Each coaching session is as unique as the two individuals in the room. An able coach will always lay strong foundations for the relationship by establishing a rapport with the client, understanding their approach and gaining trust.
Regardless of the coach’s experience, however, some people gel more easily, which is likely to result in a more satisfactory outcome for both parties. But is it just a case of personalities, and therefore beyond our control as coaches? Or can behaviour play a part in fostering a more effective coaching relationship? And can we adapt our behaviour to meet the client’s need, whilst working authentically?
Understanding Belbin Team Roles in coaching
The Belbin framework explores a person’s behavioural styles in terms of Team Roles– nine key clusters of behaviour which are fundamental to effective working. These were discovered during Dr Belbin’s decade-long research observing real teams in the 1970s, and have been used worldwide ever since to increase self-awareness and allow people to talk about their strengths and others’ perceptions of them in a safe, depersonalised and non-confrontational way.
Knowing your clients’ Team Role behaviours can help you develop a deeper understanding of their perspectives, approaches to work and interactions with others, as well as areas in which they might struggle.
Knowing your own can help build the coaching relationship and guide each session according to the needs of that particular client.
Your Team Roles as coach: the lightbulb moment
Belbin’s Managing Partner, Jo Keeler, recently spoke to the SDF Coaching SIG. She began by talking about the importance for coaches of taking the time to ‘sharpen the saw’ and reflect on how their own behaviours influence their coaching practice.
For example, a coach with Plant behaviours (a creative, free-thinking person) might speak in terms of ideas and creative problem-solving. A Shaper-Implementer coach is likely to be more goal-focused, talking in terms of achievement, targets and plans to improve efficiency.
Awareness of our own tendencies can help us to examine our unique strengths as coaches, and to be aware of areas where we might need to adapt our approach.
Jo described a ‘lightbulb moment’ where one coach suddenly understood why he focused on some issues more than others in coaching sessions, explored them in a particular way, and how this might lead clients down a particular path.
Your client’s Team Roles: tailoring the coaching experience
In order to be as effective as possible in the role of coach, it is crucial to adapt our own behaviours to meet those of the client. In some cases, this might be reflecting the client’s Team Roles when phrasing a question.
For example, Resource Investigators are inquisitive and outgoing – they love to meet new people and discover interesting opportunities. In their excitement, they can be expedient and neglect to leave others airtime.
Monitor Evaluators, by contrast, are immune to enthusiasm and can even be accused of dampening enthusiasm. Circumspect and discerning, they always remain impartial and take time to deliberate and consider. As a result, they rarely take a wrong decision.
A coach with Resource Investigator strengths might struggle to build a rapport with a Monitor Evaluator client. The client is likely to be sceptical, questioning the precepts and value of coaching itself, and asking for proof of its efficacy in improving performance. If there is ‘buy-in’, the session will tend towards length discussions and elaborate strategies. By contrast, the same coach working with a competitive, driven and impatient Shaper is likely to find the coaching conversation fast-paced and goal-focused, resulting in a series of action points.
A practical, efficient Implementer requires a clear process, whereas a creative Plant might prefer an open-ended, thought-provoking investigation. So, we might ask the strong Implementer: “What plans can we put in place to help you work more effectively? What’s our metric for checking our progress?” By contrast, we might ask the person with predominant Plant behaviours: “What ideas do you have on increasing your effectiveness in this area? Let’s brainstorm some ideas.” The question is essentially the same, but the phrasing of it can break down barriers and help the client to access your meaning and intent more easily.
Then it’s the coach’s responsibility to use their own Team Roles to best advantage. With the Plant client, this might mean showing enthusiasm for new ideas and helping to develop them. For the Implementer, who might be stuck in considering existing processes, this might mean bringing in new ideas which help the client gain a more rounded perspective.
The bigger picture
Each person – client and coach included – is more than a Team Role. We each have a number of top Team Roles – behaviours which come fairly naturally to us, and upon which we can call when needed.
This is great news, because it increases our chances of being able to adapt to meet our clients’ needs, whilst retaining our authenticity as coaches. We are experts at adapting our behaviour to suit the needs of a situation (the library vs. the football pitch). And when we understand our Team Roles, we can make similar adaptations to the way we coach, whilst maintaining our own authentic style.
The same coach with Resource Investigator strengths might find these entirely incompatible with a strong Completer Finisher – an individual who prizes accuracy and attention to detail. These roles are opposites and – in a team – can come into conflict, with one regarded as fussy and splitting hairs, and the other flighty and neglecting to follow up on important points.
But if the coach can bring a secondary role to the fore – the Co-ordinator, for example – then the relationship is likely to be more productive. The Co-ordinator takes a mature approach, identifying and bringing together talents and listening to different points of view, in order to facilitate decision-making. The coach will need to make a conscious effort to adopt the role, sitting back to listen and guide, and perhaps reining in enthusiasm and the urge to suggest new ideas.
Team Roles: the deep dive
Belbin Team Roles are a simple concept, backed by a sophisticated methodology. Discovering your own Team Roles and those of the person you’re working with (via the Belbin Reports) and building rapport is only the first step.
After this, you have a powerful tool with which to unlock your client’s thinking about their work, professional relationships and ambitions.
About the author – Victoria Brown is head of Research & Development at Belbin HQ.