How to create and manage a successful team

Any research we have carried out on the changing nature of the workplace has consistently shown an increase in flexible working. This includes teams being based, more and more, out of the office, in disparate locations. However, despite the increasingly geographically dispersed nature of our teams, the structure of a successful team has changed little in the last 40 years. 

Research has shown that the most successful teams are made up of individuals who display a diverse combination of behaviours and adopt different roles. In the late 60s and 70s at the, now, Henley Business School, a nine-year study of teams took place among senior executives attending 10-week development courses. Part of the course involved a business simulation in which the managers were put into competing teams. Dr Meredith Belbin was invited to Henley to use this business simulation for a study of team behaviour.

The results of the research can be found in Belbin’s fascinating first book ‘Management Teams: why they succeed or fail’. One of the main findings of the research was that it is not high-intellect teams which are the most successful, but balanced teams. When the researchers put a group of solely highly intelligent, creative people together, they could not function as a team. Successful teams were found to be those with a mix of different people, adopting different roles. 

Belbin initially identified eight distinct team roles. A ninth, based on specialist knowledge, emerged later. The Belbin model is so enduring because it recognises the importance of diversity, and that message is as relevant today, if not more so, than it was 40 years ago. 

Here are our three top tips for effective teamworking:

1.    Recognise difference 
Begin by understanding the nature of the differences between people in your teams (become familiar with Belbin’s team roles). Variation in personal characteristics are a source of strength – a good leader identifies them from the outset, to then utilise them. 

2.    Utilise diversity to increase performance
It is the differences and dissimilarities between people which spark the creativity to fuel innovation.  So actively seek out individuals who possess the attributes you need in your team. 
Recent research by McKinsey & Co, published earlier this year, showed that companies in the top 25% for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability.

3.    Empower people
The Belbin model appreciates difference in a non-hierarchical way. It is a strength-based approach that gives people confidence in their abilities. It also enables team members to share the credit for the team’s successes and appreciates the importance of everyone’s contribution. 

How to develop teamworking in practice

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