Why Observers matter

To learn and understand ourselves better, we need to broaden our perspective – to look at ourselves through a new lens. It may sound obvious, but we need to move beyond what we already know. It’s important that we’re open to receiving new information; that we look for this information in the right places, and that we interpret it correctly, so we can act on it.

Only then can we set about changing the way we work and communicate with others.

Observing behaviour is at the heart of what we do.

When Dr Meredith Belbin’s research team set out to investigate why some teams succeed and others fail, they did it by observing teams in action. 

The team members in their study had already completed a number of personality and critical thinking tests, but those results didn’t tell the researchers everything they needed to know. Using a method called Bales Analysis, the researchers made and coded observations on how the teams communicated and acted during a simulated business game. They took measurements every thirty seconds throughout weeks and months.

The result? The original big data.

From their analysis, the nine Team Roles were discoverednine key clusters of behaviour that were effective in facilitating team progress.

Having discovered that behaviour was key, it became equally apparent that the behaviours needed to be measured by others – by observers – to ground the findings in reality. In other words, the researchers couldn’t rely solely on the individuals themselves to provide the full picture.

Self-reporting isn’t the whole story.

Many tools and tests rely on self-reporting.. answer questions about who we are: personality (which is fairly fixed), our internal thoughts and feelings, and even who we want to be.

These tools can make us feel really ‘seen’ and understood. There’s an instant ‘feel good’ factor. That’s because there’s really nothing to disagree with! In essence, we’re looking in a mirror and reflecting our own view back at ourselves.

But there are a couple of limitations with this kind of measurement.

For one thing, we might miss out on hidden strengths that others see in us. This is crucial information for growth.

Secondly, our own view can easily be distorted – by mood, limited self-awareness or even aspirations to work in a certain way.

Even for those who are self-aware, who we are at work can change: in response to colleagues, our environment, our functional roles, and other experiences in our lives. In other words, the picture we see may not be the one everyone else sees.

In order to make lasting, meaningful improvements to individual and team performance, we need everyone to be looking at the same picture. To solve team problems, we need a team perspective.

"The Observer Assessments are essential, I think for the programme that we use it on the most, a big part of it is raising self-awareness. We've used lots of tools over the years and we had to go back to using Belbin because with the behavioural element, the observations, it just heightens people's self-awareness."

So, how is Belbin different?

Belbin measures behaviour, not personality – what we do, not who we are.

And because behaviour can be observed by other people, we ask others in the team (colleagues, managers etc.) for feedback on those behaviours, via a short questionnaire called an Observer Assessment. This is completed after the individual’s Self-Perception Inventory (or SPI), which is the self-reported part.

Observer Assessments provide independent evidence on our working styles – a ‘reality check’ which enhances the accuracy and validity of the Belbin Individual Report.

Our sophisticated algorithms ensure that Observer feedback is considered and constructive. Then we compare individual and Observer views, and advise on any significant similarities or differences between the two.

In short, the Observer feedback in a Belbin Report gives teams, managers and coaches a wealth of information to unpack. It helps people to understand how others experience their behaviours, and offers practical advice and strategies to hone strengths and build on latent talents.

Observer Assessments are fundamental to Belbin. Because understanding our behaviour – and acting upon our understanding – helps us to work smarter and become more engaged in what we do.

Some of the Belbin Individual report pages that highlight the Observer feedback:

You can download a full sample report here.

How does the Observer process work?

Once the Belbin questionnaire (the Self-Perception Inventory) has been completed, a participant can invite others to complete the shorter questionnaire – the Observer Assessment (OA).

  • We recommend inviting six Observers. To avoid bias, a minimum of four is required to produce a Belbin Individual Report incorporating Observer feedback.
  • The Observer Assessment consists of two ticklists of adjectives – one positive and one negative. Observers simply select those characteristics they feel apply to the person being observed.
  • An ideal Observer is a colleague (not a family member or a friend) who has worked closely with the person for at least three months.
  • Observers should be prepared to provide honest feedback, on the understanding that it will aid the person’s personal development.

What next?

Find out more about the Belbin Individual reports and how the Observer assessments are used. Click here.

If you are interested in finding out how you can use Belbin for your team or organisation, get in touch. 

BELBIN Reports

What is a BELBIN Individual Report?

A BELBIN Individual Report is the basic building block of the BELBIN framework, as all teams start with bringing individuals together. It is Self-Awareness, in behavioral Team Role language.

What is a BELBIN Team Report?

Dr Meredith Belbin’s research showed that high performance teams have the right blend of all the nine Team Roles or behavioral contributions. BELBIN Team Reports serve to predict possible team performance, given the behavioral contributions of its individual members, as revealed in their BELBIN Individual Reports.

What is a BELBIN Working Relationship Report?

Is it possible to foresee the nature of a working relationship between two people, even before such pairs are formalized? What could be the potential risks in getting chalk and cheese together?  On the other hand, what could be the potential benefits of teaming up cheese with bread?

What is a BELBIN Job Report?

Square pegs in round holes are sure to damage the peg, the hole, and the entire mechanism this match is meant to support. First things first. Did the Recruiter know the exact profile of the hole to be filled? A BELBIN Job Report details the behavioral contributions that best serve the job's purpose. In doing so, it tangibilises in advance, the softer specs that often surface when it's too late..

What is a BELBIN Job Comparison Report?

How does a recruiter figure out well in advance, if the new hire will come in like a breath of fresh air, or a bull in a china shop? A BELBIN Job Comparison Report predicts 'suitability'.. the match between the behavioral demands of the job with the behavioral preferences of the prospective recruit.

What is a BELBIN GetSet Report?

A BELBIN GetSet Report and Workbook is for the young aged 14 to 19. This could well be their first look in the mirror, in knowing themselves by their behavioral preferences, and learning to project themselves in a positive way.


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