About 12 years ago I did my Belbin Team Roles1 analysis. It came free with the purchase of a book and I duly registered, contacted several colleagues to fill out the questionnaires and awaited the 360 type results. Belbin, for those who are not familiar with it, is a system which tells us who we are in the workplace. 

Eagerly I awaited to hear. I had always felt I worked in the right profession but was never fully certain that the niche in which I found myself at that time was most suited to my skills, preferences and personality. This would finally decide for me. 

When the results came back I opened the file with excited anticipation. What was I? Who was I? Was I a Specialist, with narrow but deep knowledge of my area? A Co-ordinator, bringing people together? I knew I wasn’t a Resource Investigator, good at networking, extravert; give me a roomful of people and tell me to mingle and I will hide in the loo!

I was delighted therefore when I read the results to see that I was a Plant – full of creative ideas – but somewhat dismayed to see I was also a Shaper, managing challenging people and a Completer Finisher. What? Good at searching out errors and omissions, crossing the ‘ts’ and dotting the ‘is’? I was rubbish at that, hated close work and attention to detail. What was this? 

Several days of mulling over my disappointing results, I realised that Belbin told me less about who I was, and more about how the people I had asked to complete the questionnaires saw me and used me. The results told me about them, not me. The results revealed  the areas of work that my colleagues gave me to do. So, the manager at the organisation for whom I worked, good at data and spreadsheets, saw me as a Plant – creative, expert in devising new programmes and creating materials. The clinician who taught with me saw me as a kick-ass Shaper, great at dealing with tricky characters and behaviour. And the colleague who had passed on a couple of projects they had started, saw me as the Completer Finisher. 

“Look on the bright side,” said a friend, “it means you are multi-skilled.”

Now I look back on that exercise with amusement. Aren’t we all multi-skilled? Is it possible to only be able to do one thing in today’s world of work? I doubt it. If we have been in our profession for some time, we have learned to be several things to several people, fitting in, accommodating needs as they arise. We may enjoy some of those roles more than others. The trick is to ensure that we have enough of the kind of work we really like to get us through the week. 

I am beginning to think that our happiness at work is less about the tasks we are involved in and more about the ways in which we are treated. As a student I waitressed in a range of places and my enjoyment of the job spanned the whole gamut from ‘great fun’ to ‘leaving after one day.’ Taking orders and delivering food was simple; the job’s endurability was down to the people and the way they treated me. 

And so it is with our careers. 

As we launch the #YouInspiredMeToBe hashtag this week, with an associated activity coming soon to the Learning Resources section of the blog, we focus not on our skills at work, but on how we are treated and what we learn from that. Our author earlier this week wrote to a retired neurosurgeon to thank him for his outstanding practice in breaking bad news. She was not just inspired by him, but she took something way from how he was, how he made people feel, who he helped her to become.

If we want to know who we are at work – what really matters to us, what inspires us to be more ‘us,’ maybe instead of looking at our skills, we should look to our colleagues, and who they help – or hinder – us to be? If I make a list of the people who have inspired me to be the best version of myself in the workplace, and then I look at what those people allow me to do, how they see me, who they help me to be, I will see that the colleagues who trust me to get on with a large, several month long jobs, who listen to and value my suggestions in co-crafting new learning programmes, who recognise my experience and expertise, they are the colleagues who bring out the very best in me, and whose work benefits accordingly. Freedom, trust and recognition are vital first steps in enabling me to do my absolute best. And sadly, when I have worked with people who micro manage, criticise every word and do not use the extensive expertise I have, I clam up, believing I have nothing to add. This adversely affects the work we are employed to do. 

So this week I am messaging several people, with copies of this blog post, to tell them how they have inspired me, who they have inspired me to be. Because of them, I have done and am still doing some great work. They give me reason to continue, a sense of efficacy, and belief in myself and in the humanity they display. They make work a pleasure, not a burden. And together we achieve so much more. 

Who are you going to message: #InspiredByYouToBe? 

  1. https://www.belbin.com/about/belbin-team-roles/