Using Belbin team roles to support virtual working

Working virtually, in a rapidly-changing environment, is challenging. But if team members are aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, this can help. Jo Keeler explains how Belbin team roles can support everyone to work together more effectively. 


Here are some tips for managing teams while working from home. I’ve simplified things a bit – we all have more than one team role strength, and the way our preferred roles interact present nuances in our working styles. These tips are a starting point to think about when communicating virtually with members of your team.

Plant Team Role:

  • Leave them to it… up to a point. Plants prefer to work alone
  • Give them questions and problems to solve, and plenty of encouragement
  • Managers should check in gently, to see if they are still on-track. Their attention may have wandered if a new idea has piqued their interest
  • Expect a slower response via email as they are probably engrossed in problem-solving

Remember: A Plant can be sensitive to criticism of their ideas, so if you are a high Shaper, Implementer or Monitor Evaluator, try and adopt a less task-focused or critical approach. Allow them space to communicate.

Teamworker Team Role:

  • Give them a role that enables them to keep in touch with the rest of the team. They will be the first ones to tell you when someone else has a problem
  • Keep in touch with them by phone calls. Set aside time to talk to them about more than just work

Perhaps they could instigate a short social chat online? Whilst teams might be tempted to skip social time when the pressure is on, remember that it is key to maintaining trust and communication in these unusual circumstances.

Specialist Team Role:

  • Ensure that they are given an area of research they can delve into. But, don’t forget to check in – you’ll want to disseminate any salient findings to the rest of the team.
  • Communication via email is probably best, but ensure that you ask very specific questions to minimise the probability of receiving information overload in return

Completer Finisher Team Role:

  • Provide clarity around priorities and deadlines
  • Check in on a regular basis, since they aren’t the most effective delegators or time-managers
  • Ask the Teamworker to keep an eye on them. Completer Finishers tend to experience high anxiety levels

Top tip: There may be a tendency for the rest of the team to overload the Completer Finisher with work. Along the lines of ‘Could you just check this through for me?’ This could cause problems, so ensure that everyone is aware of the ground rules in this regard.

Resource Investigator Team Role:

  • Encourage regular check-ins, but don’t press for too much detail. With events and meetings cancelled, there’s a risk they might find themselves at a loose end or go completely off the radar 
  • Talk to a Resource Investigator via phone or Skype call

Remember: Resource Investigators are often over-talkative and may not let the rest of the team get a word in. Without the social cues on which we rely when we share the same space, a manager needs to be firm.

Implementer Team Role:

  • Give them responsibility for organising new processes or a task that will appeal to their practical sense
  • Keep in touch via email. Their manager should put together a spreadsheet to talk through.

Shaper team role:

  • Make sure that you keep your promises and respond in a timely fashion. The Resource Investigator is the best to deal with the Shaper behaviour in this situation – why not give them a joint project?
  • Make sure shapers are aware of boundaries and etiquette in their contact with others. Shapers may start using all available means to contact the team, which may be overwhelming for others.

Monitor Evaluator Team Role:

  • Keep in touch with a Monitor Evaluator, they will be excited to share insights with their manager
  • Managers shouldn’t ignore their advice. Although Monitor Evaluators may not give the answers you want, they are usually the answers you need

Co-ordinator Team Role:

  • Ensure they don’t take advantage and delegate more than their fair share
  • Regular contact via email and phone is required to motivate this team member
  • Give them the role of chair in any virtual meetings. They will be best at allowing any arising difficulties to be aired and resolved
  • Ask them to insert a sense of perspective if things start spiralling. Their calm and confident manner can also help to quell any rising panic that may occur

The ties that bind
In order to operate effectively in challenging and rapidly-changing environments, team members need to be aware of their own, and each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so they know who to call on, and where and how to make allowances for one another. Share this information with your teams to allow for further growth and understanding.


Sarah Burrell

About Jo Keeler

Jo Keeler leads strategic and operational activities building the global Belbin brand – the well-known theory and tool that helps individuals and teams reach their potential in the workplace. Jo is also an international speaker, presenting research and findings on most team related subjects. She has recently worked with the Institute of Leadership and Management by contributing to their Leadership of, and for, the future series of conferences and is a regular guest lecturer at various universities both in the UK and abroad.

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