Three Lessons about Strengths-Based Teamwork

Have you ever been doing something routine when all of a sudden that thing you’ve done a bunch of times before causes you to have an epiphany into something unrelated? Maybe it happens while you’re on your daily walking or running route, or perhaps while listening to a favorite song or watching a memorable movie for the hundredth time. And for whatever reason, something about that routine thing gives you insight into something completely different and unrelated. Something like this happened to me recently while reading a children’s book to my kids for the billionth time. It was the book called The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle. 

The Very Busy Spider

If you’re not familiar with the book, all you really need to know is that a spider is quietly spinning her web in a barnyard and a bunch of other animals try to get her to stop spinning her web and do something with them. At the end of the story, a rooster shows up and asks her to catch a pesky fly. And well, as spiders do, she catches it and snares it in her web. 

I have read this book to my son dozens and dozens of times, but recently, while I was reading this again and trying to come up with new creative ways to do all these silly animal voices, it dawned on me that there is a very powerful lesson to be learned about how Strengths work in teams.

Here are three things I learned about Strengths-based teamwork from reading The Very Busy Spider that will help you build your team culture:

1. Everyone has a Role to Play

There are 10 animals in The Very Busy Spider. When each animal comes asking the spider to do something with them, they reveal part of the unique role they play on the team. Here’s what happens in the book:

  • The horse rides
  • The cow eats grass
  • The sheep runs in the meadow
  • The goat jumps on rocks
  • The pig rolls in the mud

You get the idea.

Let’s imagine that all of the animals on the farm are part of a larger team. They have a role and a function that only they can uniquely play. (Presumably, each animal has taken the StrengthsFinder to better understand what area they are best suited to serve the team.)

The farm only works well when each team member is playing the role only they can play.

2. Spend Time Refining Your Strengths

It’s obvious that each animal in The Very Busy Spider is asking the spider to hang out with them while they practice their area of strength. The reason the spider doesn’t go along with them is that she too is busy “spinning her web,” or practicing one of her strengths.

Often, leaders don’t spend enough time working on the things that only they are best at. They also don’t allow team members to operate in areas of their greatest strength. The leader of our “farm team” has clearly set up a system so each animal has the freedom to spend the majority of their day refining their area of greatest strength.

3. Wait for The Right Moment to Use Your Strengths

Although chasing cats and taking naps were probably interesting to the spider, she didn’t stop spinning her web to spend time with the dog or the cat. Instead, she continued working on what she was best at, so when the time came, her strengths could be used to maximum capacity.

She was rewarded when the rooster asked, “Want to catch a pest fly?” We learn that “…the spider caught the fly in her web… just like that!”

Strengths-Based Teamwork

I don’t know much about roosters, but I’m guessing they are not good at catching flies. What are roosters good at? Alerting others of action that needs to be taken. A rooster “sounds a distinctive alarm call if predators are nearby.”

This particular rooster knew that this particular spider was excellent at catching flies. The rooster used her strengths to help the spider use her strengths, to catch the fly. This example of Strengths-based teamwork helps rid the barnyard of the pesty fly.

Three Action Steps

The reason the spider was able to use her strengths at the exact moment they were needed was because she had spent the entire day preparing for that one moment. She was busy spinning her web for the moment it was needed most.

Regardless of your specific StrengthsFinder themes, are you doing what you need to be doing today to sharpen and broaden your understanding of your strengths so that when called upon, you can use them in generative ways?

Here are three things you can do today to grow in your areas of greatest Strength:

  1. Say no to things that are not in your area of Strength. We all want to do more. If you’re serious about becoming the best at what you and only you can do, what can you say no to in order to get more time to do what you do best?
  2. Be disciplined. At the end of the day, take 5 minutes and reflect on your day. What specifically did you do that was in your area of strength? What wasn’t? How do you do more of what was?
  3. Find a Champion. At the end of the book, an owl stops by to admire the work of the spider. The owl, perhaps, was her champion and mentor. Who in your life recognizes your unique areas of strength, and can help you refine and grow them?

We only get to see one day in the life of our Very Busy Spider. Not every day will be as focused in our areas of greatest strengths. What will you start doing today so your StrengthsFinder themes can come more alive more often?