Teams: skewed vs balance

We kind of prefer people that are like us mainly because we understand them better. Yet within a team we actually need a balance; of skills, personality and experiences. The Katzenbach and Smith definition of a team is still in our view the best:

“A team is a small number of people, with complementary skills, committed to an agree purpose, goals and approach, for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”

Good isn’t it, almost a template for checking how well your team is doing.

“A team is a small number of people, with complementary skills, committed to an agree purpose, goals and approach, for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”

It’s the ‘complementary skills’ bit that is often the difficult piece. In the early work of R Meredith Belbin he assumed that teams made up of the most intelligent, confidant, gifted individual would be the most effective. Before he began his research he even called these teams ‘Apollo Teams.’ Yet when he ran the trials, these teams, in every single case, performed badly, often being outperformed by teams made up of the least bright, less confident individuals. So what was that, it seems counterintuitive doesn’t it? Well. These teams comprised individuals from an education system where coming first was the most important issue, they all spent a lot of time on abortive debate, no-one would concede a point, and no-one wanted to take notes. So, Belbin’s work teaches us that we need a balance in the team. We need detailed planners, finishers, creative types, process people, people-people, shapers, coordinators all in the mix so that they can leverage off each other. That is what he means by ‘balance.’

So because someone is not like us, we may struggle to ‘get’ them, but the issue is we really need them, precisely because they are not like us and offer something different. You might find planners slow you down, but that’s because you will need a plan. You might find creative types come up with too many ideas, but you need the ideas to get you moving. So, when you look around your team and see all different types don’t wish they were all like you. Remember the poor Apollo teams!


Posted 2 months ago