A Specialist, Plant, Shaper… What’s Your Team Role?

Nadezhda Bykova talks about Belbin Team Inventory and its application to group projects.

A Specialist, Plant, Shaper… What’s Your Team Role?


Ask any HSE student about their experience with working in teams and they will definitely have a lot to share with you. Group projects here are something we can hardly imagine our life without. Group presentations for a particular class you are taking as a major course, group work on cases and projects for your minor courses, projects that you can choose to work on from all the project fair options – this variety might seem a bit overwhelming but that’s something our students have to quickly get used to.

As time passes by, some students fall in love with group projects and some learn that they are a lot more comfortable working alone. Regardless of which side you end up with it is important to understand how to work efficiently as a team. In the end, group projects are a lot more common than one might think and are present not only in universities but in the business world as well. Chances are, even if you don’t like working in a team that much you will eventually have to learn how to do that. The ability to work flexibly in a team, communicate, collaborate with others definitely gives one advantage when it comes to job interviews or writing CVs and resumes. Does that sound convincing enough? Let’s jump right into it.

One of the most well-known inventories when it comes to group projects is the Belbin Team Role Inventory. We are pretty sure you’ve heard of it! In case you feel like you only know the basics we are here to help.

In fact, Belbin began his research on team performance in 1969 when he was invited to the Administrative Staff College at Henley where a business simulation game with competitive teams was held for managers. One of the most important conclusions that he made by the end of the simulation game observation was that the success of a team could not be simply predicted by intellectual abilities of its members: some high-intellect teams, in fact, failed. So, what is the key to success then? According to Belbin, it’s not the “smartest” team, but the most balanced team that has greater chance of performing the best. In other words, teams need to be diverse and, at the same time, compatible in terms of the roles that its members occupy and the skills that they possess. Instead of focusing on the mean characteristics of the team, labeling it as “smart”, “organized” etc. the focus has to be shifted to the people who a team is comprised of. Instead of focusing on the team, individual differences and roles had to be taken into account.

Based on this idea, the Belbin Team Role Inventory was created and described in detail in Belbin’s book “Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail”. It has to be emphasized that the test that is supposed to assign one to a particular team role is not a psychometric instrument. It is supposed to assess one’s behavioral tendencies and not one’s personality. People might score high on behavioral tendencies that are associated with several different roles and, in fact, take on either of their “main set” roles depending on the particular situation they are in. Even though initially only eight roles were identified, there are nine team roles in the latest version of the test. Our guess is that at this point all you want to do is to take the test and find out which of the nine team roles you will be assigned to. Well, if you want to get a detailed report on that you can always purchase it on the official website.

For those who want to do the test for free there are numerous options that can be found online. Since there are many tests that would only show you a part of the test result and ask for the additional fee to see the full report, here is a short and free version of the test that you can take. Go ahead and find out which team role suits you the best! Once you are done with the test, come back here so that we can clarify what each of the roles is all about and which strengths/weaknesses people who occupy it usually tend to have.

The nine team roles can be divided into three groups: action-oriented roles, people-oriented roles and thought-oriented roles.

Let’s begin with those that are ascribed to the very first group: shaper, implementor, completer finisher.

  1. Shapers quite paradoxically thrive when they feel like they are put under pressure. These people enjoy overcoming obstacles, being rewarded for that and, most importantly, they love to win. They are energetic and might be seen as the ones providing the drive to keep the team moving but, in fact, they are driven by a sole desire to achieve what they want and not by the desire to motivate others – that comes as a side-product. Shapers love challenging themselves and others and feel like they have to find the best way to approach the problem. They strive for improvement. However, because they are so focused on getting the work done, they might come off as too aggressive or rude, might also offend others.
  2. Implementors are the ones who can turn ideas into a plan of actions and, based on that, get the job done. These people are reliable and well-disciplined, organized, efficient. What also makes them extremely valuable is their loyalty – you can definitely trust them with doing what they have to in time. Implementors might also be willing to take on a task that no one else wants to do and, very typical of them, actually finish whatever they started doing. On the other hand, other teammates might see them as inflexible, not willing to try out something new, a bit close-minded. Don’t expect an implementor to be the first one to notice a new possibility and immediately switch to that.
  3. Completer finisher is someone whose main role is to finalize the project. Their perfectionism is what makes them check the work for any errors and assess the overall quality of what has been done. They set the bar quite high which might annoy some of their teammates who they make re-do their part because of any minor flaws. Yet another weakness of completers is that they might feel like no one in the team can do the task properly and do most of it themselves. Distributing tasks and assigning teammates to particular roles is definitely not something they are good at.

Moving on to the people-oriented roles.

Quite self-explanatory, team workers are those who ensure that the team is actually working as a team, not as a group of individuals. They are very diplomatic, will make sure to listen to every single member of the group and take their opinion into consideration, make sure everything is running smoothly with no internal conflicts. Team worker role is the glue that allows the team to stick together and work in a pleasant atmosphere. You might wonder: are there any disadvantages associated with such a nice role? Of course, there are some. For instance, team workers are likely to avoid confrontation at any cost, be indecisive, focus on interpersonal relationships too much and miss the deadline or submit their part when it’s still quite far from being complete.

Right next we have resource investigators – the outsourcing engine of the team. Whenever you need to find some information about the problem, find a person to help your team out, search for new opportunities – these team members are the ones you can rely on. Networking is their strength, while being a bit too optimistic and quick to lose enthusiasm is their weakness.

Last but not the least, coordinators. Unlike completer finishers who are rarely willing to assign other teammates to do a particular task, coordinators take pride in doing exactly that. They are the CEOs of the team, those who can take a step back to see the big picture, delegate tasks to those who are capable of completing them, make sure everyone knows what they have to do. While they are mature and like to be in control, others might see them as being manipulative and sometimes even a bit lazy since some coordinators like to make others do all the work for them.

Thought-oriented roles include monitor evaluators, plants and specialists.

Plants are responsible for creative problem solving in teams. Those people are the ones capable of generating unconventional innovative ideas, good at brainstorming and thinking outside the box. A difficult problem no one knows how to tackle? Try to seek help of those guys. However, don’t expect them to somehow turn those ideas into a set of planned actions and carry those out. Another problem with people who occupy this role is that they might have a hard time explaining their ideas to others and bring a bit of a chaotic atmosphere to the group since they can easily continue to generate ideas even when the group has already picked one to work with.

Monitor evaluators are quick the opposite: these people are very logic-oriented, critical and objective. While other team members might suggest different problem solutions, monitor evaluators are the ones to analyze, assess those and figure out which solution is the best one. Don’t expect them to do that fast – their careful analytical thinking might slow down the process. Another weakness of this team role is the lack of leadership, drive and motivation. They are not only unlikely to motivate others, but also overly critical and may hurt people’s feelings by proving honest feedback.

Finally, specialists are people who possess knowledge in a particular sphere. That is the ninth team role that was the last one to be added to the inventory. These people might have a hard time working in a team since they are quite used to carrying out the tasks on their own. They are also well-disciplined and will, for sure, do what they have to as long as their task is connected with their area of expertise. On the other hand, their contribution is quite limited, and others might accuse them of providing too much unnecessary information on something they are interested in even when the team doesn’t actually need it.

Does the team role you got the highest score for actually sound like the one you usually take on when it comes to group projects?

While it is fun to learn about the role in a team that suits you the best, you might be wondering if you can actually apply that knowledge to the group projects you work on while studying here at HSE. First things first, even simply knowing which team role suits you the best and being aware of your strengths and weaknesses is a huge step towards being more productive when it comes to any kind of teamwork.

According to the findings of Smith, Polglase and Parry (2012), who compared performance of teams that were formed based on students’ personal preferences and teams that were formed based on students’ team roles:

the description of team roles helped students to reflect on the activities they were best at and place themselves into that role within their group. As such, the implementation of the Belbin scheme was extremely useful for the students’ personal development plans.

The researchers claim that groups that were more balanced did, in fact, perform better than the unbalanced ones but the difference between those based on team roles and those based on friendship ties was, unfortunately, not statistically significant.

Students that participated in the study were aware of test results of their classmates which gave them a huge advantage in picking particular people to join their group. That is the advantage that we, HSE students, do not have. The majority of students still choose to work with their friends when it comes to group projects but there is no doubt that students could largely benefit from finding out which particular team role suits them and their friends the best. In fact, people who are willing to do their research and learn more about Belbin’s theory might be able to identify which team role suits their teammates the best on their own and take that into account while working with them – no need to force everyone to complete the test!

Join HSE Illuminated Telegram chat to check the results of the poll and see which team role HSE students are most likely to take on.


  1. https://www.belbin.com
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Team_Role_Inventories
  3. https://wwwf.imperial.ac.uk/bioengineering/admin/2017_18/EDPProjectCode/Belbin%20team%20roles%20exercise.pdf
  4. https://activecollab.com/blog/collaboration/belbin-team-roles-theory-practice

Text by
Nadezhda Bykova