Team strengths – how to pinpoint them and harness them

Never has there been a better time to unleash the power of team strengths. With a drawn out and bumpy economic recovery in progress and ongoing restructuring of organisations, departments and teams, many employees are suffering survivor syndrome and general ‘change fatigue’, often being left unsure of the future and of how they can best contribute in a fast-changing and uncertain environment.

Identifying Team Strengths

Helping individuals to identify their strengths at a time like this can go some way to creating a sense of certainty, control and autonomy which is difficult to find elsewhere. Helping teams to pinpoint their collective strengths and to provide guidance on how individual strengths can best be deployed to the benefit of the team can provide a sense of group identity, purpose and meaning – widely regarded as being the single most important component in building high performing teams.

When taking teams through this process of ‘strengths discovery and application’, we use our ‘4 As’ model: Awareness, Action, Agility and Achievement. We ask individuals to complete Strengthscope™ first, to provide a common language and understanding around their individual strengths. This forms part of the ‘Awareness’ stage. At their first workshop, the team then explore their most significant individual strengths and ‘showcase’ these to other team members, asking the rest of the team to ‘call on them’ for particular strengths that they possess which can benefit other team members.

Using our team report, they then explore the strengths which define the team, those which they value the most and those which 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. This set of discussions ends with a definition of the team based on team strengths and a set of actions (moving into the second ‘A’ of our ‘4 As’ model: Action) for the team to start using individual and collective strengths more deliberately. Initially, this may mean reallocation of work based on strengths, closer working between individuals with complementary strengths, individuals undertaking to use others’ standout strengths to help them in their work, etc.
However, to leave the ‘team strengthening’ process at this stage is more than likely to result in unmet expectations and unrealised potential – as we know, left untended, new knowledge and well-intentioned action plans may well end up being taken for granted/ignored once more. So we encourage teams to introduce disciplines into their core processes to ensure that the strengths approach becomes embedded.

Reinforcing and Building on Team Strengths

As with any approach to change, new knowledge and new behaviour needs to be reinforced and embedded using a variety of levers, including for example, performance management conversations, discussions of team strengths at team meetings, visual representations of strengths (many teams use our Strengthscope™ card decks for this, distributed around the team’s desks, noticeboards, meetings, etc.), reviewing positive experiences (as well as negative ones) and the role that strengths had to play, etc. We have a variety of short activities which can help teams to reinforce and embed these disciplines so that they become part of the fabric of team conversations over time.

As the team continues to take action and becomes more ‘agile’ in its use of strengths (our third ‘A’, Agility), guarding against strengths in overdrive and more and more effectively deploying individual strengths to deliver outcomes, there is greater and greater opportunity to celebrate the team’s achievements (our fourth ‘A’, Achievement), as the next stage of reinforcement. The cycle doesn’t end there though – 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 ‘4 As’ cycle starts again.

So is the identification and use of a team’s strengths the ‘silver bullet’ to building teams that are high performing? 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.

By Paul Brewerton, Director – Strengthscope

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