Welsh Research and Education Network
Hot topics in research and medical education, in Wales and beyond
Dr Rebecca Broomfield
Photo credits to Dr Sara Long
Please read this blog with Nickelback "What are you waiting for?" playing in the background. It encapsulates the mood i'm aiming for! https://youtu.be/w-Ng5muAAcg
Nestled somewhere near the middle of Wales, with very limited phone signal and Wi-Fi that intermittently functions is Elan Valley. Its a stunning location to explore for people who love outdoor adventures and the location for a fantastic 3 day team building residential which was facilitated by Academi Wales as a part of the Pg Cert qualification I am enrolled in during my year as a Clinical Leadership Fellow. It is an amazing place to focus on team-working and your role within that team.
During the residential course we studied the Belbin Team Roles, how they interact together and our personal preferences. My team was facilitated by Phil Davies, who is an ex Wales international player and currently the Head coach at the Nambian national Rugby union side. As a head coach of an international team, Phil offered a different perspective on team working from the traditional NHS viewpoint. (And I've stolen the Nickelback song from him - Thanks Phil!)
Team-working is something which often doesn't get enough time within the NHS. By being aware of its importance and how you function within a team you should be able to more readily achieve your goals.
Belbin Team Roles
What is Belbin?
A team role as defined by Dr Meredith Belbin is "A tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way" He has grouped these roles into 9 clusters of behaviour. When you take the Belbin self reported questionnaire you get a break down of your personal team preferences. The outline of the roles is described in the picture below. You don't need a person for each role to create a good team but you should try to consider all perspectives. It may be also useful to look at a team which isn't functioning to its best, does everybody within that team have the same preference and therefore the same perspective on a problem. Having the same preference can be a source of conflict as well as preventing the team achieving its goal.
My primary preference was the 'Shaper' role with my secondary preference being 'Resource Investigator' As a group of Leadership fellows we had surprisingly diverse results, reinforcing that no type is better or worse in a leadership role.
The report was slightly different from the other personality or preference reports we have completed this year. Instead of looking at areas to develop we were encouraged to focus on developing our strengths rather improving on our weaknesses.
Each role has it's own strengths and weaknesses, knowing the preference of your team member allows you to distribute workload to their strengths, thus improving the efficiency of your team. For example, I had a low score for the 'Completer Finisher' role therefore, as a leader, I need to identify a person on my team who has strengths in this role in order to ensure my team actually completes their tasks!
Once we had learnt the theory and our own preferences we were split into teams in order to put this into practice. The teams were selected in order to ensure that the majority of the roles were covered in within team.
The details of what exactly happened in Elan Valley will forever stay amongst the team who attended. (Trust is an important part of creating a functioning efficient team environment!) But we participated in a variety of tasks that allowed us to explore our own role and communicating and motivating the other team members.
The morning focused on goal based tasks. Each task started had a time limit and started with a printed instruction. Each task had rules which could not be broken and a goal which needed to be achieved. An example of one of the tasks we undertook was a maze task. A maze was laid out out of sight from the team and we were put into a large square laid out on the ground unable to see the maze. Our team was only allowed to communicate within the box, only 1 team member was able to leave the box at any one time and all members had to successfully navigate their way across the maze to complete the task. There was of course a time limit on this. Our first team member returned to tell us the structure of the maze, we had to work out, remember and communicate a pattern of boxes which we could step on to get across to the other side of the maze. This task acutely demonstrated to me the importance of others perspectives and the importance of communication. People like to be communicated with differently depending on their thought processes. (Just in case you were wondering we managed to get all of our team members across within the time limit and only received one penalty!)
The afternoon was structured slightly differently. The whole cohort was brought back together and we were to function as subsections of an overarching team. The team goal was to earn 'money'. The money would then be spend on unlocking clues which would give us the location of a prize which we were aiming to achieve. We could earn money by completing a variety of tasks. Tasks were diverse and each has a value attached to it. We split into our sub-groups and decided which tasks we wanted to complete in order to earn money and then spend the afternoon working through these tasks. Again, of course there was a time limit set on this. All the subgroups had to come back together to decide how this money was spent.
Some of the afternoon tasks were more adventurous and required taking team work to a whole other level. My personal favorite task was the "leap of faith". This involved climbing up a tiny rope ladder onto a small triangle platform which was positioned high into the trees and then jumping off. You were harnessed and your team members were in control of the ropes. In order to work your way up the ladder you needed to trust your team members not to let you fall with the ropes, you needed a team member to anchor your ladder to stop it flapping about in the wind and enable you to climb straight and you needed encouragement from the team when halfway up you suddenly realised that it was a long way down! Despite ripping a pair of jeans I managed to get to the top and jump. It was a good exercise in overcoming barriers and how important support and trust were within a team. (Just for completeness we earned enough money and managed to get a well earned box of chocolates!)
Take home messages ....
I learnt a surprising amount about myself and team roles from participating in the residential course. However, the most important of these was
The role of communication in good team-working cannot be underestimated. It is vitally important especially when you've realised that people don't all think like you or have the same perspective as you do. Obviously this covers the face-to-face communication when outlining a task but also the importance when managing a large busy team in communicating the overarching vision of the team which you want all members to progress towards. It is very difficult to motivate and drive forward a team when you do not all have a shared vision as to what you want to achieve. I would suggest reflecting on how you manage a team and the actions you use to motivate other members. How many conflicts or mistakes have been due to poor communication?
Other than communication the importance of looking at things from others perspectives was emphasised to me throughout these personally challenging activities. When faced with a problem, taking on a different viewpoint or consulting a member of your team who you know has a different role preference to you can fundamentally change how you choose to tackle it. As a part of this it is also important to remember the importance of your role within your team, you may have a perspective which nobody else has considered.
Do you need to work on
Listening is a vital part of communication.
However, it's importance can often get overlooked when concerned about getting your opinion heard and shouting loud enough to have your say in a team activity. How many times do you have a conversation where you are already planning your answer? the next point your want to make? or even thinking about what you are having for dinner that evening.
(Unsurprisingly) communication works best when you actually listen to the people in your team. When you honestly reflect on this can you say that you always do this? Most people don't. Next time you are communicating with a college try giving them all of your attention, focusing in on what they say and responding to this rather than your previously planned out structure of how you want the conversation to go. Since trying this out after the residential I have noticed a significant improvement in my communications and my ability to influence change.
Things I am currently working on developing are:
Dr Annabel Greenwood