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What is a Strength-Based team?

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

At some point in our lives, most of us would have been or will be part of a team. In the context of the workplace, one business definition of a team is: “A group of people with a full set of complementary skills required to complete a task, job, or project. Team members (1) operate with a high degree of interdependence, (2) share authority and responsibility for self-management, (3) are accountable for the collective performance, and (4) work toward a common goal and shared rewards(s). A team becomes more than just a collection of people when a strong sense of mutual commitment creates synergy, thus generating performance greater than the sum of the performance of its individual members.” When pulling together "a group of people with a full set of complementary skills" leaders typically focus on recruiting or bringing onboard people based on their domain expertise or skills, once the purpose of or the objectives of the project is clear. Some form of “chemistry test” is usually embedded into this process too. However, does this suffice in today’s context?

The observation below from State of the Global Workplace, Gallup 2017 provides good insights and starting point.

"The benefits of a strengths-based culture are realized not only at the level of individual employees but also in the interactions among team members. The best managers assemble teams strategically with a forensic eye for employees’ individual and collective strengths. These managers are proactive in their selections and avoid assigning teams based solely on team members’ availability. Knowing their team members’ strengths, talented managers can set more targeted goals and maximize collaboration and productivity." For me, this was a lesson learnt the hard way and like riding a bike, now that I have learnt it, I will never forget.

Apart from the looking at the required functional or technical capabilities, leaders should be mindful of what strengths each person brings to the team as well as how it works as a whole. I find the framework below useful when building teams around people, not just processes and tools.

1. Uncover the strengths of each potential team member As a leader ascertains each team member's domain expertise, the leader should also identify strengths that may facilitate the team coming together as one as well as accelerate smoothening out team collaboration. This will have an impact on project success.

Examples of strengths are, some persons may have a more nurturing disposition, others the gift to see different perspectives, yet others the ability to keep people focused on the purpose, etc. Depending on the project dynamics or team composition, leaders should be mindful of what strengths would help contribute to the success of the project.

2. Highlight each team member’s complementary strengths

"Finding good players is easy. Getting them to play as a team is another story." Casey Stengel

Once each team member's strengths have been identified, it is advisable to have an open and honest discussion about the strengths of each team member and how they are complementary. By doing this, each team member will be recognized for and can play to their strengths while also recognizing other team member's strengths that they can tap into.

3. Review each team member’s strengths

"They are two things people want more than money and sex ... recognition and praise" Mary Kay Ash

Now that the team has started working together, it is prudent for the leader to continuously give due recognition during the course of the project to a team member and at a team level. Conversely, there will be occasions that a team member or the team needs a tune-up. The leader should not shy away from having a constructive conversation around this, coming from a strength or skill-based context. This provides opportunities for each team member to grow individually and as a team.

Moving to a strength-based, not just a skilled based, takes a shift in mindset as well as time and effort. However, the rewards of doing so can be unexpected and inspiring.

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