Formal and General Team Roles

The first thought when a team is being assembled is normally given to the functional or technical skills required.  From that requirement individuals are identified and recruited. However, meeting the needs of the Formal and General team roles are perhaps less obvious but are just as important.

The required capabilities to fulfil these roles concern the character of the team members in terms of how they function within a team and interact with others.  They cover aspects such as administration, facilitation, creativity, problem solving, coordinating, attention to detail, ability to see the “big-picture” and so on. They make a big difference to how a team functions.  They are more about aptitudes, personal preferences and the source of one’s job satisfaction than technical skills and are reflected in the roles individuals play in a team. Meredith Belbin calls them “Team Roles”.

Opening Reflections

At a simple level a project has a beginning, middle and end. At the beginning the desired outcome has to be identified and the requirements for achieving the outcome need to be determined. In the middle someone has to convert those requirements into an outline solution. In the last phase that solution has to be implemented and delivered.

Take a Moment:

  • Consider the life-cycle of a project. Pick a real one if you can.
    • What are the stages of that project?
    • What natural characteristics (e.g. problem solving, planning) and job preferences (i.e. tasks people enjoy doing) are required amongst the team members at each stage?

Team Member Characteristics

The Christ-centred servant leader’s goal is to enable those whom he or she leads to fulfil their full potential. As we have just been considering, the ability of a team achieve its purpose is dependent upon the ability of the team to collaborate effectively. Effective collaboration means the team has to be well formed. Between them all, the team members have to provide all the necessary skills and capabilities to achieve their common goal. In addition to having the right technical and functional expertise the leader needs to consider each team member’s characteristics as they assemble their team.

To grasp why this is important just consider a team that consists only of people who can come up with original and creative ideas but no-one who can turn those ideas into reality. How would the team achieve its purpose? If they cannot achieve their purpose then the Christ-centred servant leader’s goal, that each individual team member achieve their full potential, cannot be achieved.

We will consider two models of team member characteristics that help when considering formal and general team roles. We will look at these with the aim of giving insight into this aspect of team building.

  • The first is the Team Dimensions model researched and formulated by Inscape Publishing.
  • The other is the Belbin Team Roles model researched and formulated by Meredith Belbin.

The Team Dimension Model

Underpinning this model is a concept of how a team works. Effectively this is the high level process that the team follows to devise an idea and bring it to reality. Inscape’s research identifies four core team member types that are required for that team to be successful.

The Team Process

The team process is referred to as the “Z-process” simply because of how it is represented diagrammatically against the process elements and team dimension types.  The naming convention used makes correspondence between these two views clear. The “Z-Process” follows the following steps, each focusing on a particular action.

Focus on Possibilities – Creating

At the outset a team is faced with a challenge and seeks to devise a creative and innovative solution.  In this Creating stage the team focuses on the challenge and the solution possibilities and so new ideas emerge. This can be a very conceptual stage full of creative ideas many of which may not prove to be credible. It may well cause immense frustration for team members who are more pragmatic. (In the last module of the programme we look more at the challenge of creative thinking and problem solving.)

Focus on Interaction – Advancing

The Advancing stage is about moving ideas on and so interaction between team members is the focus in order to benefit from the team’s collective wisdom and abilities. The value of the idea is developed as the contribution made by each team member emerges. The credible, preferred solution or solutions are advanced to the next stage.

Focus on Analysis – Refining

In the Refining stage the key word is analysis. The team scrutinises, modifies and improves potential solutions selecting the best way forward. The goal is to test that the idea is realistic and identify and pre-empt issues that might emerge later in the process. Detailed implementation plans are worked out and established.

Focus on Realities – Executing

Having devised and refined the ideas and developed the implementation plan now comes the Executing stage. This stage is about bringing the plans to fruition, making ideas a reality.  This is achieved through the implementation of well thought out and considered plans and processes.

Team Member Types

Each stage of the “Z-Process” requires team members with particular characteristics in order for the team to be successful. We look at the four main types plus an additional type. It is most likely that any given individual will be a blend of types.

The Creator Type

Creator types tend to be spontaneous, conceptual thinkers. They understand the big picture and seek to generate innovative solutions to the problem. These are solutions that are different and tend to be beyond traditional, tried and test thinking.

They tend to want freedom from constraint and can act impulsively as they let feelings guide them. They gain satisfaction from the process of creating new concepts and ideas and overcoming problems. Once this process is completed and everything is in place they may become restless and want to start the next new thing.


Creators will contribute innovative ideas and concepts which by definition are not the obvious solution.


Creator types enjoy generating ideas and so they may move quickly form one idea to another and can lose sight of the objective. They become less helpful as the team moves through the Z-process, unless of course a problem emerges. Then they will love to solve it.

The Advancer Type

The Advancer will take ideas while they are still undeveloped and work out how to advance them, that is make them real. They work out and plan how to implement ideas using insight based on past experience. They may be sceptical of new ideas at first but if the ideas become the norm for the team then they are happy to work with them.

Their satisfaction derives from creating a sense of purpose in the team which they will promote with single-minded determination. They desire to achieve objectives by the best and most direct means. This may mean that they may advocate a path that drives through the normal rules and boundaries. They can focus on multiple ideas and switch between them rapidly. Respect and influence are important to them.


They are energetic when it comes to promoting team objectives and recognise the value of a new idea and seek to actively carry it forward:


When working with very conceptual people, without the balance brought by other team member types, they can press on with the implementation of concepts that are not fully matured and ready for implementation, ignoring barriers that need to be addressed.

The Refiner Type

Refiners challenge the concepts and ideas under discussion. They seek to plan how to implement new ideas and identify and pre-empt potential risks. They seek to create order from “chaos” by improving the implementation process.

They probe and challenge ideas to try to improve them and prefer order and being methodical.


The Refiner makes sure that a concept is thought trough. Considering how to improve and implement it.


The refiner tends to be risk averse and so will influence the team to filter out higher risk/higher gain solutions.

The Executor Type

The executor is a methodical, detail orientated person who follows up on team objectives by adopting orderly and methodical implementation processes. They prefer the proven over the innovative and will not be particularly interested in discussion about such things. They tend to be cautious about new approaches and like to think things over carefully.


Executors are good at spotting problems in advance and minimise inefficiencies and errors during implementation.


Without clear objectives or guidelines they can lose sight of the goal and go off track.

The Flexer Type

The Flexer is an additional type, so called because they are flexible. They have the ability to step into any of the other roles. They monitor what is happening and will step in to ensure that things stay on track.


They objectively view the activities of the team to identify gaps and will step in to keep things moving along.


Without a clearly defined and specific role a Flexer can be overlooked by other team members who are committed to their own role in the process.

Belbin Team Roles

Belbin’s team roles again emerge from research but have a slightly different perspective. In the Belbin model they are called team roles. Nine different roles have been identified. You can learn more about Belbin team types at the Belbin website – or from Meredith Belbin’s book “Team Roles at Work ” published by Elsevier Butterworth-Heinmann.

Belbin Team Roles

As we summarise Belbin’s team roles you will see degrees of correspondence with Inscape’s view of team member types. Belbin’s research shows that individuals have a preference for one or other of the roles but their character will also reflect other roles. This means that, if called upon, each team member can operate in more than one way in a team. If that were not the case the minimum team size would be nine people, one of fulfilling each role.


The Plant is the creative. Imaginative and innovative problem solver. They have a tendency to ignore details and may be poor communicators.

Resource Investigator

The Resource Investigator explores opportunities. They tend to be extrovert and enthusiastic. They communicate well and are good networkers. They can be over optimistic and can lose interest once their enthusiasm has declined.


Co-ordinators are just that. They co-ordinate and as such they are good chairpersons, clarifying goals and facilitating decision making. They are good at delegation but others may perceive them as manipulative and it’s not unknown for them to delegate their personal work.


The Shaper challenges thinking, ideas and approaches. They find ways to overcome problems and enjoy pressure. Their challenging of others can be provocative and they can hurt people’s feelings.

Monitor Evaluator

The Monitor Evaluator makes shrewd judgements taking all factors into account. They tend to be sober, strategic thinkers who take time to think things through. They can be overly critical and seem to lack drive and ability to inspire.

Team Worker

Team Workers have a lubricating effect on a team helping the team avoid friction; they calm troubled waters. They tend to be mild people and are co-operative and diplomatic. However they can be indecisive when decisions need to be made and can be easily influenced.


Implementers are the folk who turn ideas into practical outcomes. They tend to be disciplined, efficient and reliable if somewhat conservative and inflexible. They can be slow to respond to new ideas.


Completers are the people who follow things through to completion. They are painstaking and conscientious, finding the things that are wrong so they can be resolved. They tend to worry a lot, and can become “nit-pickers” – over-anxious about the correctness of small details. They find it hard to delegate.


Specialists are just that, specialist in specific areas of skill or knowledge. They are self-starting and can be single minded because of their specialisation, which is often in scarce supply. They typically only contribute in a narrow area and often they have trouble grasping the big picture.

Team Make-up

When building, extending and developing teams, or replacing personnel, we have seen that two areas of skill need to be considered.  The technical or functional capabilities and the Team Role of a person.  To be effective a team needs the correct mix of people in both these categories.  Inscape’s Team Dimensions and Belbin’s team roles are helpful in addressing these team capabilities. Gaps in these means that a team is unable to function effectively and will thus be unable to achieve the level of collaboration required to be highly effective; the desired synergy will not be realised and the team may well fail.

Consider for a moment two scenarios: A team that is intended to be an ideas factory, their role is to create new ideas and another team whose role is to implement ideas. For instance, consider an architect’s practice and a builder:

  • The Architect

The architect devises concepts for buildings and turns them into plans. A team of architects provides a technical service with specific skills but they need to be highly creative. Even preparing the drawings they deliver in execution mode has a strong creative element.  So using the simplicity of the Team Dimensions model one would expect to see more Creators and Advancers in an architects practice than Refiners and Executors. Some Refiners and Executors would be needed but only to enable the plans to be delivered.

  • The Builder

The builder is charged with building the creation of the architect. They start with the provided plans but they are not required to be incredibly creative. Any creativity will focus on the area of processes and planning techniques, but this is not their main area.  Their team would be biased towards Refiners and Executors.

Team Relationships

Team roles give insight into team members’ character and personality; why they behave as they do. They are tools that enhance both self-awareness and awareness of others. These are two key elements of emotional intelligence which allow team members to assess the workings of their relationships with others. They enable them to adjust their expectations and their behaviour towards others in order to work together collaboratively.

Using Belbin’s model, consider Sam who is a Plant, he loves generating new ideas. He is conceptual and not too worried about details. How would Ray, who is an Implementer, react to him? An Implementer brings about practical results but can be conservative, inflexible and slow to respond to new ideas.  One could easily imagine a that Sam and Ray don’t get on at all, often arguing over finding more imaginative solutions or just getting on with it.

An understanding of the team roles of team members can be very helpful to the leader and team members as they seek to build solid relationships and work well together.

Understanding the Team Roles of your Team

If you know people, with a little thought, you can have a good idea about their preferred team role. However, because you only see their dominant characteristics you will probably not perceive their secondary role capabilities. Also if you are building a team from scratch it is quite likely that you will have only limited, often very limited, understanding of the individuals concerned. So the question arises, how can you understand where an individual fits into the categories we have listed?

Both Team Dimensions and Belbin roles can be assessed using Inscape’s Team Dimensions Profile and the Belbin Team Role Reports. These are available on-line but we advise against using these tools without expert assistance. In unskilled hands, with little understanding of the background to these tools, inappropriate conclusions can be drawn. These can be harmful to the individuals concerned and the team that is in view. If you want to know more about these then please contact One Another Ministries using the email address or phone number provided on the Academy web site.


Take  A Moment:

  • Consider the following combinations of Team Roles.  What kind of relationships do you think they would have and how might that work out?
    • Plant & Shaper
    • Resource Investigator & Implementer
    • Co-ordinator & Team Member
    • Completer & Specialist
    • Implementer & Completer
    • Implementer & Plant
    • Monitor-Evaluator & Plant

You may find it helpful to learn a little more about Belbin’s Team Roles form the information available at


Take  A Moment:

  • Consider your fellow team members:
    • What team roles can you identify amongst them?
  • Consider the process by which a team operates.
    • Does your team have all the necessary roles required to be able to function effectively?
  • What would you do to address any gaps?