As anyone familiar with Lean Six Sigma methodologies can tell you, you can have all the right parts in place, but if they are not being used as efficiently as possible, the entire project will suffer. Xerox Lean Six Sigma takes advantage of the Belbin Team Role system to keep the most important parts of any project –its team members – working at their highest potential.

The Belbin Team Role system is incorporated into the Lean Six Sigma Black Belt curriculum and is meant to help product development teams identify members’ strengths, weakness, roles and skills. The system has been used by Xerox for five years on a variety of teams, including the Xerox ColorQube product development team.

The system was developed in a nine-year study beginning in the 1970s by Meredith Belbin, a researcher in the United Kingdom. He investigated what factors made teams efficient and inefficient, identified nine set behaviors (team roles) and concluded that a mix of the roles proved to be more effective than a group of like-minded members. Belbin found that most teams comprised of members who had similar roles were difficult to manage, prone to destructive and unresolved debates, and were more competitive than collaborative. These teams were also found to be prepared for some tasks but unequipped for others.

The Belbin Team Role process can be implemented before a project begins or once obstacles start to occur; however, it is most effective when a team is put together with the nine essential roles in mind rather than looking for roles within an established team. Belbin also determined that even though there are nine roles, the optimal group size is five to seven people; any less could create voids and more could have a surplus of roles.

“We incorporate Belbin’s model into the Xerox Lean Six Sigma Team Accelerator workshops – which recently paid off great for the ColorQube development team,” said Aqua Porter, vice president of Lean Six Sigma at Xerox. “The process prevented team members from working in silos and developing their own techniques – in favor of group collaboration.”

The ColorQube team was spread out among multiple locations around the world, including members in the United States, Canada, England and Malaysia. In addition to handling the technical challenges of the project, the team also had to find a way to share information and collaborate with colleagues in various regions. For instance, the print head subsystem alone involved five teams located at different locations – two teams in Wilsonville, Ore., were responsible for creating a unified print head out of four separate print heads. The teams then sent the project to Malaysia for additional development. Meanwhile, team members in Webster, N.Y., developed the complicated coding for the subsystem and a team of engineers in England were responsible for integrating the complete subsystem into finalized machines. With complicated technical challenges and a variety of team members working on one solution, the opportunity for miscommunications and misunderstandings were high.

Jeff Blank, vice president for direct marketing products, oversaw the entire project with Don Titterington, vice president for print head and ink research development, and Mark Tennant, director for advanced development. Tennant and Titterington found themselves focusing too much on team dynamic dilemmas that wasted valuable time. The ColorQube has more than 360 patents behind it, with so many technical challenges there was no room for inefficiencies.

To resolve these issues, the project leaders implemented Team Accelerator workshops for the ColorQube team in Willsonville, Ore. At the workshops, the ColorQube team began by establishing team ground rules. Then, each member was asked to develop their perceived needs and align expectations. Before the training, the team found that parallel solutions developed by different groups often lead to conflict. This training helped the team identify these problems before they began. As the team identified their strengths and weaknesses, they developed a better understanding of the group’s dynamics and how to better communicate to avoid problems.

By implementing Team Accelerator workshops, the ColorQube team learned how to draw on the strengths of each team member and work together to create one of Xerox’s largest product launches this year.

The Team Accelerator workshops program greatly benefited the team responsible for the ColorQube launch, but its influence didn’t stop there. Titterington found himself incorporating what he learned within his daily routine.

“Not everyone is going to fit into a perceived mold. To be successful, I have to play to my strengths and understand areas where I am not as strong,” he said. “Team Accelerator and my black belt training helped me to identify my skill set and tailor my techniques. For instance, I’ve updated how I run my staff meetings and have made them much more efficient.”

After experiencing the success of the workshops first hand, Titterington, Blank and Tennant see the value of the tools for any product development process.

“Team Accelerator can help to resolve issues in the process before they become problems and minimizes duplication of work, to improve overall efficiencies,” said Blank. “These workshops help the team recognize its potential and can really benefit each team member.”