Loving weaknesses

ImageOne of the principle insights of Belbin’s theory of team roles is that all of us have preferences for particular roles within a team. Belbin lists nine of these roles emphasising that all of these roles need to be filled if there is to be a fully functioning team. Our role preferences are governed by our strengths. For example, somebody has to check the bright ideas that come from the team members. That person, is, according to Belbin’s description, a “monitor evaluator”. This will be a preferred role for someone who is “sober, strategic and discerning” and “who sees all options”. But there is a downside to these “strengths”, and for the “monitor evaluator” there are “allowable weaknesses” of lacking drive and being unable to inspire others.

Our default position about weaknesses is complaint and annoyance. The consequence of this is that it is more usual not to publicly acknowledge individual weakness, and internalise the complaint and annoyance. That can’t be good for teamwork! Weaknesses are only usually judged negatively, but some weaknesses are allowable and could be viewed constructively.

Why do we not celebrate our weakness? It seems to me that Belbin gives us permission for that, because there is always a flipside to weaknesses. Instead of complaining about X’s lack of drive, we can recognise that X can play a vital part in our enterprise.

For my part (my preferred role is “plant”), I know that some may find my inability to “communicate effectively” (because I get “too preoccupied”) and my “ignoring of incidentals” frustrating and annoying. But that’s what you get in exchange for someone who can be “creative, imaginative, unorthodox”. Personally I am grateful for those who have seen the potential that I have through those weaknesses.

So, why don’t we talk more openly, and more positively, about weaknesses?

>pointless disappointments


Camp Disappointment Historic Marker
historic marker for Camp Disappointment
(photo by Jimmy Emerson)

That is not the sort of review you would like to see on TripAdvisor if you were the owner of a campsite. There are many places called “Disappointment” –  it must be hard for those who live in those places. “What’s it like where you live?” “You mean disappointing?” “I thought so”.

By a strange quirk of the Church of England, my most recent appointment meant that I was listed in the “resignations” rather than the “appointments” in our  mailing. I presumed that this was therefore a “dis-appointment” rather than an appointment! 
Fresnel, Cape Disappointment
old Fresnel lens from the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse by Grace Fell

I have been struck recently by the high expectations we have of one another, and that appointments can often lead to disappointments. Once we are a disappointment to someone we are always then seen through that lens of disappointment, and our own self-perception can be coloured by that as well. When it comes to disappointment, it is often the solo leaders who are disappointed, and those they appoint who are disappointing. Belbin points this out. According to him (Team Roles at Work (2003) p98),

  • A solo leader “plays unlimited role” (and interferes), whereas the team leader chooses to “limit role” (and delegates).
  • A solo leader “strives for conformity”, whereas a team leader “builds on diversity”.
  • A solo leader “collects acolytes”, whereas a team leader “seeks talent”.
  • A solo leader “directs subordinates”, whereas a team leader “develops colleagues”.
  • A solo leader “projects objectives”, whereas a team leader “creates mission”.
Life is hard in the land of Disappointment. The only escape is into a a different world of team leadership.
Talking of disappointments, I just love Nilsson’s “The Point” – a story about a round headed boy called Oblio, who lives in the Land of Point with his dog Arrow. Its moral – everything has a point, and nothing is pointless.

>Fabio Capello and leadership


The latest Belbin newsletter focuses on the management of our national football team and Fabio Capello’s capacity for leadership. It’s a fun article and worth a read. Capello is contrasted with Maradonna and suggestions made about the leadership qualities (Belbin style) needed for the next manager – maybe needed sooner than we think if we lose tonight’s game against Bulgaria.

Belbin does draw the distinction between qualifications (looking backwards – and referring to a different context) and suitability (looking forward and relating to present context). The suggestion is to recruit on the basis of suitability rather than eligibility/qualification. There’s one for the FA!

>Graphic facilitation

What a gift Brandy Agerbeck has as a “graphic facilitator”. I came across her website when I was preparing to lead a session on Belbin team roles. Here is the result of her listening and representing a session – which happened to be on Belbin’s team roles – I wonder what clues this offers us about what her preferred team role is. Maybe a plant or a monitor-evaluator?

Little David

> Thinking about David …. God seems to overlook qualifications and eligibility. Today’s psalm (89) refers to how David was chosen to be king of Israel. “I have set a youth above the mighty; I have raised a young man over the people.” God’s man, Samuel was sent to Jesse’s family to anoint the one indicated. The first in line was bruought in – and Samuel gets told “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at.” (1 Sam 16). Seven of Jesse’s sons were introduced to Samuel, but it was the last and youngest in the presentation line who was the one Samuel anointed. This seems to be the way with God. He prefers the small, the last and the least. He overlooks qualifications and eligibility. Centuries later Paul rejoices in his weaknesses because he hears God: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9)

There were not many people who put money on David beating Goliath – boy against giant. But there are a lot of people who have been made to look small by the world who believe that their victory is assured because their God is one who overlooks qualifications and eligibility and has a preference for the lost, last and least.

Belbin is better known for his theories about team role preferences. His theories are also applicable in terms of recruitment. He too is prepared to overlook qualifications and eligibility. These things look backwards and eligibility does not equate to suitability. Looking at suitability is forward looking to what a person can become.

So those are eligible and suitable are an ideal fit but may be short stayers.
Those who are eligible but unsuitable are a poor fit and problems occur.
Those who are barely eligible and unsuitable are total misfits and become leavers.
Those who are barely eligible but suitable are a surprise fit and become long stayers.

Now, I only have limited experience of recruitment but I can safely say that both David and Paul come into the category of “barely eligible but suitable” – with the right sort of help. And that’s how Goliath got his comeuppance.

Likes and dislikes

> If “no man is an island” (John Donne) why are we so insular? I often hear people report back from their holidays on friends they made while away. “We had so much in common” and “we all had similar backgrounds/jobs”. I wonder if we like the people who are most like us.

I’ve enjoyed the work of many people who have highlighted the many different styles of personality and behaviours we have. This is how we have been made. Some of us are built for a quick sprint, others for the long haul. We are individuals who need to like those who aren’t quite like us. Practical people lose patience with visionaries. Visionaries may regard the practical people as a bit boring – but both need each other. Those who can crack the whip can move people forward but may be seen as insensitive by those who are conscious of the feelings of others. To get anything done we all need to work together and talk together.

This is not a new insight. God from the beginning of time said “it is not good for man to be alone”. The stories of Cain and Abel, and the Tower of Babylon are both examples of how difficult it is to come to terms with our differences. Centuries later St Paul was shocked by the divisions in the Corinthian Church. Members had taken sides liking those who were like them. Paul calls them to order encouraging them to think that they were members of one body and that they needed to get co-ordinated. Every part of the body has a different function – fingers, bowels and eyes. Each member is gifted differently and we need to learn to like what we’re not like – otherwise we can’t live together or work together for a better world.

Paul’s is a good lesson (as is Belbin, Myers-Briggs and all those working on similar lines) for the Lambeth Conference (coming soon), and any group of people. Paul insists that it is all possible if we have a mind on the bigger picture and allow God to do the knitting.

written for Grapevine June 2008