Are you looking to boost wellbeing, inclusion and performance in your team? Well, taking a strengths-based approach could be just what you need because understanding and utilising strengths can create a ripple effect of positive emotions, better teamwork, and enhanced performance.
In this episode you’ll gain valuable tools and strategies for using strengths effectively with your team. I cover:
- The benefits of using strengths at work and with your team
- How to uncover your team’s strengths
- A few important pitfalls to avoid
- 5 different ways you can use strengths to boost wellbeing, inclusion and performance in your team
If you’re ready to harness the power of strengths to transform your leadership approach and your team’s positivity, productivity and performance, then this episode is for you.
Want to listen? Just click play below!
Prefer to read? Check out the article below.
Strengths-based leadership: boost wellbeing, inclusion, and performance in your team
You may know what your strengths are (if not, take a look at the previous article), but do you know the role that strengths play in the workplace? Have you ever thought about the strengths of individuals within your team? Strengths really do matter at work. Harzer and Ruch discovered that using them is important for fostering job satisfaction, pleasure, engagement, and meaning. Other research has found that developing strengths leads us to be able to adapt to change more successfully. As we’re always dealing with change in the workplace, strengths really can have a significant impact.
The benefits of strengths with your team
Strengths give us energy and bring enjoyment, so using them at work means we’re more likely to be in flow. The positive emotions generated support our cognitive functioning, wellbeing, and just about everything!
There are many benefits to knowing other people’s strengths. Firstly, strengths help us to focus on the positives, rather than the negatives or weaknesses within teams. When we recognise strengths in others it helps us to appreciate them and when we focus on strengths we can change what we see. This is important as what we see impacts our own behaviours and the direction we want to take ourselves and our teams. When we focus on what works, rather than what’s broken, possibilities open up. Fostering a more appreciative and positive team climate where team members acknowledge, recognise and celebrate what’s already great improves inclusivity, wellbeing, and performance across teams and whole organisations.
Secondly, being recognised for our strengths leads to an increase in positive feelings, both for the giver and the receiver of that strengths-based feedback. This creates what’s known as the contagion of positivity. Some research suggests that when we prime ourselves about positive characteristics or strengths of people before we interact with them, then it can lead to more positive interactions. If you think of someone’s strengths and all the things they are good at just before a meeting then your interaction is going to be more positive.
Thirdly, focusing on strengths creates positive emotions, which enhances success compared to negative emotions that narrow and limit our thinking. Ultimately, this boosts positivity, productivity, and performance in teams. I’ve mentioned in previous articles about the broaden-and-build theory from Barbara Fredrickson and we can apply it here; when positive emotions are prominent they open up how we think, feel and perform, this then builds, grows and brings positive contagion.
How to uncover your team’s strengths
There are several ways you can uncover strengths in your teams, and the great thing about strength-spotting is that it benefits the spotter too – positive contagion!
1. Tune in and pay close attention
Look out for signs of when someone is energised or drained. Hutchinson and Brown suggest that when strengths are present key indicators are:
- feeling relaxed, but focused and energised;
- their voice might be uplifted and have a lively tone;
- their eyes might light up;
- they might use rich descriptions and passionate language;
- their body language might become much more explosive and animated.
2. Ask people questions
This can also be useful for recruitment purposes too. Ask questions such as: what type of opportunities would interest you? And, what is it about these that you enjoy? You could also ask about what might be quite tiring and hard work for people and what it is about those tasks that they find draining. Knowing this information is helpful as strengths energise us and things that are not our strengths can deplete us. We want to try and find out not only what someone is good at but what they love and what gives them energy.
3. Team activity
Using post-it notes or cards take 10 to 15 minutes to write a note for each other – to all the different team members. Write about what strengths you see in someone else and give examples such as, “I love the way, Sarah, that you learn and gather information. And I love the way that you gathered information for that recent project that we worked on. You really demonstrated the strength of learning”. You’re sharing the strength, but also when you saw it in action. I still have my cards from when I did this activity with my leadership team a few years ago, and I know that other team members still have theirs as well. My heart sings when I remember that meeting – it was a moment of coming together and thinking about what makes each of us great, when we are at our best, and, most importantly, sharing that.
Sometimes, spotting strengths can be tricky. You can also use psychometric tests or strengths assessments with your teams; many have team options as well as for individuals. The three assessments I’ve used with individuals and with teams are the VIA character strengths, CliftonStrengths, and Cappfinity. If all team members take a strengths assessment this starts to create a shared language that you can use together, which helps to increase teamwork; it also adds another dimension to the conversations you can have about how you are working as a team and enables you to know each other really well. You can start to think together with different coaching questions to boost your positivity, productivity, and performance.
You can check in with each other:
- Are we optimising our collective strengths?
- How do our strengths respond to the current demands that we’re facing?
You can even sit down and think together:
- Are there any essential strengths we’re missing, and what might this mean for productivity and positivity in our performance as a team?
- What solutions do we need to put into place to make sure that we have the necessary strengths?
Try to avoid these pitfalls
Working with strengths is an amazing thing, but there are a couple of pitfalls to avoid. Over-using and/or under-using strengths can lead to imbalance, boredom, or frustration for individuals and teams. Working with strengths is not about ignoring weaknesses, so if there are weaknesses that are hindering performance then they of course need managing, but not necessarily developing.
Also, be aware that strengths can clash! You may have one individual in your team who’s got the strength of being decisive and makes decisions really quickly, clearly and confidently, even when he hasn’t got very much information. But you may have another team member who has signature strengths of knowledge and detail orientation. They may prefer to take decisions slowly, gathering as much information as possible and going over all the details. It’s great to have these two strengths on a team, to see things through different lenses, but they can also clash. So, use the language of strengths to understand each other and navigate it together. Strengths are also dynamic and contextual, so be mindful of labelling people even with a positive label of strengths. Someone might have a strength of optimism, but there will be times when they might not be feeling it. Creating a space of psychological safety so that they can share that is key; open communication is always needed so that individuals can be authentic and vulnerable within a team.
Finally, don’t just do the psychometric tests or strengths assessments once and then forget about them. Keep talking about them and using them – make them become a part of your everyday language and ways of working as a team.
Strength-based strategies to boost wellbeing, inclusion, and performance in your team
You might like to try the following strategies to develop your use of strengths as a team.
1. Strengths-based recruitment
Adding strengths to recruitment processes doesn’t mean re-doing all of your recruitment practices, but adding strengths gives an opportunity to engage people’s emotions, adding a little bit more about how they might fit in and contribute to your organisation. Some tips from Hutchinson and Brown are to think about the ideal person for the role, not the role itself. Think about the kinds of qualities that would make a difference and add some strengths-based questions into the advert, for example:
- Are you someone who loves doing…?
- Are you energised by…?
- Are you at your best when…?
These will get people going “ooh, yes, that’s me” or “oh no, that’s not me” as opposed to a list of competencies. You can do similar in interviews too.
2. Strengths-based induction
When we onboard people we usually tell them all about how we do things. They find out all about the organisation, policies and expectations, which is absolutely necessary. We could also engage them with strengths questions like:
- How would you like to contribute?
- What excites you about what you’ve seen so far?
You can also ask people to create a ‘how I work best’ document in whatever format they want. This enables different people within the team to know individual preferences and a little about strengths as well.
3. Distribution of tasks and activities
The clearer you are about what others love to do, the more likely you are going to be able to spot opportunities where they can really add value, perform well, and enjoy what they’re doing. This saves time, effort and energy, but it also allows natural motivation. A great question here, again, from Hutchinson and Brown (it’s a fabulous book!) is instead of asking, “can you do this task?” which they’re likely to say yes to, ask them, “which of these two tasks makes you feel more energised?”. Give them a choice.
4. Give strengths-based feedback
This will also boost inclusion, wellbeing, and performance. If you want to know more about feedback of this kind take a look at the 4-part podcast series and articles (episodes 16 to 20). Essentially, strengths-based feedback is about highlighting and sharing a strength. So, rather than saying “Good job, Sarah”, you could say, “Sarah, you really demonstrated the strength of courage there in that difficult conversation that you had”. This is so much more meaningful, which can lead to a much deeper dialogue that helps someone to move forward.
5. Secret-strengths spotter
This is a fun activity that builds positive emotions within a team. This is similar to Secret Santa! But it’s not just limited to Christmas time! Each month assign everyone in your team a strength-spotter. Their job is to be on the lookout for times when their team member has demonstrated a strength. You then create some kind of strength-spotter cards where each person writes a short note saying what strength they saw and the impact that it had. Next, you pop it on their desk. It’s not onerous and it gives a real boost of positive emotions to the receiver (and the giver as well). You’re building relationships, trust, and teamwork at the same time.
Hopefully, that arms you with some tips and strategies to take a strengths-based approach with your team.
And if you’re looking for a more personalised approach to ignite the strengths of your team, I provide customised coaching, training programmes, and consultancy to help boost your team’s wellbeing, inclusion, and performance. Send me a message to find out more, I’d love to speak with you.
Harzer, C., & Ruch, W. (2012). When the job is a calling: The role of applying one’s signature strengths at work. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 7(5), 362-371.
Niemiec, R. M. (2018). Character strengths interventions: A field guide for practitioners
Hutchinson, E., & Brown, C. (2021). The strengths-based organization: How to boost inclusivity, wellbeing and performance. Practical Inspiration Publishing.