Why Do Teams Fail, and Succeed?


Have you ever wondered why some teams are better in mind storming, while others succeed better in task execution? “What makes some teams succeed, and other fail?” is a question that was researched by many professors, businessmen and sociologists. The question attracted huge attention because of its obvious sequences on businesses, governments and society as a whole.

In the 1970s, Dr. Meredith Belbin was one of the researchers involved in answering this question. Dr. Belbin and his team of researchers, over the course of a decade, studied the behaviors and results of team work of several teams at the Henly Management College. Through simulation, students were put in decision making situations that emulate the real life, these students were selected while accounting to there skills, intellect, academic performance and other factors. As a result of his research, Dr. Belbin published his book “Management Teams – Why they succeed or fail” in 1981, with one very interesting conclusion: balance and difference, not individual intellect or skill, is what makes a successful, performing team.

According to Belbin, there are different roles that enforce themselves on team work, and that team members often take one of these roles. There are no bad or good roles, but the existence of them and their harmony and coordination in a team often results in the success or failure of teams.


These roles could be described as follows :

The Coordinator is like the chairman or the default manager of the team. He sets goals and objectives and sees the big picture. He sees everybody’s different abilities and organize them to achieve the objectives.

The Plant is the innovator and the source of creative ideas. He is the free thinker that everybody goes to when they want a solution to a difficult challenge.

The Shaper is the motivated task driven person. He will always engage in discussions in pursuit of goal achievement.

The Implementer is the loyal team player that turns the ideas and dreams into actions. He takes strategies and turns them into a well defined time-lined tasks.

The Evaluator is the analytical person who analyses all the discussions, tasks and goals, and stops the team from doing anything that would hurt them.

The Resource Investigator is the one that contacts external people and acquires external opportunities. He is the team’s sales person and public relations officer.

The Team Worker is the adaptive person that brings the team together especially in the times of great uncertainty and stress.

The Completer is the perfectionist that maintains a sense of urgency and makes sure that everything is completed according to specifications and time-line.

The Specialist is a person with a specific set of skills, usually the technical person or professional in the major field of the tasks objectives.

A Further Look

As we can note from the team roles suggested by Belbin, in order for any team to succeed, it must include team members that have complementary and synergistic set of skills. It goes without saying that no person can do everything alone, in the same way, no single person have the level of skills or capacity to excel in each role he is given, and here is where difference come in place. A team with the same people with same backgrounds and set of competencies, will most likely fail.

Further more, most of the modern and popular psychology and personality frameworks have been emphasizing the importance of understanding the behavior differences of each individual, which would result in differences in interaction or interpretation of behaviors between team members.

For example, DISC is the behavioral model based on the work of William Moulton Marston PhD (1893–1947). It has a four quadrant structure to examine the behavior of individuals in their environment or within a specific situation. It therefore focuses on the styles and preferences of such behavior.

DISC describes four distinctive personality types from which the name acronym comes from :

  1. Dominance, reflecting control and power.

  2. Influence, reflecting social communication.

  3. Steadiness, reflecting patience and persistence

  4. Conscientiousness, reflecting caution, structure and organization.

source: www.careerminds.com

It could be seen clearly how conflicts or team problems could arise from working with these different personality types, for example, D types are very good objective oriented managers, but they may be in conflict with their personnel, especially from the I type, who emphasizes on social relations more than numbers and goals.

Another example could be seen in the MBTI framework, Based on the theories of Carl Jung, Isabel Briggs-Myer and Cathrine Briggs developed a theory that categorizes individuals under one of sixteen different categories according to four attributes.

mbti dichotomies blank background

Each of these categories and types is considered distinctively different than the other ones with preferred patterns in perceiving the outside world. The four attributes that determine the differences of people are:

  • Energy

  • Information

  • Decision

  • Life style

This framework adds more insights about individuals that we should understand in designing our teams for success. For example, if we want to hire a sales representative, or a Belbin’s coordinator, we should look for a person with an extravert personality, as he/she will be more comfortable in dealing with people and in interacting socially. A Planet role should be given to a thinking type, while Sensing types are more suited to monitoring, and so on.

Understanding these things more would make us resolve conflicts quicker and more efficiently. We can recognize introvert team members may not be comfortable in socially interacting with the team as the extravert individuals are, we should notice how sensing type individuals may have a communication problem with Intuition type individuals.

In conclusion, understanding the dynamics and synergy factors of any team, along with the individual differences, would allow team leaders and managers in forming successful teams in businesses, NGOs and any other type of organization, making difference a real critical success factor.

Note: This article was first published in the January 2012 issue of the “Leaders Outlook” magazine, a publication by Talal AbuGhazaleh Graduate School of Business, Amman, Jordan. 

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