Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Belbin rocks and roles

Henley has been looking back to look forward. The research into and publication of a new book called "Henley and the Unfinished Management Revolution" (I keep thinking this sounds like a synth-pop band from the 1980s), coupled with a whole set of changes in curriculum, faculty orientation and operational structure have meant we are now very conscious of the heritage of the past 60 years.

Yesterday part of that history visited us in the person of Professor Meredith Belbin, the 'father of team roles' (his own web site's description of him). Belbin is a man of huge standing. Literally as well as figuratively, as he is very tall. He was attending as a speaker at the launch of the Henley history book.

I wanted to see him in action, and I wasn't disappointed. He spoke quietly and without notes. He began recounting stories of the early years of experimentation with teams at Henley and as he got into his stride he became more and more professorial, placing both hands gripping high on his jacket lapels. With evident dynamism for his topic, he took us through his own development in thinking - paying frequent tribute to others, including family - on teamwork, the nature of work and job roles, ending on the evolution of human behaviour and the effect of that on modern organisations.

I know it's not new, but it was my first introduction to the use of colours to talk about assigning tasks and roles at work along the axes of a] task vs. responsibilities and b] individual vs. shared. The resulting 2 x 2 matrix has each cell coloured (Blue: structured work (individual tasks), Green: reactive work (shared tasks), Yellow; decision work (individual responsibilities), and Orange; collaborative work (shared responsibilities). The misallocation of work (and cause of much kerfuffle, I see) is represented by two more colours. Pink (imaginary work) for work performed and not needed [meetings, meetings!] and Black (the black hole of disownership) for work needed and not performed.

Meredith Belbin is now 81. The day before the Belbin talk, I was in the College restaurant dining with Intake 34 on their final workshop day. At a neighboring table there was a group of elderly people, also enjoying lunch. One of their number a man aged 85, appeared to slump to one side, and it emerged that he had suffered a stroke. We gathered round to assist and an ambulance was called and as we waited, tending, we learnt that he was a former professor at Henley, and had served as Assistant Principal at one time. It is the tragedy of life that the longer we live it, the more we are able to reflect on it and understand, yet the less of it remains for us to enjoy that wisdom and understanding. I sincerely hope to hear Dr Belbin speak here again.

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