There has never been a better time to unleash the power of team strengths.
Written on the 12 June 2013 by Paul Brewerton
The power of the team is in its strengths!
Paul Brewerton, co-disigner of Strengthscope, explains how teams can identify and use members' strengths to improve performance.
Whether you have the luxury of establishing a brand new team to deliver on a particular project or task, a restructured team, with some team members who know each other, have a so-called 'dysfunctional' teams, who are performing at a lower-than-acceptable standard, or a team wanting to take the step from good to great, whatever the status of the team, the development of individual and team strengths
We feel that it's important for teams to follow a semi-structured process for their development to ensure that they can take in productive habits that last over time and become part of the team's normal 'way of doing things'.
Without this semi-structured approach, we've found that many team development interventions start and finish with initial self-disclosure; with team members talking about their aspirations, motivations, their strengths and development areas; with some practical activities that see the team starting to work in a more open and trusting way. However, unless these initial activities are followed up with action and then built on over time, it is most often the case that initial positive steps go no further and the team retreats into old habits and behaviours.
Our recommended approach starts with the initial 'Awareness' stage of strengths discovery, as well as discussions around the team's purpose and individual roles and responsibilities.
The aims, at this stage, are to help the team understand individual strengths: what energises and excites members about work; when they are at their best and approaching a 'flow' state; which strengths they would like other members of the team to 'call on them' for.To facilitate this discussion, we ask individuals to complete our strengths assessment psychometric tool first, to provide a common language and understanding around their individual strengths. During the workshop that follows this, the team explore their most significant individual strengths and 'showcase' these, asking the rest of the team to 'call on them' for particular strengths they possess that can benefit other team members.
Using the team report, members explore the strengths that define the team, those that they value the most and those that they may be taking for granted, as well as finding out which strengths they lack and whether this may present a risk to the team's performance.
What we are looking for here, are some 'quick wins' that can help the team gain value from the strengths approach to increase the chances of it embedding at this early stage. This is most often based on increasing the connections between individual team members so they can gain a hands-on appreciation of how other people's strengths could be useful to them, and how their strengths could be useful to others, in the team context.
So, by this stage, the team will have gained a clearer vision of their purpose and core strengths; a better understanding of how they can achieve their objectives using those strengths; and some practical guidance about how team members would like to contribute to their team's goals using their own strengths and energies. However, the team will also have experienced challenges since the first workshop - members may have become more aware of elements of the work environment that are holding them back from being as productive as they can be; for some people, being busy may have prevented them from using the knowledge they gained at the first workshop to make much of a difference to their approach in the team context. So, at this stage, we encourage teams to introduce disciplines into their core processes to ensure that the strengths approach becomes embedded.
As with any approach to change, new knowledge and new behaviour needs to be reinforced and embedded using a variety of levers. These can include, for example, performance management/appraisal conversations, project/task allocation, discussions of strengths at team meetings, visual representations to remind team members of each others' strengths, reviewing positive experiences (as well as negative ones) and the role that strengths had to play in achieving positive outcomes.
We also explore work environment enablers and blockers of the productive use of team members' strengths, identified in our team report at the first workshop. It may be that the team feels that, for example, workload, business processes, senior leadership approach, level of collaboration, or any other number of factors are either inhibiting the team from achieving its goals, or are supporting the team in this regard. We encourage the team to be realistic in formulating plans for change as a result of organisational constraints and also organisational strengths. Where aspects of the work environment are outside the team's control, we ask them what they can do to effect changes at a local level.
Agility: learning to 'curb team enthusiasm' and get the best from strengths
At the third stage of the 4As process, the idea of 'Agility' is introduced. In order to remain relevant and successful, we have found that teams need to learn how to be flexible and keep pace with their changing environment, as well as how to take advantage of new opportunities that arise.
Questions we pose to the team at this stage include:
Part of this conversation relates to agile use of strengths, specifically ensuring that strengths do not go into overdrive (for example, a Collaboration strength in overdrive leads to over-consultation and delayed decision-making, or a Results-focus strength in overdrive leads to people not feeling bought-in or involved in the delivery of a project but railroaded into delivering short-term results).
In addition, the team may need to ensure that limiting weaknesses are explored and addressed, at both individual and team levels. For example, the team may lack a member with an Efficiency strength and recognise this as an area that needs attention and for which they may need external support, otherwise they may risk not developing, or valuing, the core processes needed to deliver their objectives.
What we have found is that productive teams monitor progress habitually and build strong learning and feedback loops into everyday work practices to ensure constant improvement. At this stage of the 4As process, we help teams identify and implement success strategies and practices that will ensure continuous improvement and maintain high levels of positive energy over the long run, as well as delivering short-term results.
In addition, we help teams formalise what success looks like, how to spot it and how to mark it. Most often, this relates to the perspective of the team's customers/stakeholders and whether they agree that the team is delivering real value to them.Of course, the cycle doesn't end here - with the team's knowledge and self-awareness growing all the time and the strengths philosophy becoming more embedded, an enhanced level of awareness emerges and the 4As cycle starts again, this time taking individual and team strengths to the next level of performance.
What we have found in applying the strengths approach is that teams that follow the cycle through in a disciplined way report a number of important benefits. These include:
So, is the identification and use of a team's strengths the 'silver bullet' to developing high-performing teams? It may not be the only answer but it can certainly provide teams with a sense of control and a renewed sense of identity and meaning in an otherwise unpredictable environment. We would encourage teams to understand their strengths and talents and to drive up team performance by using them more effectively.Reference 1 Csíkszentmihályi M. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper and Row (1990)
Talent Tools provides Strengthscope Reports, Accreditation and in-house strengths-based team workshops. Enquire Here.
About: Co-founer and director of the Strengths Partnership, UK. Co-creator of Strengthscope