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From Meh to Marvelous: Transforming Teams with Strengths

Strengths-based teams high-performing teams
Photo Unplash by Vlad Hilitanu

In today's fast-paced, constantly ‘on’ world, the key to a thriving organisation lies in the heart of its teams.

Effective leaders and managers recognise that fostering a high-performing team is not just about meeting targets but nurturing an environment where every member feels valued and a sense of belonging.

Let's explore practical, actionable steps that leaders can take to create strengths-based, high-performing, productive teams.

What makes ‘High-Performing’ Teams

In his book, ‘The Culture Code’ Daniel Coyle outlines 3 key skills that teams need to develop to become high-performing:

Belonging: Creating the sense “that I belong here”. This isn't about fitting in, it's not about being the same as everyone else, it's about feeling a sense of belonging that this is where I should be and I'm amongst people who appreciate me for me.

Vulnerability: Group cooperation is created by small, frequently repeated moments of vulnerability. Of these, none is more powerful than the moment when a leader signals their vulnerability.”. Put in another way, a leader saying I screwed up here or admitting to making a mistake helps to create a psychologically safe environment. In other words, an environment where people can speak up and contribute effectively without fear of negative consequences.

Purpose: Understanding why you do what you do or are working towards something and the impact that it is making.

Leveraging Strengths to Build High-Performing Teams

Creating a thriving team is often overlooked or left to chance amidst the pressures of deliverables and deadlines. One of the most effective ways to build exceptional teams is by using strengths to build a sense of belonging, create an environment to go deeper and have more vulnerable reflective conversations.

We are hard-wired to focus on weaknesses and threats.

Throughout our lives, we are taught that we will perform better by focusing on improving where we are weak. From the dawn of humankind, when we survived by hunting and gathering our very existence depended on a hyper-focus on threats to keep us alive. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have survived as a species.

When we focus on weaknesses and threats the amygdala in the brain is activated. This is the reactive fight-or-flight part of the brain. It causes adrenaline to be produced so that more oxygen is released to the muscles so our bodies are ready to fight or run away. It means that less resources are channelled into our brains, and we will think less rationally, creatively, and innovatively.

This is less relevant and useful in the modern world and even more so in the workplace. The part of the brain that we want to be engaged in work is the prefrontal cortex - strongly believed to be the source of our creativity. When we focus on strengths we become less defensive, better able to identify opportunities and more creative.

Understanding Individual and Team Strengths

With all the focus on weaknesses and where we need to improve, we rarely if ever delve deep into our strengths, even asking people what their strengths are can be met with a shrug of the shoulders.

Yet, we know from experience here at A Better Work having worked with hundreds of individuals and teams to identify their strengths and how that works together as a team, that it can have a profound effect on everyone involved, the leader, the individual, the team and the organisation as a whole.

Some anecdotal feedback we get when focusing on strengths with individuals and teams is how it can be ‘life-changing’. We hear strengths that are so natural to an individual have been undervalued because they assume others have the same innate strengths. We even get emotional responses when people see how something they may have seen as a weakness or fault is reframed as a strength and can be honed to become a superpower.

When we recognise how we ‘tick, how we ‘flow’, where we learn best and what comes most naturally to us, we can start to design work in a way that we perform not only at our best, but we begin to ‘thrive’. We can begin stretching ourselves in a way that is motivating and inspiring rather than overwhelming and stressful.

By having ‘strengths-based’ conversations as a team and understanding not only how we as individuals work, but also how each team member ‘ticks’ and what their unique strengths are, tensions are eased and we can begin to focus on the unique, individual value that each person brings and how incredibly valuable that is in teams.

Tworking’ your way to Strengths-Based Success

Now that we know why building a ‘thriving, high-performing team involves learning where your team's strengths lie, how do you begin to have these conversations?

Create an evidence bank of excellence: One of the first things we try to do with strengths is to change the mindset from focusing on weaknesses and threats to identifying and articulating our unique strengths.

Action for managers: facilitate one to two hours where your team have the space to name their strengths. Start by giving the team time to reflect on their proudest moments or greatest successes (in this role or any time in their lives). Then have them each jot down their thoughts on what their contribution was to that success.

Use the following prompts to delve deeper:

  • What was it about them that contributed to the success?

  • Did they have a strategic vision, anticipate challenges, influence others, co-elevate their colleagues, deliver consistently etc?

  • What was it they brought?

  • What came naturally, and what flowed?

  • What is it about the relationships they built of the influence they had?

  • What about how it all happened?

  • Did creativity play a part? How?

Allow team members to share back: Allow space for questions and other team members to help reflect back strengths they see in their colleagues that haven’t been mentioned. By building this bank of evidence, we begin to see our part in each of them and how the team fits together, and where we can leverage each others strengths better.

Identify when you are at your best as a team: As a follow-on from the above, use this to facilitate discussion by identifying what you do well specifically as a team. Again think of specific examples of what you did, why did it work so well? What are the reasons that it worked? Use this to identify when as a team, you are at your best.

How did the combined strengths of the team members contribute to that success? In what ways do you believe your team's unique combination of strengths sets you apart from other teams?

Supercharge your strengths focus

If all this talk of strengths has gotten you excited and ready to learn just what makes you and your team ‘tick’ or you feel like you need more support to identify the unique skillset of your team, ‘Clifton Strengths’ is a great way to help the team articulate their strengths, kickstarting conversations and helping you see how each team members skills fit together. What we love about this tool is that it is so individualised.

There are 34 different strengths with personalised descriptions - it means that the likelihood of you getting the same top 5 strengths in the same order as someone else is 1 in 33 million. No one is put in a box and everyone has the opportunity to explore their individual strengths as well as what they mean to their motivation, sense of accomplishment and creating an environment where they can be at their best.

By using a structured tool people begin to see synergies as well as blind spots and learn to articulate and understand what is unique to themselves and their team members.

It can radically improve a team member's confidence and because it doesn't focus on weaknesses they gain a greater understanding of the conditions for success with awareness of their blindspots to be managed.

Remember, high-performing teams are not built overnight. They require a deliberate effort from leaders to establish a culture of belonging, trust, and openness. By focusing on strengths, promoting a sense of belonging, and ensuring a clear purpose, managers can create high-performing teams that have a framework to thrive.

At A Better Work we work with our clients to make work better and more fulfilling. It's not about happiness, it's about feeling a sense of accomplishment, and building teams that work brilliantly together in good times and bad.

If you want to elevate your team's performance while creating a more engaged work environment. Check out our ‘Strengths-Based Teams Development Programme’ which gives you the tools and strategies to unlock your team's true potential.

Let’s make work better together.​​

Michelle Wallace


A Better Work


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