-Erin Passons is the president and founder of Passons Consulting. Her goal is to help people do what they do best, at work and in life. -
For more than a decade, I’ve had the unique opportunity of helping business leaders, managers, and employees improve their effectiveness using the StrengthsFinder assessment as part of professional development workshops and coaching. As a leadership development consultant and coach, one of the most common questions I’m asked from my clients is, “How do I use this information about Strengths to create a more effective team?”
While StrengthsFinder provides significant value to an individual by helping them identify their own natural talents, one of the more powerful applications of the tool (and a Strengths-based approach in general) is to help people work more effectively with others, both at work and in their personal life. The interpersonal dynamics that can be explored, explained, and improved within a team is one of the most fulfilling (and fun!) parts of my job.
It’s easy to find research from Gallup and others enumerating all the ways that a Strengths-based approach increases engagement, performance, and overall productivity; the data is extensive. But what does that look like in action, especially with teams? How can highlighting Strengths promote increased team communication, camaraderie, and ultimately, performance?
A real-life case study from a client can help bring this into focus. In the example that follows, an information technology team within a large high-tech company was having some communication troubles that affected their performance and effectiveness, and a few simple insights about their Strengths helped them to become more productive.
When we brought the team together for the StrengthsFinder workshop, the issue of less-than-effective meetings came up during a discussion of “Team Challenges and Opportunities.” Nearly everyone agreed that they all had the best of intentions at the start, but about halfway through most of their meetings, the conversations derailed into an often-heated and frustrating dialogue. I asked a few team members to share their perspectives with the group, and heard very different responses:
From Joe’s perspective: “Our meetings are horribly unproductive. We start out with a clear agenda of what we want to accomplish, and as soon as we start to check off an item on our list and make an action plan, someone brings up another opinion or idea, and we veer off into an unnecessary debate about the merits of that new idea. We talk in circles for the rest of the meeting and it takes us forever to actually get anything done. It’s endlessly frustrating! We need to just commit to one idea and figure out how to make it happen.”
From Rajesh’s perspective: “I disagree completely! I think the problem is that we don’t dedicate enough time to fleshing out all the ideas we generate, and we try to jump too quickly to making a plan. How can you make a plan when we don’t yet know exactly what we’re talking about? We need to debate, discuss, explore and then maybe the right idea will come about. But too many of the Type A people are jumping in with the to-do list before we’re ready! It just doesn’t make any sense!”
Clearly this was a textbook case of seeing the world through different Strength lenses, leading this team to miscommunication and disagreement. Worse, the team dynamics were beginning to lean toward mistrust, negative judgment and even anger.
I started to work toward a solution by asking a simple question of the group - “based on your unique talent combination, what do you need from the meeting experience for it to feel productive to you?” We heard a variety of responses, but most of them fell into two camps:
1) I call this first group the “Executors,” people who, like Joe, were primarily driven to accomplish a specific deliverable, make a plan, and check it off their list. They were action oriented and felt most productive when they had some clear takeaways and to-dos after the meeting. Their StrengthsFinder talents included themes such as Achiever, Arranger, Responsibility, Discipline, and Focus.
2) The second group I dubbed the “Ideators,” team members who, like Rajesh, really enjoy the process of brainstorming and watching the connections happen between one idea and the next. Some of these folks enjoyed the research process, of looking into the viability of each idea, whereas others felt most productive by being part of the energy created by bouncing ideas off of one another until the “right” one made itself known in an organic, free-form way. Their StrengthsFinder talents included themes such as Ideation, Strategic, Futuristic, Connectedness, Adaptability, Input, and Learner.
Once we agreed that most people could identify with one camp or another (based on their StrengthsFinder Top 5 and their own instinct), I offered a suggestion to the group to help improve their meetings. I encouraged them to think differently about the way their meetings are set up. I asked them to think about what would happen if the only other people in their meetings were in their same “camp”? While the initial response was “heck yeah, I’d love it!” after some chuckling they realized that they needed each other: the Ideators would come up with some amazing ideas but not necessarily know how to implement them, and the Executors could come up with an amazing plan of action, but…based on what?
So we decided to make some basic modifications to the meetings’ structure: The Ideators would meet first, and spend the first hour (or more if needed) in the brainstorming phase, moving closer to the right idea toward the end of their time together. Then the Executors would join the group, hear about the idea finalists, and help the group move to action from there. The team felt good about this strategy and committed to trying it out, but a few Analyticals remained skeptical.
Three months after the workshop, I checked in with the Manager to see how things were going. “You wouldn’t believe it!” he enthused. “It’s like we’re a whole new team! This one simple change has improved our productivity by at least 50%, not to mention the morale of the team has changed dramatically for the better.”
This straightforward example highlights the value of thinking through the specific Strengths of each person on your team – or on the team that you coach – as an essential step in improving real-world outcomes. Leveraging each team member’s unique talent profile can be a powerful way to build cohesion and help your employees see the value of a Strengths-based approach.
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Strengths-based Development (SBD) is our passion, commitment and life. Team reCreate is devoted to work that creates transformation, meaning and purpose in the lives of those we serve. This space is meant for you to get to know us, learn more about Strengths and hear from others in this line of work. Thanks for being on this journey with us!