work, but hasn’t been given the opportunity. Maybe they haven’t announced their preferred styles and ways of working clearly enough that the manager could allocate the work accordingly. If the work can be reallocated to someone who wants it and has the qualities needed, it’s a win-win.

On the other hand, maybe there’s a particular reason why your manager needs it to be you who carries out this particular function, in which case all will be revealed. It’s entirely possible that there’s no one else in the team who displays the required skills or behaviour in abundance, so – in the absence of external resources – you’ll still be required to pick up the slack.

But even if so, you’ll have opened up the lines of communication and aired the problem. This will hopefully give you breathing room if you find yourself struggling to meet expectations with the work in question.

It may even give you renewed vigour to cultivate those behaviours, knowing that you’re the best person around for the job.

Next Steps

To find out how the language of Belbin Team Roles can help your conversations with your team/allocate the right work to the right people/start the conversation with your manager, get in touch! Email [email protected], visit or call us on 01223 264975. 



Author Profile Picture
Jo Keeler


Read more from Jo Keeler

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