My Mother Is A Fish

by Quinn

…and I am a Plant. But a few years ago I was a Monitor Evaluator. So has the world changed or have I changed?

I’m talking about Belbin’s Team Roles, and for the second time in my life I have filled out one of their self-perception questionnaires that in theory indicates where I should ideally fit into a company or organisation. In short the questionnaire is divided into seven sections (eg.“What I believe I can contribute to a team”) and for each section you are given several different options that could apply to you (eg. “Producing ideas is one of my natural assets”, “I can work well with a very wide range of people” etc.). You must allocate 10 points to the possible answers in each section; say 7 points to the option that you feel strongly applies to you, 3 point to an option that you feel is only partially appropriate, and no points to those options that you don’t feel are relevant at all. By following the matrix at the back of the questionnaire you can then discover your ideal role in a team, be it a Shaper, a Co-ordinator, a Resource Investigator, and so on.

So I am a Plant, which apparently meant that I am “creative, imaginative, unorthodox”. Plants “solve difficult problems”. On the other hand I “ignore incidentals” and I am “too pre-occupied to communicate effectively”. A few years ago, however, on the previous occasion that I completed the questionnaire, I was a Monitor Evaluator, which means I was “sober, strategic and discerning”, I would “see all options” and “judge accurately”, but I would also “lack the drive and ability to inspire others”. So which is the real me?

Perhaps I have changed over the intervening years; more likely I suspect that if I were to take the test several times I would each time provide some slightly different responses and so produce a slightly different result. I am not saying the test is total bollocks – I reckon I will never get the results that elevate me to the level of a Resource Investigator (extrovert, enthusiastic, communicative, explores opportunities, develops contacts) or a Shaper (challenging, dynamic, thrives on pressure, the drive and courage to overcome obstacles), they don’t sound like me at all – but I reckon it is mainly bollocks, that’s all.

Because I just don’t know what the purpose of such a survey is, other than to make lots of money for Dr. Belbin. I know what it is meant to do; ideally the test should work out each individual’s attributes and where each employee fits into the team to assist management in arranging the right mix of talents, but does it? Shouldn’t managers be able to ascertain peoples’ abilities without relying on a test such as this? My boss gushed evangelically when she passed the test out, saying to each of us that when we discovered what our team role was we would be amazed at how closely it matched how we see ourselves; but this is hardly surprising when you consider it is a selfperception survey, and so you will be answering the questions as you think you are, which may or may not tally with reality. You may have zero leadership qualities, but if you think you are a great leader then you will answer the questions as if you are Alexander The Great; you will land yourself with a leadership team role according to Belbin, so confirming your own opinion of yourself. When you bear in mind that it is a self-perception survey it would be pretty weird if your Belbin role didn’t fit with your own self-image.

I am not casting aspersions upon Dr. Belbin’s credentials, I am sure he is eminently qualified, but what is to stop someone like myself without any training in the field coming up with my own test if I wanted to? I could create a management quiz where the answers people give would mean they are divided into, oh I don’t know, sheep, goats, wolves and aspidistras; but would it necessarily mean anything? In my case it would be about as scientific as one of those “Are you a chocoholic?” quizzes in Take A Break; but that needn’t prevent it being picked up by a certain type of manager and passed on to their undeserving staff.

And I am not saying that there is no role for management theory, there are probably nuggets of good advice in all management books, and from what I have read of Dr. Belbin he makes some pertinent points, but I think a lot of management is more about common sense than the burgeoning and lucrative management theory industry would like us to believe. Things are often much simpler than people would have us imagine; for example, when I worked in a call handing centre we underwent countless changes to our “opening salutation”, to the order and style in which we answered the calls according to the latest management fad. Ultimately, though, you can theorise to your heart’s content; the best way to provide a good service on the phone is to employ competent and polite people.

Everyone seems to want to build their part. When I was doing my economics degree I reckoned that here was a social science that fancied itself as being a natural science; then when I did a post-graduate diploma in marketing I was conscious that I was studying a management discipline that aspired to being a social science, like economics. The fact is that management is far more art than science; but I guess the arts don’t pay as well. You can’t really blame the likes of Dr. Belbin for trying; but you can question the people who lap up this sort of thing.