‘Teams at the top’ – senior leadership and when to ‘team’ – PART 2

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‘Teams at the top’ – senior leadership and when to ‘team’ – PART 2



‘To team’ or not ‘to team’?

Whilst senior executives may be tempted to view the working group with a single leader as the more effective route, ‘wise leaders’, writes Katzenbach, ‘recognize the inherent values of both behaviours’ – strong executive leadership and true team performance – and decide which is appropriate in a given situation.

He suggests asking the following questions:

  1. Can the team identify a tangible result that the team – using all its skills – can achieve, which couldn’t be achieved by group members working alone?
  2. Does the leadership role need to shift? Real teams ‘boost their leadership capacity by changing leadership depending on the task at hand.
  3. Which is more important to achieve the objective – individual or mutual accountability? Executives are used to being held accountable for whatever happens on their watch. In a team, by contrast, everyone holds everyone else accountable.

Belbin claims that different Team Roles, or behaviours, are required at each stage of a project, in order to achieve success. Exploring a team’s Team Role requirements for a particular task can offer leads as to who should be involved and may assist with determining suitable leadership at each point:



How to set up a team for success

Having made the decision to take the time to get real team performance is worthwhile, senior executives must:

  1. Choose individuals based on their mix of skills (suitability, in Belbin terms), rather than job title, qualifications or experience (which we call eligibility). For example, two software developers might hold the same degree and be given the same professional training, but if their Team Role approach to the work is very different, this can have a significant impact on how they contribute to the team and interact with others. A strong Monitor Evaluator might be called in to offer a strategic eye at the planning stages, whist an Implementer-Completer Finisher could be relied upon to implement a solution which has already been agreed.


  1. Allow the leadership role to shift, letting different individuals lead at certain times. As well as providing the most effective team leadership, this can help develop individuals and build the organization’s overall leadership capacity. Whilst senior executives might be accustomed to their own leadership style, the team approach gives them a chance to become better acquainted with other ways of leading. According to Belbin theory, each Team Role comes with a different leadership style. Discovering the Belbin roles in your team not only helps to distinguish who might be bested suited to lead each stage, but can also help others in the team to understand what to expect of different leadership styles and how to adapt to maximize team performance.

Reclaiming the word ‘team’

As Dr Belbin says: “Simply putting together a number of people and expecting them to work as a team is not enough.” Whilst real teamwork has the potential for efficacy that far exceeds individual endeavour, ‘team’ can be a misleading label too, especially at the highest levels of organization. Approaching teamwork as a panacea can foster complacency, precluding an understanding of the dynamics that make teams work. It is up to leaders to reclaim the word ‘team’ and take active decisions that ensure collective success.


For Jon R. Katzenbach’s original article, please visit: https://hbr.org/1997/11/the-myth-of-the-top-management-team


Jo and Pete | Belbin