I am not sure quite why I watch The Apprentice on television. Is it for sheer entertainment? Or is it to learn something about the skills that have made Alan Sugar a fortune, lifting him up from humble beginnings to the House of Lords?

One misconception underlies the whole series. At the start, ten smartly-groomed males compete against ten smartly-groomed females in projects mistakenly called “tasks”. The operation is tackled with each participant running around at high speed or trying to knock each other down as rivals.

Maybe part of the attraction of The Apprentice is to see the more pompous taken down, but they have been set up to fail. As any experienced manager knows, a project team needs to be small and balanced, with each person contributing his or her principal strength. But if this was the setup, would it make such fascinating viewing?

Do the contestants receive constructive feedback? No, Sugar ridicules individuals: ‘Don’t want to hear any more from you’; ‘I am sick of looking at you at the moment – get out that door’. He then gives the whole body of carefully selected individuals a collective comment: ‘About time you had a look at yourselves, because right now you are a total shambles – a complete and utter shambles’.

When Scott (someone with ideas and experience) looked a good bet as project manager, he got fired on the grounds that ‘he did not lead the team – he passes the buck’.

So what is Sugar looking for in a leader? He obviously doesn’t value consultative, consensus-driven skills. Sugar’s idea of leadership is clear when he declares: ‘I am the judge, the jury and the executioner’.

Still, as Basil Fawlty showed in Fawlty Towers, there is much to be learned through negative modelling. If learning how not to do it is a lesson in itself, perhaps fun, negative examples can serve a function after all.

Meredith Belbin

October 2014


If you have studied for a HR or business qualification, it is likely you have heard of Belbin. You could probably list at least 6 of the 9 roles, and know that for a team to be successful you need all of the Belbin team roles present.

But have you gone one step further and used Belbin? If not, it’s probably because you are stuck on the ‘why’. Why is it important to understand the behavioural strengths and weaknesses of those you work with? Why is it important to understand your own?

So here are our top 7 reasons why finding out behavioural strengths and weaknesses is important in the workplace:

  1. If people play to their strengths they are 6 x more likely to be engaged (Source: Gallup)
  2. Employees who feel engaged at work and who can use their strengths in their jobs are more productive and profitable, stay longer, have happier customers, and produce higher quality work (Source: Gallup)
  3. You can allocate the right people to tasks. No more trial and error by managers
  4. You can put together high-performing teams based not on job titles and availability, but on behavioural contributions. You can almost start at the “performing” stage of the Tuckman model
  5. Individuals can understand that valuing and using behavioural difference can result in more productive working relationships
  6. They don’t show up on CVs and covering letters
  7. Self-aware individuals can adapt their own behaviours to get the most out of relationships, by understanding potential conflict and being proactive to mitigate it.

Why should you use Belbin to identify behavioural strengths and weaknesses?

  1. It is the tried and tested gold standard. Worldwide.
  2. Belbin doesn’t take your word for it. It asks for feedback from those that you work with to build up a more useful picture of your workplace behaviours
  3. It is based on 9 years of original work-based research – 9 years of analysing and observing teams in action – and is continually updated and reviewed.
  4. It gives you a common language that can be used without fear of making things personal or offensive
  5. You can define the work that needs to be done in terms of the Belbin Team Roles which would be best suited to it. Then you can find the right person by looking at their Belbin report.
  6. It is accessible to everyone. Although accreditation is available, anyone can complete a Belbin questionnaire and, in return, receive a Belbin report offering them advice. Belbin have put the “psychologist in the reports”, so that they are straightforward to understand and, more importantly, use.

You can purchase Belbin reports here

Unsurprisingly, we are frequently asked a myriad of questions in relation to teams. Questions about how to manage team communication, team dynamics, over-running and pointless meetings, disengaged team members, lack of team innovation…

Regardless of the question, the first thing we ask is – ‘How many people are in the team?’ People tend to look at us quizzically, not quite understanding why this matters, and reply ’18, 25, 14, 32…’ or ‘Depends who’s in’.

One of the fundamentals about teams (that is largely ignored by most articles I have read) is that size matters. Teams should be limited in size as they should only contain people that have been actively selected for what they can contribute to the team at a given time. And people in the team should change – teams should be fluid and reactive, changing to ensure they achieve whatever it is they set out to do.

Meredith Belbin’s ideal team size is 4.

Why 4? Because everyone will have equal (ish) input, airtime, responsibility, actions. There shouldn’t be any duplication of roles (functional or team) and decision making will be less drawn out. An even number means that agreement has to be reached – no one person has the casting vote. Group-think is less likely to happen. People are more likely to challenge, discuss problems openly, and get to solutions.

Meredith’s view of the European Union sums this up perfectly:

“When effective decision-making is required, three selected teams of four are better than one group of twelve. The only proviso is that these teams work concurrently and shortly afterwards share their outputs so that decisions are not unduly delayed. How can one deal with 25 nations within a single organisation? Not by resorting to one huge meeting. On the other hand, small teams deliberating separately can quickly reach significant decisions.”

In a nutshell, the following number of Team members is likely to lead to:

Four “We’re well-balanced in our team and good at achieving agreement.”

Five “One of us tends to be the odd one out.”

Six “It takes longer to reach agreement, but we get there in the end.”

Seven “Rather too many random contributions float about.”

Eight “People speak freely but no one listens.”

Nine “We could do with someone taking control.”

Ten “We now have a leader, but their ideas are the only ones with a chance of acceptance.

In other words – Size DOES Matter!

To find out where you contribute best, complete a Belbin Inventory and get a personalised report. Go to www.belbin.com

On the face of it, Germany didn’t have the best start to Sunday night’s World Cup final. The misfortune of losing key midfielder Sami Khedira minutes before kick-off was compounded by a blow to the head which saw off his replacement, Christoph Kramer well before half-time. So how did they go on to win? And why couldn’t other teams bounce back from injury in the same way?

That old chestnut – no ‘I’ in team

When injury counted out Neymar – the striker on whom Brazil’s hopes rested – the host nation crashed out of the World Cup, making headlines everywhere. On a less dramatic note, Argentina’s Lionel Messi had a quiet tournament. He showed flashes of brilliance, but arguably failed to live up to his star billing.

By contrast, Germany’s strategy was all about the team. Each individual had their role to play, but none was irreplaceable, no-one was a talisman on whom hopes of success were pinned.

As well as reducing pressure on each individual, a team-based strategy increases the likelihood of success by ensuring that changes in circumstance do not catch the team unawares and cause morale to nose-dive.

How do you spread the load?

The Belbin Team/Group report gives you a panoramic view of your team. The report page Individuals in the Team names and plots the highest-scoring individual for each Team Role alongside the group’s average for the role. Where there is a large gap, this could indicate that you’re relying on one person (a Team Role “star”) to carry the load for the team. In other words, it highlights who you’re leaning on… and how heavily.

Belbin Team/Group Report

Individuals in the Team – one page of the Team/Group reports available from www.belbin.com.

Over to you to decide whether this risk is acceptable to the team and how to manage the potential Team Role “gap”. As well as enabling the team to function more effectively in the absence of a particular team member, this information is useful for succession planning in the longer term.

Build yourself a winning team…

Belbin Team/Group report cost £85.00 GBP and can be purchased directly from www.belbin.com.

All too often we have a conversation that goes a bit like this:

Person A:    “Oh, I’ve done Belbin, and I use it on training sessions.”

Us:    “Great! Do you use the Belbin reports?”

Person A:    “No, I just talk about the theory.”

Us:     “Do you explain how the theory can be used?”

Person A:  “No, I just go through the 8 Team Roles.”

Us:    “You mean 9 Team Roles.”

Person A:    “Oh, is there a new one? When was it added to the list – it must have been recently?”

Us:    “1993.”

It’s interesting that in the world of training and HR that a lot of us assume that a theory has remained static since it’s first inception. Thinking about it, that’s a strange assumption. You wouldn’t lecture about Employee Law with all your notes taken from a book published in 1981. In fact I can’t think of a profession where keeping up-to-date isn’t verging on essential.

Perhaps we should all take a few hours to ensure that our knowledge – be it Belbin, De Bono, Tuckman etc is as current as it should be. I think those that attend our workshops, training courses and 1:1 sessions would thank us for it!

We are running a ‘How to…” Session in Newcastle to help people get up to speed with not just their Belbin knowledge, but the practical application. In other words, the important bit. Come and join us. http://www.belbin.com/rte.asp?id=518


RI Jill PR

Wikipedia defines Knowledge Management (KM) as comprising: A range of practices used by organizations to identify, create, represent, and distribute knowledge for reuse, awareness and learning.

The power of technology has enabled organisations to store and retrieve information on a hitherto unimaginable scale. The trouble is we can’t remember everything, nor should we as it would just lead to an absurd level of information overload.

Why Knowledge Management is Essential

However, the creation of a collective memory can add considerable value to an organisation’s resources and processes and that is why so many businesses are focusing their attention on improving their Knowledge Management (KM). It is also the reason why Belbin Team Roles has such an important part to play in ensuring KM becomes truly embedded in the way people will work together in the future.

  • Those organisations that can harness their KM the most effectively will have a considerable competitive advantage because they will be able to reduce wasted effort, streamline their resources and encourage and implement innovative business solutions better and quicker than their rivals.
  • Many organisations see KM as being not only a strategic imperative but also recognise that it is part of a fundamental cultural change which will enable employees to learn and share far more than before– with the inevitable positive benefit to the bottom line.
  • But even though most forward-thinking businesses recognise that there is a significant behavioural dimension to KM, very little fundamental changes are adopted on the ‘people front’ to ensure the KM opportunities are fully seized.

This is why we have developed an innovative approach which aligns Belbin to KM and maximises collaborative working in both real and virtual teams. This way organisations will be able to ensure staff can play to their strengths and encourage the collective spirit of mutual respect and co-operation – as the old adage goes, nobody is perfect but a team can be.

To find out more…www.belbin.com


Belbin had a great time at ‘The Job Show’ in Cambridge on the 25th September giving out free Belbin reports! As a local Cambridge company, we felt it important to help the local people of Cambridge by giving them a greater insight into their natural behavioural styles and highlighting their strengths and potential weaknesses in the workplace. We met a wide range of people; some were finishing education and wanted advice on starting a career, while others were looking at changing to a new career path. We were encouraged to hear that these people thought Belbin reports would be useful in assisting their new/changing careers. Some of the younger people, who visited having just come out of education, were unsure of the career pathway they wished to take, and therefore felt that the Belbin reports would assist by highlighting their preferred team roles. Others who were changing careers felt that Belbin reports would be useful in guiding them towards a new direction. Some who had previously based their career choice on their qualifications were intrigued by the emphasis we place on suitability over eligibility. While they felt they were qualified for their previous career, they no longer found this enjoyable and felt the idea of basing their future career path on their natural behavioural style would lead to a more fulfilling career.

If you would like to find out more about how Belbin could help you please do get in touch with us on 01223 264975 or email info@belbin.com.

The Apprentice makes for absorbing television, as ambitious young contenders strive to show us they have what it takes.  An overview of the series makes it plain that Alan Sugar looks for the quick, fast-moving, fast-thinking qualities that remind him of how he started in business.  That path led to a multi-million pound success story.  One question he seemingly posed to himself and his attentive viewers: can it be repeated?  Surely one of these bright sparks should make him the ideal partner?  Or perhaps not, one surmises.

A brave new world

The problem for Lord Sugar is that the world has moved on.  In the post-war world of acute shortages, almost anything sold.   That has been replaced by an upsurge of global businesses where competitors abound in every area.  In this highly productive world, economies of scale limit the scope for entry of new low-cost, local producers.

Complementarity, not cloning

So should Lord Sugar be looking for a replica of himself to repeat his success story? Experience in the Belbin enterprise has shown that human cloning produces disappointing results. The most successful partnerships arise where the principal characters possess complementary skills and attributes accompanied by mutual understanding.  So it could be an advance if Lord Sugar were to say to himself: “What is it that I am not good at?”  Given the unlikelihood that this will happen, I will attempt to answer the question on Lord Sugar’s behalf.

Lord Sugar evidently believes that sharp and witty belittlement gets the best out of people.  Indeed, it may be fun to see how pompous young pretenders are brought down to earth.  At least sharp criticisms bring them into line.  It then makes it plain who is in charge.  “Is that all clear?” asks Lord Sugar, as he gives them brief instruction for the next task.  “Yes, Lord Sugar,” they reply in unison.

I doubt that Lord Sugar himself would have been so meek and compliant in his younger days.  A streak of bossiness may have stood Lord Sugar in good stead on past occasions, but it is a feature likely to tip the scales when it comes to finding an equal partner.  Many previous searches have been in vain. After weeks of competitive screening, previous winners have drifted away from their hard-won positions.

Retaining talent

Unhappy placements tend to leave.  Finding candidates of quality and then keeping them are two different fields.  Success leads to success.  But thereafter the path steepens.  Early success no longer offers any future guarantee.  That is where self-insight plays a greater role than ever.  Was this the reason why Alan Sugar lost his way after Amstrad failed to hold its leading position in the market?

The era of immediate opportunities and quick returns was coming to an end.  The material world of hardware was giving way to the more abstract era of programming and complex systems.  Now progress rested on finding products and services with “unique selling points”.  The engine of growth rested on painstaking research and development, on market inquiry combined with close liaison work.

Learning from our mistakes

Complex systems require teamwork.  They mete out unforgiving punishment on competitors – single-strand views that tend to flourish in a command and control culture.  That latter world is still with us.  In its orthodox hierarchical setting, The Apprentice remains entertaining.  Its operations are reassuringly nostalgic. Just like historical period pieces, such reminders free us from the everyday concerns of the present.

Any faults detected in human behaviour can serve to remind us that that we are not above making the same mistake ourselves.  It is more worrying if we fail to heed the lesson and repeat what we witness.  The candidates in the highly competitive Apprentice progressed in a ‘blame’ culture.  Each would look for faults in another.  ‘Blame’ cultures are conspicuous in some firms while renounced in others.  My life experience tells me that ‘blame’ cultures never work out in the long run.  My hope is that Lord Sugar not given them a renewed life.


Before Meredith and his team carried out their groundbreaking research at Henley Management College, the idea that successful teams needed to include people with different behavioural strengths wasn’t part of the collective consciousness in HR/training and management.

Nine years of observing management teams at work culminated in the language of Team Roles – a theory which is taught in most management schools today. But Meredith should be credited with more than just Team Role theory.

The application of the theory has enabled individuals worldwide to understand their contributions in the workplace which has, in turn, led to more effective working relationships. Project teams have been able to allocate work to the right people. Teams have enhanced productivity by understanding their collective strengths and weaknesses. Managers have learned how to make the most of their people by first understanding their own preferences and adapting to communicate more effectively.

Over a million Belbin reports, in over 50 countries, have been produced to help people make a positive impact on their life at work.

I have the good fortune to sit opposite one of the most forward thinking, creative and original management gurus of the past 50 years – yes, he still comes into the office most days. Meredith – enjoy your two days off and I look forward to your latest thinking on your return.

Jo Keeler, Business director.

It is clear that the political environment shapes the decisions and reputations of political leaders, just as events and climate within an organisation help to shape team leaders. Whilst studies and literature about what makes a good leader abound, can we recruit or assess an effective leader without first understanding the circumstances in which they are to lead?

From politics to office politics

Clearly, running a country is very different to managing a team, but some of the principles for effective leadership are the same.

1. No more “bosses”

Many have described Margaret Thatcher as a “headmistress” figure: demanding, stern and even scolding. Watching clips of Margaret Thatcher’s dominant, authoritative style (in Belbin Team Role terms, the classic Shaper with perhaps some elements of Monitor Evaluator in her desire of a hearty debate), it is hard to imagine a Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition speaking so directly today. Some argue that Thatcher’s policies (including closure of the mines and encouraging people to buy their council houses) showed the drive and determination of a Shaper, without the appreciation of the bigger picture which a Co-ordinator might show. Others have suggested that Thatcher understood the consequences, but decided to take action anyway.

As in politics, management and leadership styles in business have changed. Studies of Generation Y (the youngest members of the workforce) indicate that they do not expect an old-fashioned “boss” who barks orders, but a facilitator who values and makes use of their ideas and contributions. This is not to say that a Shaper management style is problematic, but simply that colleagues now appreciate – and expect – good communication and a consultative leadership style.

The flipside of this change is that, without the directive style of the Shaper, intentions are not so clear and politicians seem less keen to pin their colours to the mast for fear of losing popularity. Tony Blair brought Labour to power in 1997 with “Education, education, education”. An able orator, Blair demonstrated the best and worst of the Resource InvestigatorCo-ordinator: he was an effective communicator, but also regarded as a manipulator whose words were sometimes seen to lack substance.

2. Don’t repeat your mistakes – or over-correct them

Having seen the damage done to Edward Heath’s government by successive political u-turns, Thatcher’s strategy was to stick to her policies. Her famous quotation: “You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning” was an effort to restore faith in her party and inspire trust in her leadership.

The leadership style of Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown (perhaps a Monitor EvaluatorCompleter Finisher), was a stark contrast to that of Blair himself and Blair’s protégé, David Miliband, was rejected for the leadership perhaps because he resembled Blair too closely for comfort. In other words, the requirement was for something different to what had gone before.

Organisations too may fall into the trap of trying to “clone” a successful manager or indeed, trying to find the opposite of an unsuccessful one. Rather than simply reacting to what has gone before, it is important to examine the team’s priorities and objectives, and to find the person best suited to bring these about. Otherwise, the team risks stagnation or worse, reproducing the same problems and going round in circles.

3. Context is all

Winston Churchill, a highly-respected wartime Prime Minister, was rejected as a peacetime politician because his leadership style no longer fitted the political context. It is the same with teams: the characteristics of a good leader are not absolute, but dependent on the context in which they lead.

For example, a team dominated by Shaper behaviours may require a Co-ordinator manager who can draw out different contributions and take control when arguments start, rather than another Shaper to add to the fighting. A team with lots of social roles, but which is lacking direction, may require a task-focused manager to help productivity and prevent coasting.

Where the hierarchy and structure of an organisation permits, project teams can be created and disbanded for specific purposes, so that a leader can be chosen whose Team Roles are appropriate to the context of the other team members and the team’s objectives.

What can you do?

Do you know the Team Role composition of your team? Are you using the right person to lead at the right time, or do you just carry on with the same person, regardless of where the team is in it’s ‘life cycle’?

It costs just £35 to find out the Belbin Team Role preferences of an individual, and you can add 360° feedback at no extra cost. We have just lauched a series of “How To…” Guides and sessions to help you turn Belbin theory in to tangible business improvements. See www.belbin.com for more information.