Building teams with biscuits

I am not the World’s Biggest Fan of teambuilding days.

I have had good experiences, and I’ve had mediocre experiences, and I’ve also had drunken experiences that are best forgotten, so it’s not that teambuilding events are always a bad thing; it’s just that they’re not usually my thing.

I’m not entirely comfortable facilitating them either.

I feel nervous that I’m adding enough value to justify the time and cost commitment – is it really a good use of the organisation’s coin – I ask myself – as I watch people rolling around in treacle trying to build a bridge with a box of paperclips and a stack of A4 paper?


It was a relief to chat to Paul Tizzard about this topic for the Trainer Tools podcast (see here: Practical approach to fun and effective teambuilding events) because it helped me think through different structures and approaches to teambuilding events, and I find structure is a great way to help plug a confidence gap.

During the discussion we stumbled on a silly thing called Belbin’s Biscuits – a light-hearted variation on the famous team roles model by Dr Meredith Belbin.

I’m not a massive fan of the Belbin model because I think most work groups are only nominally teams, and are not teams in the sense that they don’t work together with complementary skills and talents toward the same objectives: most work groups are only teams insofar as they sit in the same department and report to the same manager, they’re not teams in the sense that they depend on each other to succeed.

Belbin’s model is strongest when working with that classic idea of the team where individuals rely on each other, forming a human clockwork chain, to get to the same end goal: you complete the tasks with your brilliant attention-to-detail while Bob keeps the team together, Angie coordinates our efforts and I sit back having all the brilliant ideas etc.

Belbin can still be useful. I have used it effectively when setting up new project teams, it sparks interesting discussions and makes us consider what we might be missing and how we might ensure we’ve got all the bases covered – so I’m not saying it’s a load of rubbish, it’s just not my favourite tool – or it wasn’t until it got linked to one of my absolutely favourite tools: the biscuit.

The version discussed in the podcast was from Personnel Today – here is a link to the article*

A variation I found has this choice:

  • Jammy Dodger
  • Jaffa Cake†
  • Hob Nob
  • Rich Tea
  • Chocolate Digestive
  • Digestive
  • Shortbread
  • Custard Cream

Shockingly my top three choices mapped exactly to the Belbin model!

Below is the alternative – but very similar – version I found – unfortunately the source is unknown, and so apologies for lack of attribution:

Belbin’s Biscuits

The biscuit preferences of company board members bear an uncanny resemblance to their business mindset and professional style – these are the findings of a new study commissioned by UB, a leading European manufacturer of biscuits and snacks. Leading psychologist Gladeana McMahon, who carried out the study said, “Boardroom members can reveal their personalities through their biscuit eating behaviour. In the same way as they can reveal their thoughts, needs and wants through body language and verbal communication – the biscuits they choose, the number they eat and whether they stick to the same biscuit all say something about the people themselves.”

The dynamics of the boardroom are often played out round the biscuit plate. Take one biscuit and you are seen as conformist, two biscuits, confident and three or more as being overly competitive or aggressive. Anyone deliberately taking the Chief Executive’s favourite biscuit is seen as making an indirect challenge – does this signal a potential boardroom coup or just insensitivity? Who takes the first biscuit in your meetings? Does the board follow a set pattern of behaviour or do members defer till the dominant personality defines the pecking order.

The study was modelled on Dr Meredith Belbin’s findings in the 1980s “Management Teams: Why they succeed or fail, Butterworth Heineman (1981)”.

Dr R. Meredith Belbin obtained his first and higher degree at Cambridge University. In 1988 he founded Belbin Associates which produces Interplace, a computer-based Human Resources Management System, now used worldwide and in 1966 he published The Coming Shape of Organisation., which identified a range of personalities present in any effective management team and these types were matched with the most popular types of biscuits.

The Co-ordinator who likes the complexity of a Jammy Dodger

Co-ordinators are likely to be the Chief Executive or Chairman of the board – someone who likes to clarify goals, promote effective decision making and has the ability to delegate. This biscuit is rich in experience as well as texture and is likely to be chosen by the individual with a high business acumen and sound judgement. Definitely a biscuit to be confidently munched.

The Plant who likes the hidden pleasures of a Jaffa Cake

Plants are creative, imaginative and unorthodox – someone who solves difficult problems and advances new ideas and strategies. Jaffa Cakes tend to be a favourite with Marketing and Communications Directors as the chocolate on the outside belies the pleasure of the orange filling that helps the imagination burst free. Sucking makes this biscuit release its flavours to stimulate the flow of ideas.

The Shaper who gets a kick out of the Hob Nob

Shapers are challenging, dynamic and thrive on pressure, with the drive and courage to overcome obstacles. The Shaper imposes a pattern on the outcome of group activities. The Hob Nob is likely to be picked by the networking Sales Director, who is drawn to its name and enjoys the challenge of selling products in a competitive market. Crunching makes the most of time for this busy bee.

The Monitor Evaluator who sticks to classic Rich Tea

Monitor Evaluators are sober, strategic and discerning – someone who sees all the options and helps the team take balanced decisions. The Monitor Evaluator tends to be a Procurement Director who prefers a simple, unfussy biscuit at a reasonable price. A biscuit to be broken into pieces and treated with respect.

The Resource Investigator who likes the confident Chocolate Digestive

Resource Investigators are extroverted, enthusiastic and communicative – someone who loves to explore opportunities and create contacts that may be useful to the team. New Business Directors like the synergy brought about by the combination of chocolate and digestive biscuit that would appeal to a larger market than either on its own. Such is the confidence of this soul that dunking becomes an art form where the balance between softening the biscuit without loosing it becomes the challenge.

The Specialist who finds a Digestive the tops

Specialists are technical or financial experts such as the IT Director or Chief Financial Officer. The Digestive, is often chosen by this logical down-to-earth type, who seeks precision and accuracy above all else. This is the biscuit to be nibbled while concentrating on getting it right.

The Completer Finisher who likes the traditional Shortbread

Completer Finishers ensure the team is protected from mistakes and actively search for aspects of work that need a more than usual degree of attention. Production Directors are in the business of producing goods and Shortbread has all the necessary ingredients for sustaining the rigours of a demanding production schedule and the resolution of shop floor problems. Eaten almost whole this is the biscuit for those who like action.

The Team Worker who enjoys the reliability of a Custard Cream

Team Workers support members of the team by building on suggestions and improving communications, while fostering team spirit. The Team Worker enjoys the reliable way in which the custard filling welds the biscuit together and the Human Resources Director is the one most likely to make the most of welding the various people talents into a winning combination. Eaten layer by layer this really hits the spot.


* Here is a link to McVitie’s website on the Boaster Biscuit, which neither of us knew, but looks very nice

† I’m not getting into it, the Jaffa Cake is a biscuit for the purposes of this exercise

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