Team Building and Development Using Experiential Learning and The Belbin Model

Corporate team building clients are expecting better results from increasingly shorter program durations, and so "quality" definitely beats "quantity" when it comes to obtaining the best results.

With this in mind, its no longer good enough to just copy a reality TV show format (eg and Amazing Race or Cooking Show) and just hope for the best.

Since the late 1970's and early 1980's the Belbin Team Role Model has been refined and developed as a highly effective diagnostic tool for team and leadership behavioral clusters.

The Belbin Team Role Model features 9 major clusters of behavior that define contributions being made to a team. Each also brings with it an associated fatigue that serves as a natural "flip-side" to the strengths being contributed by the Role. These are quite nicely referred to by Belbin as the "Allowable Weaknesses".

The beauty of this model is its use of simple language and clearly recognizable descriptors of behaviors that we see in ourselves and in our workmates on a daily basis. It's therefore quick and easy for us to use as a great tool for establishing the culture and potential strengths and weaknesses of any team that we are working with.

Thus by measuring and working with observed behaviors, we are clearly able to define and improve what actually "makes a team tick" during the team building and development process.

This in turn enables us to target very effectively the client's stated aims and objectives (assuming they are realistic) in shorter time frames. To understand beforehand what strengths and also behavioral biases may exist within a team (particularly a leadership team), is to be both "forewarned" and "forearmed" for quality program design.

As team building and development professionals we can make use of good diagnostic tools like Belbin to approach each client's needs afresh, but with the solid foundation of empirical analysis of their team dynamics to back up our own experience, intuitions and established approaches.

We can select exactly the right business game, team simulation or team building initiative task to target and draw out the desired behaviors for subsequent de-brief and review. The activity is then purely a "Trojan Horse" if you like the team to fall into the trap of doing what they usually do, but in a novel environment with no safety net of their usual functional roles or titles to hide behind.

This is a far cry from "old school team building" where teams rotate through a series of team challenges or simplistic team building games that are always the same formula, and it is just hoped and assumed that the required clusters of behavior may emerge.

In reality, whilst activities must be novel and outside of the participant's normal experience base, they also need to mirror the complexity of the team's normal decision-making and execution cycles to bring out the required "stuff".

True "experiential learning" is only valid if the best and worst of their observable workplace behaviors are triggered to enable targeted review and process of key learning points.

The tricky bit is taking the next steps and obtaining commitments from leaders and teams to actually follow through on the learning points and ensure that strengths are re-enforced and observed weaknesses are worked upon.

This is where the right profiling tool (we favor Belbin), the right team building activities and simulations need to be backed up with highly skilled facilitation to ensure that the elements are blended to obtain the results the client is paying for.