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Adopting the Belbin philosophy to build a watch brand’s team

In his effort to become a market leader, Mike France is tapping into the Belbin philosophy at Christopher Ward – encouraging behavioural diversity, not stifling it.
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As a company entering only its thirteenth year, Christopher Ward is a business still very much scaling up and in transition. At the heart of any business in transition – and arguably any business in general – is its people. This is why, this month, we are placing considerable emphasis on our teams and staff with the introduction to Christopher Ward of the Belbin philosophy of team-building.

The Belbin philosophy came to the fore in the 1960s, and ever since has been considered one of the most empirically sound approaches to teambuilding. Belbin’s theory essentially identifies nine different behaviours that individuals display in the work place, and demonstrates that for a team to be successful, it must have access to each of the nine different team roles.

This isn’t to say the team must have nine members – each member has several (usually three) strongly preferred behaviours. To create a high-performance team, it is helpful if these preferred behaviours are spread across the team. Even if they aren’t, knowledge of where there may be gaps can help a team to compensate by some individuals tapping into a behaviour type that whilst maybe not preferred by them, nevertheless they are more than capable of performing.

For instance, if there is nobody in the team with a strong preference for completing and finishing a task or project, for the successful conclusion of the task or project somebody needs to step up to the task or the danger is nothing ever gets finished off properly. I know a few builders who could use Belbin to help in this regard.

Why at Christopher Ward are we using Belbin philosophy? Simple. We want to be as successful as we possibly can be, and recognise that to do so it requires teamwork of the highest order. Belbin philosophy, therefore, can help us achieve this. Many teams are talented but harnessing that talent across a team can be difficult. It is why many teams comprised of the most talented individuals don’t necessarily prove successful.

I have sat around many boards where to have achieved that position. Most individuals in the team have similar behavioural preferences and, as a result, the most senior team in the company (without something like Belbin to alert the team to the imbalances) can end up being the most dysfunctional in the company.

This trait is something Meredith Belbin himself picked up on. During the Space Race NASA loaded the Apollo teams with some of the most brilliant scientific minds in the world, with the objective of landing a man on the moon before the Russians. Bright they may have been, but as a team they couldn’t hack it. And so, with failure looming, they decided to change the composition of the team using Belbin’s hypothesis as their guide. And the rest, as they say, is history.

At Christopher Ward we think that becoming the UK’s leading watch brand should be marginally easier than orchestrating a moon landing but we’re taking no chances.

With our business, we have initially introduced the Belbin philosophy approach to our creative and marketing teams. Each member of the teams, including their team heads and myself have completed our own Belbin profiles and for each member of the team. This has been discussed with each team member and then shared across the teams, including mine. Already this new knowledge of ourselves and each other is helping us to better understand how we individually can best contribute to the team, as well as how our colleagues can also. A new language is evolving alongside this knowledge which can lead to more than a few laughs along the way as colleagues identify the “plants” in their midst.

The Belbin approach may not be for every business, but its philosophy reminds me, as a business owner, of the importance of encouraging behavioural diversity rather than stifling it.

This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.

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About Author

Mike France

One of the leading retailers of his generation, Mike France operated from his early thirties at board level for several blue-chip companies (BHS, Sears, Debenhams) before becoming CEO/co-owner of the world renowned educational toy brand, Early Learning Centre together with his business partner, Peter Ellis. The pair sold the business in April 2004 and within weeks came up with the idea of launching the world’s first pure-play online luxury watch brand. He is also on the advisory board at Kurt Salmon Consulting and has previously held various non-executive roles as varied as Premier League football clubs (West Ham United) and in several private equity ventures.

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