Teamwork; we’ve all heard of it, whether from our extra-curricular societies or formal leadership training camps. We’ve even seen it in movies. But my experience is that it was never something formally taught in school until I came to university. Despite that, I’ve found that by the time most of us arrive at tertiary institutes, we’re already experts when it comes to maintaining the harmony within the teams which we are assigned.
The better question would be, “is that enough?” But before we get into that, let’s examine the whys of this phenomenon.
A very big factor is culture. Asian culture leans heavily on the adherence towards hierarchy and the conformity towards authority figures. As children, we are taught to obey and not challenge others. As we grew and began interacting more with our peers, we are taught to play nice. As young adults, we are asked to integrate ourselves into the status quo.
We Malaysians take this a bit further. As a multi-racial and multi-cultural society, it is a given that we are expected to respect the differences of our fellows. It is a taboo to speak of sensitive (some more sensitive than others) issues publicly. Some of us are even forbidden by law to utter or write certain words or phrases that might result in civil unrest. With all these constraints, it’s no surprise that the adults living within the society teach meekness as a virtue to their young. Conformity and submissiveness then become the inadvertent traits we pass on from one to another.
It isn’t so much that a team comprising of mostly (read as “all”) Team Workers cannot function effectively. However, a team for any project can be so much more than just a group of people trying to get along. Meredith Belbin, the creator of this method found that teams comprising of too many Team Workers had a tendency to become indecisive whenever tough decisions had to be made.
While Team Workers have a tendency towards being passive, the other eight profiles possess are naturally aggressive towards their respective strengths. These profiles are Plant, Shaper, Monitor Evaluator, Resource Instigator, Complete Finisher, Implementer and Specialist. Plants are progressive individuals – among the rarest in number – who value innovation and creativity. These are individuals who are not afraid to question what is generally perceived as “right” and “normal” and “true”. Shapers are identified by their tenacity towards driving their teams and getting things done. Resource instigators are experts when it comes to making and utilizing contacts; something that is frequently frowned upon in the context of friendship but is nevertheless a necessary component in any team.
To clarify, I am not saying that any one role is more valuable or “better” in any way than the others. There are two lessons I have come to learn when taking Belbin Tests. One, for every strength that a given personality has there is an allowable weakness. For example, the Team Worker is supportive but that also causes him or her to be indecisive. Knowing this allows us to be a little more forgiving towards ourselves. Shapers possess a strong sense of assertiveness but they also tend to become bad tempered very quickly. In addition, being aware of these allowable weaknesses and being able to spot them as we go about our project also gives us the ability to do something about it.
This leads me to lesson number two: Belbin roles may change with time and according to projects and this change isn’t random. What this means is that we have the ability to shape ourselves into any role. What that means is that each of us has the ability to understand the characteristics that are lacking in our teams and adapt ourselves to compensate for them.
The reason I believe being Team Worker is not enough is that we have a much greater capacity then to simply get along. We can strive to make things better. In the context of our family unit and our society – which can, to a certain extent, be viewed as teams which we are a part of – there is so much more we can contribute than just conform and keep the peace. If only we are willing to step away from the temptation to conform whenever the need arises.
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