In order for your team to provide quality early years provision, each individual should be aware of the part they play in helping it to function effectively. Below are some descriptions of the roles typically adopted by different team members that will help you to define your contribution

Teamwork is essential to the successful delivery of high-quality early years services for children and their families. Within your setting you will be well aware of the benefits of working as part of a team made up of individuals with a variety of skills, attitudes and personal qualities. The qualifications and experience which individuals have are clearly of paramount importance, not least to comply with the statutory requirements of the EYFS. However, the attitudes and personal characteristics of the members of the staff team are also very important as they will determine how effectively individuals work together on a day-to-day basis. Knowing your own role in the team, and being aware of the roles which other people play, can help you to understand more about how teams operate and how to make the most of everyone’s contribution.

What sort of a team player are you?
As an initial step towards defining the role you play in your staff team, you may like to look at the work that Meredith Belbin has done on recognising the characteristics and approaches favoured by different members of a team. By studying the behaviour of individuals within a team situation Belbin has defined a number of different roles which members of a team adopt. The following nine different roles which team members play are based on their personalities, ways of thinking and characteristic behaviours:

  • completer/finisher
  • coordinator
  • implementer
  • monitor/evaluator
  • plant
  • resource investigator
  • shaper
  • specialist
  • team worker.

Most people display three or four natural roles which they tend to adopt depending on the nature of the challenge they are addressing. To find out which of these roles most closely matches your own personal approach you could try completing the ‘self-perception inventory’ available on the website at This website also has a definition of each of these roles, including the contribution each might bring to a team, and a summary of what Belbin defines as ‘allowable weaknesses’. This reinforces the fact that no one role is superior to another, but all bring value to a team in different ways. Being aware of the roles you play in your staff team will not only help you to contribute more effectively but will also enable you to understand your colleagues better. Having a greater appreciation of where other people are coming from, and why they think and act as they do, can avoid many of the minor irritations that can often block progress on the important issues of guaranteeing high-quality outcomes for children.

As an alternative to the Belbin approach to defining team roles, Peter Honey has proposed a simpler approach which involves five definitions of individual roles within a team situation. In this analysis of how people operate in a team you could find yourself playing the role of:

  • leader – the person who makes sure the objectives are clear and that everyone is involved and committed
  • challenger – the one who questions ineffectiveness and takes the lead in pressing for improvements/results
  • doer – the person who urges the team to get on with the task in hand
  • thinker – the individual who produces carefully considered ideas and weighs up and improves ideas from others
  • supporter – plays the part of easing tensions and maintaining harmonious working relationships.

Again, all these roles are equally important and it is only when an effective balance is created that decisions are made and implemented and the job gets done. By knowing the role which you play as an individual you will be in a better position to carry it out effectively. You will also be more aware of the roles which your colleagues play and better able to appreciate their contribution to team working.

Helping children to work as a team
As teamwork skills are of such importance to us throughout our lives, it is important young children have lots of opportunities to develop these skills during their time in the early years setting. From a very early age babies and toddlers can be encouraged to be aware of one another, learning from observing and copying one another’s actions. As they grow older they will begin to appreciate the effects of their actions on others and start to appreciate the world from another person’s point of view. Providing children with lots of opportunities to collaborate and cooperate by being involved in group projects will help them to see the different skills which other people – children and adults – can bring to a team situation, and how much more can be achieved by a group of people working together.

  • Links with EYPS Standards: S33, S34, S35, S36
  • Links with Ofsted SEF: Section 4f, 5i

This e-bulletin issue was first published in December 2009

About the author: Linda Thornton and Pat Brunton are early years consultants, trainers and authors and edit Early Years Update