Team Roles & Group Effectiveness - FIRO & Belbin Contrasted

This article contrasts FIRO Team Roles and Belbin Team-Roles in relation to their approach to understanding and developing the effectiveness of individuals and groups.

Organizations are made up of teams - individuals grouped together for a common purpose or to achieve a common goal. Teams may be formal or informal, large or small. Team roles assumed by individuals effect how things get done and the extent to which social needs are met in groups.

By Peter Gerstmann, Psychologist, London, UK

In this team roles article:

Introduction to Team Roles

The personalities of team members influence their team’s effectiveness. Individuals will tend to play a role within the team, dependent upon aspects of their personality. An understanding of the team roles members assume can lead to a greater understanding of team effectiveness and team development.

Several rigorous approaches have been made to the understanding of the relationship between team effectiveness and the team roles members play. One approach has been through the work of William Schutz. Another is the work of R Meredith Belbin.

While significant differences exist between the approaches of Schutz and Belbin, both are solid in foundation.

FIRO Team Roles

Will Schutz, a highly respected psychologist of note and one of the founders of the Human Potential Movement, developed a theory of interpersonal behaviour and need. His theory incorporates ideas from the work of the eminent psychologists T W Adorno, Erich Fromm, and Wilfred Bion.

Schutz developed a short, yet powerful psychological instrument, the FIRO-B (Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation-Behaviour), based on his FIRO theory, to help understand interpersonal behaviour. The reliability and validity of the FIRO-B have been clearly demonstrated (see Gluck, below).

FIRO-B has been found useful in career coaching, management and leadership development, and in team building. It has also been used extensively in research, including the areas of educational administration, work-group compatibility, and interpersonal dynamics in groups. FIRO-B has been used extensively to predict how military personnel would work together in groups under battle conditions.

According to FIRO theory, people play roles in teams depending on their own interpersonal needs in relation to the interpersonal needs of other team members.

An individual’s FIRO-B scores can predict which team roles they are likely to play. These team roles, as outlined by Eugene Schnell and Allen Hammer, are shown in the table below. Most people will play at least one, and often more than one team role, depending on their FIRO-B profile and the interpersonal needs of the other team members.

FIRO Team Role Description
Clarifier Presents issues or solutions for clarification, summarizes discussion, introduces new members to the team, keeps team members up to date, provides the group with facts and data.
Tension-Reducer Helps move the team along by joking or clowning at appropriate moments, redirects the group at tense moments, builds on common interests in the group.
Individualist Is not an active team player, sees meetings as unnecessary or distracting, may work on other tasks or hold side conversations during meetings, may not follow through or cooperate with group decisions.
Director Pushes for action and decision-making, may interrupt others or monopolize the ‘air-time’ in meetings, may be unrealistically optimistic about what can be accomplished.
Questioner Seeks orientation and clarification, is a constructive critic of the team and its members, may use questions to postpone closure or decisions.
Rebel Struggles to establish a position within the group, may criticize others, challenges the status quo, may refuse to comply with group decisions, provides alternative ideas but may have difficulty with follow-through.
Encourager Builds the ego or status of others, is friendly, responsive, warm, diplomatic, may sacrifice the truth to maintain good relationships.
Listener Maintains a participatory attitude and interest nonverbally, is involved in group goals, shows interest by receptive facial and bodily expressions.
Cautioner Expresses concern about the direction of the group, relays doubts about the success of initiatives planned, shows reluctance to get swept up in group energy, provides careful analysis of potential problems, may play devil’s advocate.
Initiator Suggests procedures or problems as discussion topics, proposes alternative solutions, is the ‘idea person,’ actively encourages others to share in discussions.
Energizer Urges the team toward decision-making, insists on covering the agenda, prods the team to action.
Opinion-Giver States a belief or opinion on all problems and issues, offers predictions based on past experiences, works independently from the group, does not try to become part of the leader’s inner circle.
Harmonizer Agrees with the group, reconciles opposing positions, understands, complies, and accepts.
Consensus-Tester Checks for agreement, brings closure to discussions, confronts unacknowledged feelings in the group, wants to build a close-knit, powerful team.
Task-Master Tries to keep the group focussed on its central purpose and required outcomes, ignores social chitchat, believes that the team members do not have to like each other to do the job, reminds the group that this is business, not a family.

Belbin’s Management Teams Team-Roles

Belbin’s research into management teams and team roles - based on experiments at the Management College, Henley, UK, and on case studies in industry - focussed on the relationship between personality, ability and the effectiveness of management teams.

Belbin defines a team role as “a tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way.” ‘Team-Role’ (note the hyphen between ‘team’ and ‘role’ here) “describes a pattern of behaviour characteristic of the way in which one team member interacts with another team member, where their performance facilitates the progress of the team as a whole.”

In his book Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail, Belbin asserts that only eight useful team-role types could be identified. Later, however, a ninth team-role, that of Specialist, has been added to his taxonomy (Team-Roles). Several team-role labels have since been changed from the original. These team-role types (and former team-role labels in square brackets) are shown in the table below.

Each of these team-roles is associated with characteristic types of personality as measured by two personality measures, Cattell’s 16PF (16 Personality Factor personality inventory), and the PPQ (Personal Preference Questionnaire). Belbin published a Self-Perception Inventory (SPI) which gave an individual a way of assessing their team-role(s). While the original SPI had a number of problems, it has since been refined.

According to Belbin, the ‘Primary Team-Role’ is the team-role to which the individual has the greatest affinity. The ‘Back-up Team-Role’ is the team-role to which an individual has some natural affinity other than their Primary Team-Role. It is perfectly possible that an individual’s personality profile suggests no best team-role that they will likely adopt.

Belbin team-roles can be clustered according to their orientation:

  • Action-oriented roles - Shaper, Implementer, and Completer Finisher

  • People-oriented roles - Co-ordinator, Teamworker, and Resource Investigator

  • Cerebral roles - Plant, Monitor Evaluator, and Specialist

Belbin Team-Role Description
Specifies controlling the way in which the team moves towards the group objectives by making the best use of team resources, recognizing where the team’s strengths and weaknesses lie, and ensuring that the best use is made of each team member’s potential.
Specifies shaping the way in which team effort is applied, directing attention generally to the setting of objectives and priorities, and seeking to impose some shape or pattern on group discussion and on the outcome of group activities.
Specifies advancing new ideas and strategies with special attention to major issues, and looking for possible breaks in approach to the problems which confront the team.
[Company Worker]
Specifies turning concepts and plans into practical working procedures, and carrying out agreed plans systematically and efficiently.
[Team Worker]
Specifies supporting members in their strengths (e.g. building on suggestions), underpinning members in their shortcomings, improving communications between members and fostering team spirit generally.
Monitor Evaluator
Specifies analysing problems, and evaluating ideas and suggestions so that the team is better placed to take balanced decisions.
Resource Investigator
[Resource Investigator]
Specifies exploring and reporting on ideas, developments and resources outside the group, creating external contacts that may be useful to the team and conducting any subsequent negotiations.
Completer Finisher
Specifies ensuring that the team is protected as far as possible from mistakes of both commission and omission, actively searching for aspects of work which need a more than usual degree of attention, and maintaining a sense of urgency within the team.
Specialist New team-role added to the original taxonomy. The Specialist provides knowledge and skills in rare supply. Single-minded, self-starting, dedicated. Contributes only on a narrow front. Dwells on technicalities.

Which of the two team roles approaches, FIRO or Belbin, is ‘best?’

Both approaches are based on sound research. The value of team-role theory is that it enables individuals or teams to benefit from self-knowledge and the power to adjust to demands placed upon them.

While Belbin’s work is more applicable to the design and development of management teams perhaps, Schutz emphasizes the understanding and satisfaction of interpersonal needs by, and between individuals, the latter being applicable to any dyad or group.

FIRO theory is about the development of the individual and, by extension, teams and organizations. All teams and groups, not just management teams, can benefit through the application of FIRO theory.

Of course, Schutz’s theory and the FIRO-B instrument can be used to design teams and screen individuals for team membership, as well as for individual and team development.

Personally, I find Belbin’s work of great interest but a little too academic and unwieldy at times. FIRO theory, on the other hand, is profound in its simplicity. Ordinary or lay individuals can understand FIRO quite readily and benefit easily from it. It can be usefully used at all levels in an organization.

There are also important differences between the two approaches in terms of cost. Belbin’s team-roles can be identified using a relatively expensive self-report questionnaire, or through the use of a lengthy personality inventory (16PF). Self-report questionnaires are susceptible to faking and distortion by respondents. Schutz’s FIRO-B on the other hand is a remarkably compact, yet powerful instrument which can yield a wealth of useful, useable information at low cost.

So, the answer to the question ‘which is best?’ depends on the questioner’s needs. At PGA Group Consulting Psychologists, we use extensively the FIRO-B in psychological assessment for a number of purposes, selection and development in organizations mainly. Team role information is gained in addition to the other useful information derived from the FIRO-B - at no additional assessment or reporting cost to our clients.


Belbin, R Meredith (1981), Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail, Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Belbin, R Meredith (1996), Team Roles at Work, Oxford, Butterworth-Heinemann.

Gluck, G A (1983), Psychometric Properties of the FIRO-B: A Guide to Research, Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Schnell, Eugene R, and Hammer, Allen (1993), Introduction to the FIRO-B in Organizations, Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Schutz, W (1958), FIRO: A Three Dimensional Theory of Interpersonal Behaviour, New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

I hope you have found this team roles article informative, useful and beneficial. It may be linked to or referenced freely. Please cite the author, Peter Gerstmann and the publisher, PGA Group Consulting Psychologists at

Should you have any questions, or would like further information without obligation, my team and I would be very happy to help. Details and an e-mail form to contact/locate us can be found here:

Peter Gerstmann
PGA Group Consulting Psychologists -

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