Team Effectiveness: Using Kirton & Belbin

– by D Flegg & Jo McHale

Experience 1

This first experience was during a teachers’ conference held at Chelsea College , which we participated in.

The overall theme was management in education within which our contribution was a workshop on the application of Belbin’s team skills principles in the management of schools. The delegates were mostly senior teachers, deputy heads and one head teacher.

We devised a new management exercise involving three teams with the objective of writing a script for a television news programme to specified criteria and a limited budget. People were allocated to teams on the basis of scores on their self-perceived team role using Belbin’s Self Perceived Role Inventory (SPI). The three teams were composed of a group of shapers and chairmen (Team A), a group of resource investigators (Team B) and a group with a mixture of company workers, team workers and completers, but with no plant (Team C).

Teams A and C behaved pretty much as one would have predicted. The shapers (A) initially had a power struggle for leadership, and then settled down to producing a competent, if fragmented, script with a sensible budget. Clearly the team had split up and produced separate items with little attempt being made to coordinate their efforts (lack of one overall chairman). Team C worked well as a team (they were nicknamed the Happy Group). The one innovator (see Table 1) was also the only male in the group and he took over the leadership of the group, but it is clear from the results that four adaptors played a most significant part. They produced a competent, but rather pedestrian script with hardly anything original in it. They were also extremely cautious with their budget, using just over half the amount allocated.

It was noted by Jo McHale that, for once, the innovator (leader, male) tended to attribute to himself some of the ideas of the adaptors, something which normally innovators complain that adaptors do.

Table 1

Team’ KAI Scores


111 134 117

109 124 92

94 122 92

92 93 95

88 91 66

Team B was the interesting one. According to the SPI results they were all resource investigators. On the basis of team role theory one would have expected that they would all spend much of their time trying to gather information from the many sources which were available to them, and that they would not actually produce very much in the time available. However, two team members were at loggerheads within the first few minutes of the start of the exercise. They did very little resource investigating (this was also true of the other teams) but they were clearly producing a lot of very original material. They missed the first deadline, which cost them dearly (lack of completer), but they just made the final deadline (they learned from their mistakes – coping behaviour?). They were, however, well over budget! They went way outside the original guidelines for news items (the other teams stuck to these, more or less) – but they won purely on the originality of their script (a key criterion for success).

This result didn’t quite fit with what we had predicted on the basis of the SPI scores. However a quick look at their KAI scores (which we had also administered) revealed all. Of the two key group members – those producing most of the ideas – one had a score of 134 (S0 = 59, E = 18, R = 57) and the other a score of 124 (S0 = 58, E = 20, R = 46). A third member of the team who initially attempted to suggest ways of setting about the task and produced some of the ideas for the script was, for the most part, ignored by the other two (Score = 122, S0 = 55, E = 29, R = 38) – note variant E’s and R’s. The remaining two group members were somewhat overwhelmed by the antagonism of the two innovators and of the flood of ideas which they each seemed capable of working through to a final script. The others (91 and 93) attempted to bring some social and administrative order to the proceedings, but they were no match for the high innovators, hence the overspending.

Experience 2 was in two parts:

a) An analysis was made of those apprentices who had been selected from each pool and eventually had been reported on. In Table 2 below are their KAI scores, their combined TEC results (the assessment based on a number of observations by their supervisors) and finally, the breakdown of the KAI scores into 0, E and R.

Table 2
Team Effectiveness - table 2

First, it will be noted that the average of the 6 KAI scores is pretty close to that reported for much wider numbers (reported in the KAI manual). The breakdown of these scores into S0, E and R has also been given and, when checked against the constant, they are identical to the results expected to within .1! It will be seen from these scores that there were some variations in S0, and R from scores that might be expected by the application of the constants to individuals. These variations occur only in the columns S0 and R.

It would appear that the variations have nothing to do with the assessments; neither does the TEC scores, but the two apprentices who had higher than expected R scores were the two who were assessed as “poor”.

These are exceedingly small numbers, but if the results are sustained with larger numbers, there is a most important application for the selection, training and assessment of apprentices.

b) This experience was based on a single case of an apprentice. This lad returned test papers which were clearly completed with great reluctance and lack of commitment. His maths paper was peppered with ridiculous answers, the stabbing test sheet contained a mass of holes, and where the apprentices had been asked to write in the number of stabs they had made, he had written “lots”. In answer to the question on a fault-finding test “What caused the fault” he had answered “Don’t know answer found by chance”; and on his shapes analysis answer sheet (which he scored highly on) he had drawn a happy face at the start and a sad face at the end of the questions. He was also very disruptive during the administration of the tests. His KAI is quite revealing; Total score = 128 (S0 = 44, E = 29, R = 35). We can’t feed back his results to his instructors because we swore anonymity, but it would be interesting to see their reactions to the name: Birdsall!

The meeting’s reactions

The users’ group found these reports of experiences extremely interesting and their collectors were encouraged with the practice material to see if more data could be generated in this area and written up more fully and published.

The results of the team itself not only generated interest but considerable amusement in the discussions that followed. It was agreed that these exercises in A-I theory in operation are a valuable backup to presentation, lectures and discussions. In the various team discussions the members themselves brought out some additional key points. Examples were:

From Experience 1

If the innovators get the impression that it is innovation that is the “policy”, they may dominate, but not necessarily to the long term team advantage.

Team A: didn’t work together at all. As a strategy they decided to take aspects of the problem each and worked individually and put their ideas together at the end.

Team B: the 3 innovators interacted with each other rather than others.

From Experience 2 (a)

Several noted the initial reluctance of supervisors to using any such inventory as KAI. They preferred to rely on their ‘gut’ feeling as to the qualities required in successful apprentices. The supervisors were wary of the “games” approach to many such exercises and that this was different.

There was discussion among supervisors that in the (then current) economic climate, apprentices who did not feel “in-fit” were less likely to leave and seek another position. Those who felt that they were not ‘ideal’ apprentices in the eyes of their supervisors, therefore, were probably adopting a large amount of coping behaviour in order to survive. This may not be to either the person’s or the team’s advantage.

Experience 2(b).

The team supposed that if they had a member with variant sub-scores: Innovative E and R but also adaptive SO, i.e., not detail efficient and tendency to non-conforming but not exhibiting proliferation of originality was dubbed the ‘low 0 rebel’ – generally thought by the group to be the most difficult to deal with. They discussed Kirton’s observation that Dogmatic Innovators may also be hard to both to predict and to integrate, especially if they also had power.


Editor’s Note: For an interesting aspect of this work see also: A Case of Workshop Innovator Bias, Flegg.