4 Tips to Improve Teams using a Strengths-Based Approach

"There is no more effective way to empower people than to see each person in terms of his or her strengths." Don Clifton

Decades of research have proven that when people are given the opportunity to do what they do best every day, the effect on individual, team and organisational performance is powerful. The problem is that most people aren’t able to accurately identify their own strengths and therefore can’t intentionally use them.

Strengths-based development is an approach that helps team members identify how they can purposefully aim their talents so that the team is better equipped to accomplish its goals and performance objectives and respond to every situation. It builds on one’s areas of greatest potential rather than seeking to shore up weaknesses; providing the greatest opportunity for success.

We’ve provided 4 tips to improve individual and team interactions using a strengths-based approach.

But first, a little background

The traditional approach to development focused on maintaining each person’s strengths and working on fixing their weaknesses; improvement areas are identified and then an improvement plan created.

A strengths-based approach focuses on each person’s strengths and manages the weaknesses; talents are identified and the strengths developed.

Studies have found that when people invest in areas in which they have a natural talent, the improvement is much larger. In one study, two groups of readers went through the same speed reading course - one group of normal readers (90 words per minute) and one group of gifted readers (350 words per minute). The normal readers experienced a 66% improvement in their score after the course, but the gifted readers improved by 828% (yes, that’s not a typo – from 350 to 2,900 words per minute!) Even more incredibly, only 10% of the gifted readers recognised that they had a gift for reading – we often take our natural talents for granted and assume ‘it’s just normal, isn’t it?’

Gallup has developed an assessment to measure people’s natural patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving to help them discover their talents. Over 20 million people have taken the CliftonStrengths assessment to date, and a huge body of ongoing research is available to help people use this knowledge to transform their lives, their teams and their businesses.

Gallup has found that:

  • people who use their strengths are three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life
  • people who use their strengths are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs
  • teams that focus on strengths every day have 12.5% greater productivity
  • teams who receive strengths feedback have 8.9% greater profitability

A strengths-based approach is essential for creating an exceptional workplace culture. That's why more than 90% of the Fortune 500 companies use CliftonStrengths.

34 Talent themes have been identified and they fall into four domains:

  • Executing
  • Influencing
  • Relationship Building
  • Strategic Thinking

So how can you use the power of a strengths-based approach to improve individual and team interactions?

1. Understand that our natural talents are a filter

Our talents determine what gives us energy, they influence our choices and how we respond to situations, they affect how we think about and process information, they affect how we build relationships and influence others. Becoming aware of your natural talents will help you to appreciate your own unique contributions and to appreciate the benefits of someone else’s unique contributions when they are different to yours.

2. Know that all talents are neutral, there are no ‘good ones’ or ‘bad ones’

How we choose to apply our talents can make them a strength or a weakness. Gallup’s definition of weakness is ‘anything that gets in the way of your success’. These can come from your most dominant themes as well as your lesser themes. Being aware of your talents can help you to intentionally choose how you apply them and help you to understand your blind spots and why you may find some people harder to deal with than others.

3. Once you have an awareness of your talents, you can point them at specific outcomes

What is the desired goal? Why is it important? Which of your talents has the most natural connection to the goal? What specific actions can you take? How will you know you are doing better? A coach can help you with this.

4. Build a team that appreciates that differences are advantages

Great teams share a common mission and purpose, everyone on the team understands and appreciates that he or she is great at some things and not very good at others, and team members are aware of each other’s talent filters. A strengths-based team is a group of imperfect but talented contributors who are valued for their strengths and who need one another to realise individual and team excellence.

Article written by Karin Lehmann, ODI specialist workshop facilitator and accredited Gallup Certified Strengths Coach