Belbin Shaper-Plants on Innovation Teams: My Way or the Highway
An innovation project team approached me last week, well into the solution development phase of the program:
“We’ve run into a bit of a crossroads with respect to defining the scope of our project. We’ve come up with 2 outlines (full details attached)…The group thinks that both ideas have merit; although the main focus of each project is quite different. Given that we haven’t been able to come to a consensus as a group, we were hoping to talk through both ideas with you on Monday.”
Both ideas aimed to get a set of products noticed in a crowded market. Some members of the team wanted the team to focus on developing an innovative distribution technology to distinguish the products from the overwhelming number of very similar products competing in a single channel. Other members wanted the team to focus more on improving the quality of the products while still recommending a new distribution technology. The relative merits of each are the subject of another post. For now I want to focus on what brought the team to the point of needing a third party to mediate.
In a previous post I gave an example of a Belbin Team Roles Shaper pulling a team together and setting it straight. Here is a contrasting example of how the allowable weaknesses of a Shaper can create a roadblock.
The team member who had come up with the technology solution happened to be the only Plant on the team and, in true Plant form, he was strongly attached to this idea. Another team member, who happened to be a strong Implementer-Monitor Evaluator, had thought more strategically about the project and felt that the technology represented a potential solution, but that without critical complements – improving the quality of the product and incentivizing the sales team to buy in to the new distribution mechanism – the novelty of the technology would fade and the innovation would fall flat.
The other team members recognized that the Implementer-Monitor Evaluator’s proposal actually incorporated the Shaper-Plant’s idea and there was room for him to work on a technology solution. But the Shaper-Plant’s third preferred role was also Monitor Evaluator and he had not relinquished this at all. He thought that trying to address product quality and incentives and technology lacked focus and he wanted to see the whole team pulling together on one aspect of the innovation – his. “Technology is innovation!” he wrote.
This would be an opportune moment for a Teamworker to show his or her colors – perhaps pointing out to the Shaper the collaborative option and that the two “sides” are not as far apart as he perceives. He had, after all, acknowledged the need to define what specific products would be delivered and to get the product sales people to use the new system. But this team lacks anyone with a Teamworker preference.
A Coordinator could also help resolve the dispute – reminding people of the shared goal and facilitating a decision. But on this team only one person is a Coordinator and his wife had a baby in the middle of all this so he was temporarily absent. Even when he was fully engaged, he tended toward another strength, yet another Monitor Evaluator, taking a back seat and offering his opinion when requested.
So, without the Teamworker and Coordinator roles to grease the skids, the team had come to a standstill or more accurately, a stand-off.
Our solution was to ask the two team members who had Teamworker and Coordinator as manageable but not preferable roles to make a “role sacrifice” and take on those roles. We asked them to collaborate on a project description that the whole team could agree on and we gave them guidance on framing the problem in terms of client needs that they could back up with research. They presented the team with a plan that focused on a particular high-quality product and a target client that they could use together as a proof of concept. The team reached consensus and has divided up the work, pulling in additional technology resources to scope that aspect of the project and free up some team members to address the needs of the sales people.