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Statistics, Science, and Assumptions

On the playground in my pre-teens my best friend and I were never picked for the football (soccer) team in the top 50% when selecting teams during lunch breaks. And there was also one or two clumsy guys who were always picked last. This is probably a familiar story for many of you.

We used to play five per side on a netball field, but eventually my friend and I realized that all the other kids would run after the ball like a herd of sheep, so we used to take one of the the clumsy kids as a keeper and with my friend and I taking one side of the field each, we would just pass the ball to each other whenever the heard of sheep came close, while continuing to run run forward we inevitably scored. Even though many of the opposing team had better foot kills, provided that at some point we could get control of the ball winning was pretty easy.

Notably the other kids all believed if they had the ball, because they had better foot skills, then they would be able to score and win. Obviously we all know that this cannot happen, they continued playing this way for two or three years. However, when they reached their teens they had learned to pass rather than just chase the ball, and I don’t remember winning many more games ever again.

Assumptions are easy to make at any age. After hearing this childhood story, it’s easy to think ‘we’ll I’ve grown up now, and I don’t make silly assumptions any more’. This is far from the truth, and I want to recap the story from Moneyball where Billie Bean has to fight against traditional assumptions in order to beat the status quo.

Though baseball has fewer variables than teams in the work place, it can still offer useful glimpses into what is possible, especially with utilizing math and an understanding of statistics rather than only social science studies.

Though the movie Moneyball makes it appear that this was a short experiment. Bean and his economics Harvard educated Paul DePodesta with stengths in mathematics and psychology acutally had more than a decade of data and previously researched opinions to build upon. The book rather than the movie provides the full picture for those interested.

The issue began when a baseball fan Bill James began self publishing pamphlets in the 1970’s arguing that the stats which Major League Baseball (MLB) was keeping on fielding had no value at all when trying to assess the quality that the players gave to the team.

With DePodesta’s help, using statistics that were now becoming more readily available due to the internet, eventually they were able to narrow all assumptions of what a good player is for a team down to a single thing. How often can a player get on base, which is a direct correlation to how often they can hit or walk without striking out. Though many of the expensive big hitters could hit harder, faster, and further, they tended to strike out more often resulting in bringing down the average team runs.

When Bean was scouted in his teens, he was quickly brought into the Major Leauge due to having better stats across all perameters required at the time. As a teen he never lost, but being placed so quickly with seasoned players, his fear of failing got the better of him and frustrated his performance on the field. As a manager, he saw that this was true of many players, and he continually makes it clear to his peers that people are who they are, and that personality matters when measuring performance.

Bean was finally vindicated when the Oakland A’s drew a crowd over 50,000 to watch them win their 20th game in a row, breaking the record while having the lowest budget in MLB.

However, despite the statistics both in developing the team, and their ability to win so often with such a low budget, most managers of other MLB teams continued to think that their science was bunk. Basically, they wanted to continue in their assumptions rather than look at the new data collated over the previous two decades. Some even continued in their traditional assumptions while losing money over their seasons.

We’re using this example of Moneyball for the reason that due to the low variations because of sports rules, it is easier to ascertain a truth. This is not true in a work place where there are more variations than can be calculated than chess for instance, due to requests and needs by multiple parties and then multiplied by differing personalities.

Team Roles in the Workplace

Using baseball as a metaphor is great for an introduction or for a motivational speech, but the Oakland A’s story cannot provide the same solutions to a work environment where the variables can be infinite. So after our little baseball warm-up, we want to introduce Dr. Raymond Meredith Belbin’s findings, who since the 1960’s has been working with respected academia institutions, major companies, and government organizations all for the one purpose of understanding team dynamics for the sole reason of trying to define why a team is successful or failing. This naturally led to discovering what is needed in a team to make it successful.

Interestingly, Bean and Belbin, though having completely different research methods in completely different fields of study (sports and workplace) ultimately came to the same conclusion. That an All-Star team was never as good as a team that was selected for their roles to compliment each other to achieve the goal at hand.

And this is where Belbin’s story begins.

The All-Star Assumption

Due to Belbin’s already advanced knowledge of team work, he was asked to be involved in the Apollo study as a researcher for NASA. The study was designed to analyze the performance of teams involved in the Apollo space missions, with the aim of identifying the factors that contributed to successful team performance in high-pressure environments.

Belbin was tasked with observing and analyzing the behavior of teams involved in the space missions, with a particular focus on the interactions between team members and the roles they played in achieving mission objectives. He was interested in understanding the dynamics of effective teams, and how teams could be structured and managed to maximize their performance.

Having selected All-Star performers for Apollo teams to play against more regular persons. The initial expectation that they would perform significantly better. However, the findings fell far short of expectations. Instead of achieving victory with ease, teams consisting of All-Star members often underperformed against regular teams and was less effective than it ought to be.

Belbin’s observations of the Apollo teams are summarized as follows:

They spent excessive time in abortive or destructive debate, trying to persuade other team members to adopt their own view, and demonstrating a flair for spotting weaknesses in others’ arguments. This led to the discussion equivalent of ‘the deadly embrace’[1] .

They had difficulties in their decision making, with little coherence in the decisions reached (several pressing and necessary jobs were often omitted).
Team members tended to act along their own favorite lines without taking account of what fellow members were doing, and the team proved difficult to manage.
In some instances, teams recognized what was happening but over compensated by avoiding confrontation, which equally led to problems in decision making.

Basically, Apollo teams had trouble coming to a consensus and lost sight of the important goals. This phenomena was later dubbed as ‘Apollo Syndrome’, and is still largely used in academic circles and work places to this day.

In rare instances there were successful Apollo teams. however, these teams were characterized by the absence of highly dominant individuals, and a particular style of leadership where the leaders were suspicious and skeptical, who sought to impose some shape or pattern on group discussion. This led Belbin to doing further research to define and test team roles in the hope to create teams with peak performance.

The Apollo study helped to validate Belbin’s contribution to research and understanding of team roles, and led to his ideas being adopted more widely in organizations and businesses around the world.

Belbin Team Roles

While the Apollo team experiment failed to achieve the initial assumption that these All-Star teams were bound to win in the team competitions, it allowed Belbin to observe that it demonstrated the need for a balance of roles to create an effective team. Belbin  threw aside his assumption that an All-Star team was best and continued his research over the years to identify nine team positions that better help to create higher performing teams, with each divided into three groups.

Action-Oriented Roles

Action-oriented roles prioritize meeting deadlines, executing ideas, and enhancing team performance.

Shaper – an extrovert who challenges presumptions.
Implementer – instills discipline among the group.
Completer Finisher – attends to even the tiniest details and ensures that everything is done correctly.

Thought-Oriented Roles

Thought-oriented roles are those who are able to assess possibilities and offer technical knowledge.

Plant – develops ground-breaking, novel solutions.
Monitor Evaluator – objectively and analytically evaluates the team’s decisions.
Specialists – who are subject-matter experts.

Selecting Roles

Though this is a total of nine possible roles, we explained earlier in chapter three that teams tend to communicate and work together best in sizes of approximately six people. Therefore, these roles should be carefully selected for the purpose of the goal that the team is trying to achieve.

Here though, Belbin was far from finished. Just as Bean and DePodesta understood that the psyche of a player could drastically alter his performance, Belbin discovered that the personality of a person with each of these could differ, which further created variables in a creating an ideal team.

Searching for the Ideal Team

Since it was impossible to use all roles in a team while keeping within the constraints of having a small team. Belbin looked elsewhere in his studies to understand further why some teams with the same roles worked better than others. Through these studies, he was able to observe that successful teams were not just made up of people with the right skills and knowledge for the job, but also individuals with complementary personalities.

Belbin began to explore the idea of team roles as a way of understanding the different personalities and behaviors that were needed to make a team successful. He observed that different team members had different strengths, weaknesses, and preferred ways of working, and that these differences could be harnessed to create a more effective team.

By mixing personalities with team roles, Belbin was able to create a framework for building more effective teams than just by focusing on roles. He recognized that team members needed to be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of their colleagues, in order to work together more effectively. By assigning team roles based on personality traits and preferred ways of working, teams could be structured to maximize their potential for success.

Through his studies he was able to define personalities using Extroverted and Introverted as his core with each also being divided into Anxious and Stable.

Following is the full list with their pros and cons:

Stable Extroverts – Make great communicators. They work best as salespeople or human resources directors.
Anxious Extroverts – Perfect for fast-paced workplaces. They are most frequently employed as editors, works managers, and sales managers.
Stable Introverts – These people make for strong, cohesive teams. They typically work as administrators, attorneys, public servants, and business planners.
Anxious Introverts – Excellent at solitary tasks requiring self-direction and perseverance. These are highly inventive individuals who work as research scientists and specialists. Teams were formed out of various members of each group.

When teams were formed out of various members of each group, extremes in behavior and outcomes were brought to light, and the personalities of the individuals would then effect the general dynamics of the team as a whole which could be categorized the same as the individual personalities. Belbin found that extroverted teams were generally more successful than introverted ones. However, because each group had both strengths and shortcomings, the outcomes varied and resulted in the following pros and cons:

Stable Extrovert Teams – These teams are resourceful, love working in groups, have a flexible approach, and function well together. They have a tendency to be lethargic and euphoric, though. Overall, they had accomplished good outcomes, yet they are interdependent.
Anxious Extrovert Teams – These teams are energetic and entrepreneurial, adept at seizing opportunities, and prone to constructive conflicts. However, they are easily sidetracked and tend to get off topic. In rapidly shifting circumstances, they produced exceptional outcomes, but were completely erratic at other instances.
Stable Introvert Teams – Their strong points include excellent planning and solid organization. But they frequently move slowly and fail to take into account fresh information. Team members weren’t very concerned about the outcomes, good or poor.
Anxious Introvert Teams – These teams are capable of producing good ideas, but they frequently lack team cohesion and have a propensity to become distracted. Naturally, they got bad outcomes. In certain instances, various teams within the same group came to varying conclusions.

After further investigation, Belbin found that all teams that produced a discernible outcome shared one trait: one of the team members had adopted the position of an Implementer.

The Implementer

Remember that the Implementer instills discipline among the group. and Belbin writes further that “Implementers were not simply team members who only did or arranged things (most work involves both). In behavioral terms, they were people who essentially worked for the company, rather than in pursuit of self-interest, and did so in a practical and realistic way. They could identify with the organization and would accept and look for goals in work that fell in line with its ideals and aspirations. There was never any question that jobs would not be done because they did not feel like it or it did not interest them.” (Belbin, Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail.)

He further defined traits of the Implementer as:

Disciplined who completed their work quickly and methodically.
Hard-headed, practical, dependable, and understanding of others.
Responsible and conscious of commitments to others.
Respectful of the circumstances and viewpoints that already exist.
Self-controlled and possessing a strong sense of self-image.

Almost going back to the drawing board. Belbin wanted to see if a team of implementers would make the perfect team. However, similar to the Apollo project, there were enormous expectations. And again, like the Apollo project, these groups of ideal workers ended up being a letdown. The results showed that they at most achieved ordinary outcomes. Although dedicated and well-organized, implementers lacked any original ideas. They had a tremendous commitment to anything they started, yet they became upset if things went differently.

Simply put, they put in good effort but didn’t get the desired results.

This helped to further prove his previous conclusions that a well balanced team of selected roles of people with complimentary personalities created teams with the highest success rate.


Creating an All-Star team, whether it’s collating the best educated, the best hitters, or the best implementers resulted in the worst performance.

Utilizing too many of any of the same roles generally also resulted in a net loss versus having a mix of team roles that complement needs to suit the project.

Teams who performed best generally had a core of three roles which included the implementer, plant, and coordinator. Other roles were selected to complement the needs of the project.

The personality of those included in the team should not be overlooked and should be selected to suit the environment and purpose of the desired goal that the team is trying to achieve.

Think Time

What role and personality do you think you possess?

Take the test to see if you are correct. Find links at howtoteamwork.com

Can you think of an example where changing the dynamics of a team you were in increased or decreased the productiveness of the team?

Was your above example due to the roles of the teams changing, a change in the personalities, or a mix of both?


  1. The Deadly Embrace is a crippling condition when two or more programs are each waiting for the others to complete – or even just to produce a data value – before proceeding. Thus all programs involved come to a halt.