How do you help a team grow, become highly productive, and operate out of their strengths?
Almost since I was introduced to StrengthsFinder in 2000 I have been thinking about a few things:
- Personally, how does this information about my StrengthsFinder results help me move forward in my own life and career?
- How does StrengthsFinder apply to the team environment?
The first question is one that I am still thinking about 15 years later and still finding new ways to leverage my strengths.
The second question is one that morphed in my understanding over time.
Back in 2003, I was trying to answer these questions as I found myself the manager of a small team of four. I was in my late twenties and had never led a professional team before. This team was charged with connecting prospective students to graduate education at the university where I was working.
The people I managed were at best neutral on me being chosen as their leader. They were mostly a patient group who helped me grow as a leader, eventually expand the size of the team, and eventually enroll the largest incoming classes in the history of our school.
Since I received StrengthsFinder training a few years prior, I had my team members complete the assessment. As our team grew, new team members took the assessment, and we talked about it on a semi-regular basis.
“Talking about it,” usually involved reading through results, and a half day group experience of quickly going through strengths theory, quickly debriefing each person’s strengths and quickly teaching all 34 themes.
Knowing what I know now, it was just scratching the surface.
And still, it was effective at helping our team function more out of who we were as individuals. Our team achieved good results! There were many reasons for this, but certainly focusing on strengths helped this process.
We have found that people who are exposed to strengths (in the manner I described) are 10% more likely to be engaged in their work from a strengths perspective.
Not Going Far Enough
Unfortunately, that basic understanding would fade over time. Team members might remember a few of their own strengths, and maybe one of their teammates as well. This work needed to go deeper.
I have had time to compare what we are doing now at Leadership Vision with StrengthsFinder, and building people, teams and cultures. What we do now would have been so helpful for all of my teams in my former context. Was what I did wrong? No. Did it make a difference? Yes. Could it have made more of a difference? Absolutely.
Here is what I would have told my younger self to grow my team using StrengthsFinder.
1. Have Individual Conversations with Each Team Member
When we work with teams, each team member gets an individual conversation with one of our consultants. This not only gives us more information about their unique strengths profile, but there are usually several “ahha!” moments from them along the way. Most professionals haven’t had someone get to know them on this level. Most meetings are spent focused on job performance, or fixing weak areas.
I was having weekly check in meetings with direct reports, but could have been more intentional about incorporating strengths during those conversations. Even if you haven’t had any formal training, you will start to hear the language of strengths by asking.
As a manager, this helps you know what motivates each of your individual employees based on how they see the world – through their strength lenses.
You can also use some of these simple questions to prompt discussion. It might feel a little clunky at first, but eventually, you will get the hang of it.
2. Integrate Strengths Language Everywhere
The only way to understand your own strengths, and the strengths of those around you, is to constantly integrate them into daily life. Whether that is explicitly through conversation (“tell me about how your Arranger works”), or subtly by including them in an email signature, on an office door, or displayed in other ways.
During our learning community 360, we leave participants with their illustrations. These are a snapshot of our interpretation from our 1 to 1 conversation of how their strengths work. These get put up in their offices and cubicles. It is a tremendous conversation starter, and we have been told that people are still talking about them years after we have left. This ongoing strengths conversation builds trust and allows you to work together more effectively.
Drawings would not have been realistic for me back then, but I would have individuals come up with pictures or objects that they think represent their strength in that moment of time. These could rotate, or stay the same. The idea is that it’s a way to integrate and talk about strengths, and how they are being used on a daily basis.
3. Teach Each Other
Teaching others how to do something is the best way to learn it yourself. Not only will you work harder to understand it, but you will recall it more accurately if there is accountability to help someone else understand.
At the heart of our work, is teaching. As consultants we teach, but we also allow the individuals we work with, to teach each other. It’s a way to hear different perspectives, different words and different stories to illustrate strengths. It is the first step to internalize it.
If I could go back 10 years and tell my younger self how to make strengths stick on the individual and team level, I would encourage this idea of teaching each other. It could look as simple as incentivizing (though $5 gift cards to a local coffee shop) team members to take time out of their schedule to sit down and have a 1 to 1 conversation with each team member, then take a few minutes during a staff meeting for two or more to share what they learned, and teach the group about each other.
If you want to help a team grow, and become highly productive, using strengths as a platform to build knowledge, purpose and trust, is a fantastic place to start. Only through repeated interactions will strengths, or any other assessment really gain traction in your organization. We would love to help you do that! Please contact us if you would like more specific information about what that looks like.