Can Virtual Reality Reveal Team Preferences?

Identifying natural team preferences, also known as team roles, is of great importance in order to develop an effective high performing team. It neutralises intra team conflict through a better understanding of individual motives and behaviours and allows the team to assign tasks more effectively to play to the team’s strengths.

In order to recognize these natural team roles, virtual reality can be utilised and this leverages a well known disinhibition effect, allowing individuals to naturally express themselves and reveal their group working preferences completely and subconsciously. In turn, this increases mutual understanding between colleagues, increasing effectiveness within teams and the work environment.


What are Team Preferences and why are they Important?

Team preferences can also be referred to as team roles and refers to the finite range of useful behaviours which contribute to team performance, which can be grouped into a set number of related clusters. These can be patterns of behaviour that characterises an individual’s behaviour to another in facilitating the progress of a team. This then allows a team to benefit from self-knowledge and adjust their behaviour according to the demands made by the external situation (Belbin, 2004). Overall, this will enable a productive, effective team to be developed and formed.


Belbin Framework

Belbin (2004) conducted research in order to investigate what behaviours make teams the most successful, concluding that most successful teams were made up of a diverse mix of behaviours. His philosophy is about celebrating and making the most of individual differences, which can work together effectively. Identifying team roles also allows for the articulation and use of their strengths to the best effect, as well as the awareness of their weaknesses which enables efforts to mitigate these. In most instances, people have a number of preferred team roles or behaviours that they naturally display, however, often they display manageable roles. These roles are less natural but can be assumed if required in order to fulfil an objective. However, the most detrimental are when individuals are force to assume least preferred roles, which require a large amount of effort and cause a poor outcome. Therefore, it is imperative to identify individuals natural team roles and work with those who possess roles that are complementary to one’s own.

In order to establish these high-performing teams, Belbin created the Nine Belbin Team Roles. The first Team Role identified is Recourse Investigator, where the individual uses their inquisitive nature to find ideas to bring back to the team. They are often enthusiastic, develop contacts, and explore opportunities. The second Team Role is Team Worker, where these individuals use their versatility and co-operative nature to identify the work that is required to then complete it on behalf of the whole team. Next is the Co-ordinator, who focus on the team’s objectives and delegate work appropriately and are often mature, confident, and have clear goals. The fourth Team Role is Plant, which identifies those who are highly creative and expert problem solvers. Following on from this is the fifth Team Role of Monitor Evaluator, who are logical and make impartial judgements based upon the best strategy. The sixth category is Specialist, which refers to those considered to be an expert in their subject area, providing specialist knowledge and skills. Shaper is the seventh category, and defines those who provide the necessary drive to ensure that the team stays motivated and focused. The eight category is Implementer, which are those who plana workable strategy and implement this as efficiently as possible. They are often practical, reliable, and efficient. Finally, the ninth category is the Completer Finisher, who are most effective at the end of tasks and scrutinise the work for errors. They may also be known as perfectionists as they polish the work to the highest possible standards.


How can Virtual Reality Reveal Team Roles?

Virtual reality allows for a safe, virtual space in which the individuals feel that they are in contact with their colleagues, but with a layer of invisibility and anonymity. This layer of invisibility can account for the Online Disinhibition Effect, which is the lack of restraint one feels when communicating online compared to communicating in person due to the feeling of safety (Suler, 2004). This means that individuals behave in more of a natural way, allowing for expression of themselves which they may not feel comfortable doing in a face to face environment. In turn, this can aid to identifying their natural team role which may not be possible in real world environments as they may be controlling their normal behaviour and running a large amount of self monitoring.

Additionally, virtual reality has increased immersion compared to traditional face to face team builds or virtual screen meetings. This has helped to combat the negative, mundane stereotypes which have been associated with traditional team building exercises which can cause poor engagement between colleagues. Due to this, the problems of pseudo teams can develop, which has been seen to increase levels of work errors and a decrease in productivity (West & Lyubovnikova, 2012). However, due to the innovative method of virtual reality, individuals have been seen to engage more in the activity due to the pioneering, fun aspects, therefore allowing for those quieter colleagues to come out of their shell. This allows for a more natural expression of the person, which in turn reveals their natural team preferences and helps to establish understanding with one another.


How does Virtual Reality Experiences Utilise these Findings?

Here at Virtual Reality Experiences, we implement virtual reality collaboration tools, which help to combat communication and geographical barriers to enhance immersion and reveal individuals natural team preferences. This has allowed for the development of a more effective workforce as a greater understanding of individuals team preferences has been achieved. In turn, an increase in mutual understanding and respect occurs, creating a more enjoyable, productive environment for all members of the team.

Belbin, M. (2004). Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail (2nd ed.). Butterworth Heinemann.
Suler, J. (2004). The Online Disinhibition Effect. CYBERPSYCHOLOGY & BEHAVIOR, 7(3), 1–7.
West, M. A., & Lyubovnikova, J. (2012). Real Teams or Pseudo Teams? The Changing Landscape Needs a Better Map. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 5(1), 25–28.