One of the more difficult concepts that managers, and sometimes coaches, struggle with is the strengths-based team. On the surface, it seems an easy idea. It's a group of individuals who all use their talents and strengths to accomplish a common goal. Great! That does sound simple. It is, however, wrong. Not only is this incorrect, but trying to operate like this can actually hurt a true team. A strengths-based team requires much more than everyone simply working on their strong points; it requires a deep knowledge of each team member's strengths and weaknesses and, importantly, the orchestration of those strengths and weaknesses to fit the goals of the team. Without that orchestration, teams flounder, flail, and fight.
Let me share with you a recent experience I had with a strengths-based team. I was working with a team charged with developing some really innovative ideas for one of our clients. At the project kick-off, we had gathered the team together to brainstorm and ideate on all the different things we could do -- the more ideas the better. Many people in the room had talent profiles that were perfect for such a task. We had lots of Ideation, Positivity, Strategic, and Self-Assurance, among others. And the majority of people in the room were leaning into those strengths and generating great ideas at a rapid pace, except for one guy -- there's always one, right? This person was not in brainstorming mode; this person was in full-on execution mode.
Whenever a somewhat decent idea would develop, he would ask what the next steps were or try to assign responsibilities. He was using his talents -- he has tons of Activator -- but unfortunately, he was using it at the wrong time and place. As a result, he was completely throwing off the pace of the group. We would stutter and the idea generation, which was the point of the meeting, would grind to a halt. Happily, the team leader not only knew each of our strengths and weaknesses, but also knew how to orchestrate them to meet the specific demands of the project. "Jim, I love your enthusiasm, but I think you are moving a little bit ahead. Right, now what we need is less activator and more Context. What do you know has worked in the past for similar clients?" And off Jim went recounting past successes, giving great ideas in the process. Erstwhile Jim was hurting the group, now Jim was a valuable and leading contributor. Some of our best ideas came from him!
The genius of what that team leader did was not that she put a stop to Jim's Activator, but that she orchestrated his other talents to fit the needs of the group and the needs of the project. Where Jim had at first been a contradictory partner -- his talents were completely offsetting the actions of the group -- Jim was now a complementary one. And this is the key to strengths-based teams -- forming complementary partnerships. To do so, one must know each of the team member's talents and strengths, help team members understand which of their specific talents and strengths are needed by the group, and then position them in a way to contribute to the common goal. It's not easy, but when all of these things occur, a team will finally become a strengths-based team.