Role Reversal

belbinMeredith Belbin is an academic who has researched teamwork and produced a widely recognised model describing how people behave in teams. The model helps in understanding what is needed for a team to work. Our football team isn’t working well, what are the reasons? Are our backroom team working well? Is that affecting team performance? Can Belbin’s model tell us anything?

I went to the Club’s AGM this week. It’s a rare opportunity to see the Club’s board in action. I’m focussing on a very narrow element of the meeting, specifically what Barry Horne had to say. It was the first time I had heard him speak since he became the director responsible for football activities. He is a very important member of our backroom team, and since all parts of the club except football are doing fantastically well, he is the director in the spotlight.

Mr Horne was asked a question about the team’s poor performance. His answer was slightly vague with respect to Wilkin’s culpability, it certainly wasn’t a ringing endorsement, and he didn’t elaborate on whether he felt Wilkin had provided ‘reasons’ or ‘excuses’ for failure. He was asked whether the players on the Glyndwr University course might step up to the first team any time soon. His unequivocal reply was that Wilkin had failed on two occasions to use players from the course when the opportunity arose. For me his oddest response to a question was when asked if Wilkin had been responsible for the recruitment of Carl Darlington. His answer was “Kevin was delighted with the recruitment of Carl Darlington.” Not exactly an answer to the question posed. My final Horne surprise of the evening was that he said he went to Colliers Park to watch training ‘most days’.

I compared what I felt were the characteristics shown by our Football Director with the Belbin model. The model provides names for nine ‘team roles’ people adopt. When they are are assessed against the model they are usually given a primary and secondary team role that most strongly reflect their behaviour. One of the team roles has the name ‘Shaper’.

“Shaper – Strengths : Challenging, dynamic, thrives on pressure. Has the drive and courage to overcome obstacles. Weaknesses: Prone to provocation, offends peoples feelings.”

I once worked for a company who paid a consultant to do a Belbin analysis on all their managers and potential managers (including me). The consultant told me that all our senior management team had come out strongly as ‘Shapers’. The company had an incredibly high staff turnover and all the senior managers were sacked a year after the analysis, perhaps their team was a bit dysfunctional? Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher have been analysed as having strong ‘Shaper’ characteristics. Perhaps a bit closer to my target would be Roy Keane: A superb midfielder, fiercely strong character and not everyone’s cup of tea as a team player.

Snarling midfield hard man Tony Blair

Snarling midfield hard man Tony Blair

If I was Kevin Wilkin I wouldn’t want my boss, a former premiership hero, watching my every move, I’d want him to be there as a sounding board perhaps, and to recruit my targets. As a Board member the role is oversight, and recruitment of people to do a job. Our manager is paid to obtain results, and can be dismissed for failure. It is counterproductive and unfair on Wilkin for the Board to directly influence his work, or provide public commentary on his performance. If you doubt the folly of this approach then read up on Vladimir Romanov at Hearts.

I want our backroom team to support our manager. Belbin’s research shows us that a successful team needs a variety of attributes, and not all personal attributes contribute to team success. Kevin Wilkin has worked as a manager in a very successful team at Nuneaton. I hope that success is respected, and built on.

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