Saturday, 17 March 2012

Team roles in Watership Down

In the early 1980s, psychologist Meredith Belbin published an analysis of the various roles needed in a team for it to perform its task most effectively. Around a decade earlier, in 1972, Richard Adams wrote Watership Down, a tale about the adventures of a group of rabbits. So well-characterised are the rabbits in Watership Down that I've been able to match the main protagonists to the team roles that Belbin identified. I think it works quite well for most of them. (The descriptions of each team role are from this page on the Belbin Associates website.)

Plant – Blackberry

Creative, imaginative, free-thinking. Generates ideas and solves difficult problems.

'Hazel', he said quickly, 'that's a piece of flat wood – like that piece that closed the gap by the Green Loose above the warren – do you remember? It must have drifted down the river. So it floats. We could put Fiver and Pipkin on it and make it float again. It might go across the river.'

Resource investigator – Bigwig

Outgoing, enthusiastic, communicative. Explores opportunities and develops contacts.

Peering through the blades of grass round his head, he could see the curve of a white back. Whatever the creature was, it was nearly as big as himself. He waited, stock-still, for some little time, but it did not move... [T]he idea of going back to the Honeycomb and reporting that he had glimpsed an unknown creature in the grass and left it alone was more than he could swallow. He turned his head and looked at Silver. Seeing that he was game, he took a final look at the strange, white back and then went straight up to the edge of the hollow. Silver followed.

Co-ordinator – Hazel

Mature, confident, identifies talent. Clarifies goals. Delegates effectively.

Late in the afternoon Hazel called everyone into the Honeycomb. 'I've been thinking things over,' he said. 'I know you must all have been really disappointed not to have got rid of me at Nuthanger Farm the other day, so I've decided to go a bit further next time.' 'Where?' asked Bluebell. 'To Efrafra,' replied Hazel, 'if I can get anyone to come with me: and we shall bring back as many does as the warren needs.'

There were murmurs of astonishment, and then Speedwell asked, 'How?' 'Blackberry and I have got a plan,' said Hazel, 'but I'm not going to explain it now, for this reason. You all know that this is going to be a dangerous business. If any of you get caught and taken into Efrafra, they'll make you talk all right. But those who don't know a plan can't give it away. I'll explain it later on, at the proper time.'

Shaper – General Woundwort

Challenging, dynamic, thrives on pressure. Has the drive and courage to overcome obstacles.

Soon he had become Chief Rabbit, having killed both the previous Chief and a rival named Fiorin. In combat he was terrifying, fighting entirely to kill, indifferent to any wounds he received himself and closing with his adversaries until his weight overbore and exhausted them. Those who had no heart to oppose him were not long in feeling that here was a leader indeed.

Monitor-evaluator – Fiver

Sober, strategic and discerning. Sees all options and judges accurately.

When [Holly] had spoken of his deliverance by the great apparition in the night, Fiver had listened attentively and asked one question, 'Did it make a noise?' Later, when Holly had gone back, he told Hazel that he felt sure there was some natural explanation, though he had no idea what it could be... Someone called out, 'What does Fiver think?' 'I'm certainly going,' said Fiver quietly. 'Hazel's perfectly right and there's nothing the matter with his plan. But I promise you this, all of you. If I do come, later on, to feel any kind of misgiving, I shan't keep it to myself.' 'And if that happens, I shan't ignore it,' said Hazel.

Teamworker – Dandelion

Co-operative, perceptive and diplomatic. Listens and averts friction.

Since entering the wood they had been in severe anxiety... Pipkin sat trembling under a fern, his ears drooping on either side of his head. He held one paw forward in an awkward, unnatural way and kept licking it miserably... [Hazel said,] Come on, Dandelion, tell us a story. I know you're handy that way. Pipkin here can't wait to hear it.' Dandelion looked at Pipkin and realised what it was that Hazel was asking him to do. Choking back his own fear of the desolate, grassless woodland, the before-dawn-returning owls that they could hear some way off and the extraordinary, rank animal smell that seemed to come from somewhere rather nearer, he began.

Implementer – Holly

Practical, reliable, efficient. Turns ideas into actions and organises work that needs to be done.

He was, rather, a stander of no nonsense who knew when duty was done and did it himself. Sound, unassuming, conscientious, a bit lacking in the rabbit sense of mischief, he was something of the born second-in-command.

Completer-finisher – Silver

Painstaking, conscientious, anxious. Searches out errors. Polishes and perfects.

They found Bluebell by the hedge at the bottom of the field. He was white-eyed and ready to bolt. 'Silver,' he said, 'I saw a bunch of rabbits – strangers, Efrafans, I suppose – come out of the ditch over there and slip across into the water-meadow. They're behind us now. One of them was the biggest rabbit I've ever seen.' 'Then don't stay here,' said Silver. 'There goes Speedwell. And who's that? Acorn and two does with him. That's everyone. Come on, quick as you can.

Specialist – Blackavar

Single-minded, self-starting, dedicated. Provides knowledge and skills in rare supply.

In the days that followed – days of clear sky and fine weather – Blackavar proved his worth again and again, until Hazel came to rely on him as much as on any of his veterans... Now, free among these easy-going strangers, [Blackavar] saw himself as a trained Efrafan, using his skill to help them in their need. Although he did all that he was told, he did not hesitate to make suggestions as well, particularly when it came to reconnoitring and looking for signs of danger.

So there you go! Maybe the group of rabbits from Sandleford did so well because, among their number, they had all the different skills and characteristics needed to make a really strong, effective team. I just want to finish with Richard Adams' mythology of how rabbits came to be as they are; the blessing of Frith (Adams' god-figure) on El-ahrairah, the ancient rabbit hero.

El-ahrairah, your people cannot rule the world, for I will not have it so. All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you , they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.

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