Build a Better Team Part 1: Belbin's Action Oriented Roles, and the Myers-Briggs Personalities Best Suited to Fill Them

Have you ever worked with a team in which everyone just seems to be on the ball, tasks got done on time, and the entire project was just a pleasure to see to its end? Or have you ever worked with a team in which every member is quite talented, morale is high, and all the elements needed to succeed are there, and yet nothing seemed to get done?

Though team leaders and managers usually try to hire the most qualified people they can find for a task, simply having highly educated or talented team members isn’t a guarantee that the project will be a success. But why is it that even when all the team members have all the skills required for the task, the team isn’t guaranteed to perform as well as it should?

What are the Belbin roles?

This question has plagued team leaders and managers for decades and continues to do so in companies all over the world. Dr. Meredith Belbin, a British researcher and management theorist, attempted to tackle this question at Henley Management College in the 1970’s. Over a period of 10 years, Dr. Belbin conducted extensive research on work teams and management in order to determine which factors influenced team failure and success.

Dr. Belbin began his experiments by dividing teams on the basis of their intellectual capacity. He predicted that highly intellectual teams would perform better overall than lower intellect ones. And yet, that’s not what the results showed. Sometimes those intellectual groups would perform well, and sometimes they were outperformed.

The doctor then decided to try different arrangements, based on other factors such as work ethic, personality and behavioral preferences. And after many iterations, he discovered that the best performing teams were those that had a balance of different ranges in behaviors, roles, and approaches to problem solving from its members.

Dr. Belbin was able to identify nine separate clusters of behaviour that he called “roles”. These roles are divided into three groups: action oriented roles, people oriented roles and thought oriented roles. Each of these have specific strengths, as well as so-called “allowable” weaknesses, both of which balance other roles in a team environment.

Today, Belbin’s model is used in over 40 percent of the top 100 companies in the UK, the United Nations, the World Bank, and countless other organizations all around the world.

How are those nine roles evaluated?

Belbin’s Team Roles are assigned by means of an assessment somewhat reminiscent of the Myers-Briggs personality model. Its participants take self-directed assessment, as well as one that involves other participants. By combining both assessments, the results avoid personal biases, or intentional attempts to reshape one’s own role.

However, just because there are nine roles it doesn’t necessarily mean that a team needs at least nine people. Individuals could adopt more than one role if needed. The problem arises when too many team members fall under similar roles. This could cause the entire team to have similar weaknesses, and no way to overcome them.

While Dr. Belbin clarified that these team roles are not equivalent to personality types as defined by the 16-type personality system  and other models, there’s quite a lot of overlap between roles and personality types.

Knowing this, a team leader can combine both models to build a better team, ensure that necessary team roles are covered, and that potential behavioral tensions or intra-team weaknesses addressed.

In this article, we will consider the three action oriented roles.

Shapers (SH)

Shapers are goal-driven individuals that pursue their objectives with enthusiasm and ambition. For Shapers winning (whatever it may mean on a particular project) is paramount, and they will push themselves to overcome obstacles through sheer willpower and determination. Due to their ambition, competitiveness and drive to succeed, Shapers are constantly climbing the corporate ladder, and impress others with their fearless and decisive leadership style.

Shapers generally make excellent managers, since they like to push others to take positive action and generally thrive under pressure. Shapers often shine when quick and decisive action is needed to overcome obstacles, and when objectives aren’t being met quickly enough. They are the team role most likely to see obstacles as exciting challenges, and they’re usually the ones that stick around even when others feel like quitting.

On the other hand, a Shaper’s dynamism can easily be interpreted as aggression, and overzealous behavior by their teammates. Shapers can also fall into the trap of viewing their own actions with tunnel vision, and can be quite argumentative with others that disagree with their point of view. As a result, it’s easy for Shapers to offend other team members.

Due to their highly energetic and thrill-seeking personality, ESTPs are a great fit for Shapers. ESTPs love being the center of attention, and often throw themselves at challenges without hesitation. That’s not to say that they aren’t smart, nor capable of mature thought. Instead, they view regimented, overly clinical analysis as too far removed from real life, and prefer to get rolling and learn on the job.

ENTJs also make good Shapers due to their natural charisma, confidence and ability to project authority in a positive way. Their determination also ensures that they would see a task to its end, even if others were to give up. But unlike ESTPs, ENTJs have a greater appreciation for rationality and planning.

ESTJs can also fulfill the role of Shaper, due to their ability to lead by example, but they struggle a bit with adopting new ways of doing things.

Implementers (IMP)

Implementers, like their name suggests, are the people that get things done. IMPs are characterized by their no-nonsense approach towards their tasks, as well as their unusually high levels of self-control and strong work ethic. IMPs are quite efficient and reliable, and ensure that work is done in a systematic manner. IMPs are quite loyal to the team or company and would often accept tasks that the rest of the team dislike, and would rather avoid. They are not typically seen as people looking to fulfill personal agendas, self-aggrandizing or rising up by pulling people down.

IMPs are essential to the success of any team due to their reliability and readiness to apply procedures. And their ability to focus on what’s relevant and feasible helps any team to stay grounded.

IMPs prefer tried-and-true ideas and methods, rather than the newest and most cutting edge ones. At times though, they may give off the image of being closed-minded and inflexible, especially if those deviations threaten their well-established practices, or have the potential to compromise their efficiency.

Due to their integrity, logical thinking and tireless dedication to their duties, ISTJs make great IMPs. ISTJs enjoy taking responsibility for their actions, and love to uphold traditional values, rules and standards. They don’t like to make assumptions, but rather prefer to focus on what is in front of them and arrive to practical courses of action.

Because of their no-nonsense approach to life, their respect for honest and hard work, and ability to lead by example, ESTJs also make great IMPs.

The ISFJs meticulousness, reasonable reliability, humility and dedication makes them great IMPs as well.

Completer-finishers (CF)

CFs are perfectionists by nature. Their attention to detail, willingness to go the extra mile, and fix errors (however small) means that every team needs a CF.

CFs are often quite introverted, and require less interaction with others than most people. And yet, because of their strong inborn need for accuracy and order, they can be expected to finish tasks on time. In fact, CFs are not likely to start a task they cannot finish, because part of their internal motivation is fear of failure.

CFs are best implemented on tasks that require close concentration and high accuracy. They can also be deployed at the end of a project in order to provide quality control, and search for errors.

On the other hand, CFs can be frustrating to deal with due to their insistence on worrying about the smallest of details. In fact they have a tendency to place their own standards of perfection on teammates. CFs are also famously bad at delegating tasks to other team mates, even if they are perfectly capable of handling them.

Because of their insightful power of observation, capacity for original thought, and the will power needed to present and defend their point of views, ISTPs make great CFs. Though ISTPs don’t usually shine in social settings, their natural confidence does not paralyze them from giving their informed opinion, and point out mistakes they can find in any given argument, or project.

INTJs ability to look beyond the established norms, and ability to analyze plans from all possible points of view make them a good candidate for CFs, too.

ISTJs’ sharp mind, ability (and preference) to work alone, and high emphasis on calling things as they are in a logical manner also make them good candidates for CFs.

So there you have it; the overlap between the Myers and Briggs system and Belbin’s action-oriented team roles. Tune in next week when we’ll be taking a closer look at the people oriented and thought oriented roles.  

Misael Lizarraga

Misael is a content writer with a passion for economics, art, and linguistics. When he isn't trying to learn a new skill, he can be found behind a good sci-fi novel, or working on a DIY project. Misael is also a strong supporter of lifelong education and an unapologetic INTP. His goal as a writer is to help readers adopt and maintain an entrepreneur mindset, and embrace the growing pains of personal growth. You can find more of his work at


Anne H (not verified) says...

Two fundamental problems with this concept:
1. MBTI is not reliable in the sense that statisticians and researchers mean the word: there is a high rate of people having a different "personality type" if they take the test again 6 months or a year later. 
2. In the real workplaces I've been in, there is zero value of knowing anyone's "type", as job roles and titles are not based on types, and people are not assigned organizational roles based on Belbin roles. 

Unless everyone has to take the MBTI every year, and have all coworkers know everyone else's type from their most recent test, and then have HR make sure teams are made up of the right mix of Belbin action roles, all this stuff is is nice fodder for blog posts. 

Conor C (not verified) says...

Respectfully, though I agree that typing is an ongoing process and susceptible to bias confirmation, the value of typing in the office has to do with communication and work style.  Granted, one can determine these details without typing, but identifying type establishes a pretty solid framework for analysis.  For example, identifying a co-worker with whom I am regularly engaged as an ISTJ, I became aware of the need for "just the facts."  His propensity to take on side tasks and help everyone out became more understandable, as well, and has helped me to redirect that energy when I sense it coming on in a way that would be unproductive.


Ian Jenner (not verified) says...

Good to take a look at the British Psychological Society Test Review, December 2018

I'm FiNe (not verified) says...

It's interesting that apart from ISFJs as potential impelmenters, no other Feeler type fits the Belbin least not in the 3 (action oriented) roles of this article.

Ian Jenner (not verified) says...

Thank you an interesting blog in which you explore type and belbin.

Good to check out reliability and validity claims before dismissing this blog.

Interesting to see that emails are not optional

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