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Team management and psychological profiles

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Niels Ole Pors, The Royal School of Library and Information Science, Copenhagen, Denmark

Survival and organizational effectiveness in an increasingly complex society

Let me start by introducing at least some of my assumptions. Libraries and information centres are part of society and from this point of view it is obvious why librarians have to adhere to the same management and management trends and traditions as other professions. If one looks at the different management theories and methodologies like management by objectives (MBO), strategic planning and strategic management, quality measurement, total quality management (TQM), benchmarking, best practice, service quality (SERVQUAL) and customer orientation, the learning organization and knowledge management – to mention just a handful – it becomes obvious that the different theories or ways of thinking are much more than scientific approaches to a turbulent and chaotic way of living.

It is more about the communication of values. It is about focusing the organization on its real goals. It is most of all be about changing people. It is a kind of meta-discussion or reflective discussion. The ultimate purpose of all these strategies seems to be not just survival, but survival and organizational effectiveness in an increasingly complex society.

Management trends

One of the important management trends during the last years has been the focus on both customers and staff. We can talk about a people-orientation that permeates society as a whole. This trend goes deeply for example into educational institutions – we see it through the emphasis on phenomena like transferable skills. Transferable skills have been the topic of several viewpoints on this site and also in the professional literature. They are, however, rarely defined in an operational manner in the literature.

If we look at the relationship between employer and employee in an historical way we can recognize three modes. The first is simply "Do as you are told". The second is "Do it because it is in accordance with institutional objectives". The third is "Do it and you will develop your own personality and gain a greater value at the labour market". This rough picture indicates that working conditions in the library and information sector have changed dramatically over the last 20 years. Put together with the IT revolution, and this development has called for new ways of organizing work. One of the last answers to organizing work is teamwork: people working together in more or less loosely defined groups and teams to achieve the objectives. The teams and the groups will often have a high degree of autonomy in relation to decision-making power and responsibilities. Why do some teams work very well and achieve good results, while others fail both on an objective and personal basis? This question becomes pertinent in a work culture that increasingly is based on teams.

The Belbin test

At the moment the relationship between what is called emotional intelligence and leadership styles is discussed rather heavily in the management literature. I will limit the discussion here to one of the most influential theories of team roles, the Belbin roles. Belbin started to write about them over 20 years ago, and in subsequent years a rather widespread test has been developed. What exactly is the Belbin test? It is a test that intends to classify in a differentiated way peoples' capabilities, strengths and weaknesses in relation to teamwork. It operates or conceptualizes eight dimensions of attitudes and behaviour, as for example the roles of a company worker, chairman and so on.

The test is administered as a self-assessment test. It consists of eight sections, and for each section one answers six to eight statements. For each section one is required to distribute 10 points, assigning them to the statements with which one agrees most. In total the individual has to distribute 80 points. The end results are 80 points distributed unevenly across eight roles, attitudes and behavioural aspects.

As one might imagine, the Belbin test is just one in a long tradition of psychometric tests. The Belbin test identifies eight roles or psychological profiles. Each team member scores on several of the dimensions and as such is able to perform several roles. It is normal that one person has one dominant dimension. The eight roles are identified below, with keywords attached.

  1. Resource investigator (extrovert, curious, enthusiastic, communicative).
  2. Completer (orderly, conscientious, anxious, perfectionism).
  3. Team-worker (social, mild, sensitive, promote team-spirit).
  4. Monitor–evaluator (sober, calm, prudent, hard-headed).
  5. Plant (individualistic, serious, unorthodox, intellect and imagination).
  6. Shaper (outgoing, dynamic, challenge, drive, highly strung).
  7. Chair (self-confident, calm, controlled, vision, open, good judgement).
  8. Company worker (conservative, dutiful, predictable, common sense, self-discipline).

The theory behind the Belbin roles is, of course, that one needs a mix of different psychological profiles in a successful team. The mix is not a stable given, but it will fluctuate with the objectives of the team. Probably it would also be possible to explain at least some of the failures of a team with reference to this role theory.

I wonder if many libraries do use psychological profiling when they put together the teams that have an increasing importance in delivering services? You are very welcome to contribute with comments and experiences.