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Software Testing Team Dynamics

Anne Mette Hass

This article is taken from Anne Mette Hass book Guide to Advanced Software Testing and is reproduced here with permission from Artech House.

Imagine if everybody were like you…

Would life be better or worse for that?

People have different personalities. This has been known since the ancient Greek philosophers defined four temperaments:

  • Phlegmatic - relaxed and peaceful;
  • Sanguine - pleasure seeking and sociable;
  • Choleric - ambitious and leader-like;
  • Melancholic - analytical and quiet.

The philosophers also said: “We all have our share of each - in different mixtures.”

Others have studied personalities including Freud, Jung, and Myers-Briggs. Based on Jung’s work, Myers-Briggs defines 16 personality types composed from four dimensions. The dimensions are:

  • How do you get energy?
    Extraversion (E)/Introversion (I);
  • How do you collect information and knowledge?
    Sensing (S)/Intuition (N);
  • How do you decide?
    Thinking (T)/Feeling (F);
  • How do you act?
    Judging (J)/Perceptive (P).

The Greek view is quite simple, the Myers-Briggs view rather complex, and they are both concerned with the individual person as just that: an individual.

Team Roles

Dr. Meredith Belbin and his team of researchers based at Henley Management College, England, studied the behavior of managers from all over the world for more than nine years. Their different core personality traits, intellectual styles, and behaviors were assessed during the research.

Results showed that there are a finite number of behaviors or team roles. A team role as defined by Belbin is “A tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way.”

Belbin has defined nine team roles based on his studies. They each describe a pattern of behavior that characterizes a person’s behavior in relationship to others in a team.

The nine team roles are divided into three roles types to create an overview and a deeper understanding of how the roles work. The Belbin roles are as follows:

Action Oriented (hands):

  • Shaper;
  • Implementer;
  • Completer.

People Oriented (heart):

  • Coordinator;
  • Teamworker;
  • Resource investigator.

Cerebral (head):

  • Plant;
  • Monitor;
  • Specialist.

Each of the roles has some valuable contributions to the progress of the team in which it acts. They also have some weaknesses that may have an adverse effect on the team.

The contributions and weaknesses are summarized in the table below.

Software Testing Team Dynamics

Everybody is a mixture of more team roles, usually with one being dominant. An analysis of an individual’s Belbin team role will give a team role profile showing the weight of each role in one’s personality.

Forming Testing Teams

It is the test manager’s responsibility to get the test team to work together as well as possible during a specific testing sub-process. And it is higher management’s responsibility to choose a test manager with the right traits, skills, and capabilities to be a test manager.

There are two aspects to a team: the people and the roles assigned to the people. Each individual person in a team has his or her personal team role profile (for example, according to Belbin) and a number of skills and capabilities. Each role has certain requirements toward the person or the people who are going to fill it. Apart from all that, the people in the team need to be able to work together and not have too many personality conflicts.

It can be quite a puzzle to form a synthesis of all this. But the idea is to choose people to match the requirements of the roles who will fit together as a team.

The ideal situation is, of course, when the manager can analyze the roles he or she has to find people for, and then hire exactly the right people. Advertisements, etc., can be tailored to the needs. The applicants can be tested, both for their personal traits and for their skills and capabilities. The team can then be formed by the most suitable people - and ahead we go.

Unfortunately, life is rarely that easy. In most cases the test manager either has an already defined group of people from which to form a team. Or he has a limited and specific group of people from which to choose. It might also be the case that the manager has to find one or more new people to fill vacancies on an existing team.

In all cases the knowledge of individuals’ Belbin team role profiles is a great advantage. Even people in teams that have worked together for a long time can benefit from knowing their own and the other team members’ team role profiles.

I once worked on a team with many frictions and mistrust. One of the team members had heard of the Belbin roles and we all had a test. That was a true revelation to us all. The two team members with the most friction between them were very different types. They had both been completely at a loss as to why the other acted as he did. Having understood that it was not ill will, but simply a question of being very different personalities, they worked much better together in the team.

The contributions as well as the weaknesses of each team role must be considered. A well-formed team is a strong team, and a team tailored for the task is the strongest team you can get.

Forming teams and getting them to work is not an easy task. There is no absolute solution, but some are better than others.


Related software testing team articles

Choosing and Managing the Ideal Test Team

Opening Communication within a Scrum Team


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This article was published in October 2017

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