Here’s why it’s time to start playing to your team's strengths

Do you fall into the trap of developing weaknesses rather than strengths? Time to pause and reset.

Team focussing on their strengths, engaged with and enjoying the process.

It may not surprise you to learn that, as humans, we typically focus on our weaknesses rather than our strengths. In fact when prompted to, we often find it difficult to articulate our strengths.

However, if we spun this around and spent more time focussed on understanding and working on our strengths, our performance and outcomes would improve significantly and even more importantly, we would be more engaged and happy in our work. The same is true of our teams.

This plays into an important rule I learned as a manager, the 80:20 rule. Managers typically spend 80% of their time focussing on the 20% of their team performing the lowest, or trying to improve the weakest skills of even the most competent team members. It’s time to change our outlook.

Focussing on and developing people’s strengths has hugely significant impacts on individual performance and engagement but also, on business success. So let’s reset.

The following is an extremely practical toolkit which you can implement immediately with great impact.

Identifying strengths

Before looking at your team, consider your own strengths. However, don’t make the mistake most of us do in deciding that our strengths are what we are good at, alone. Lea Waters, who studied positive psychology, determined that to truly find your strengths, you need to identify those skills or activities which create a balance of the following:

  1. Things that you are good at and that come easily to you

  2. Things that motivate you - what are the first things you jump to complete on your to do list?

  3. Things that energise you - what are the things you can’t get enough of?

People are often good at things which don’t motivate or energise them. I realised that I’m good at managing people, but I am not energised by it, I prefer to train and develop people rather than line manage them. This exercise taught me that some of my true strengths are idea generation and brainstorming, analysing data and finding patterns, training groups of people in skills I believe are of value.

Try to identify patterns in your strengths that help you to better understand and appreciate your values.

Developing your strengths

Once you identify your strengths, commit to spending more time doing them, working on them, and improving them. Together with your strengths, select only 1-2 limitations and add those to the ‘to be worked on’ list, but make sure you select a maximum of 2, otherwise you are striving for perfection and you are working against the 80:20 rule.

To put this into context; if one of your strengths is engaging people, make sure you create opportunities to do so, meet with a person instead of emailing for instance, or put in a weekly group session to engage people on a particular theme.

One of my strengths is learning and as a result I make time to learn every day.  I look forward to my learning hour and feel energised before, during and as a result of it. I apply the lessons I learn to continuously strengthen the training content I deliver to clients, improving outcomes for my client and therefore, for my business.

Focussing on strengths (as opposed to limitations) has many benefits, and I encourage you to take the steps outlined in this blog, and notice any changes in your performance, engagement and drive as a result.

Become a successful manager

How can you use this to become a better manager? Help your team to identify their strengths in the same way as you identified yours above. Many managers are so focussed on improving weaknesses, that they haven’t even recognised the strengths the team has. A missed opportunity.

Research by the UK Corporate Leadership Council demonstrated a 27% decline in performance from employees whose managers focussed on developing weaknesses, compared with  a 36% improvement in performance and engagement from individuals whose managers focussed on their strengths. Who’d have thought that a simple change in focus could improve performance by a huge 63%?

When an employee is disengaged, their own performance suffers, and beyond this, their energy (or lack of) is felt by the team around them also.

Ask your team to consider their strengths in the same way as you have, and ask them to identify yours. Share each others strengths and reflect on whether you feel you are utilising each person effectively enough. Are you playing to their strengths?

Develop a plan for each team member which supports them in developing their strengths primarily, along with their 1-2 limitations. Ensure you focus your interactions and efforts in this way moving forward. Give praise where strengths and limitations are improving for positive reinforcement of those habits, skills, behaviours.

Enhance business success

A focus on your own and your team’s strengths will undoubtedly improve performance, engagement and outcomes from your team. How can we use this information to propel the entire business? When used wisely, the outcome of a more concerted and focussed effort will be much more than the sum of individual strength development.

What if you considered people’s roles in the business according to their strengths? This needs to be very carefully managed; in a practice I implement - Entrepreneurial Operating System - there is a very clear rule that a business should not create positions to fit people, and that people need to fit with the roles which are best for business.

With the above in mind, instead of designing roles with individual strengths in mind alone, broaden your mind to consider a structure and roles outside of what currently exists in your organisation, and one which is genuinely best for business, while playing to your people’s strengths.

Typically to progress within an organisation, an individual has to become a manager. I have met many extremely talented individuals with strengths of major value to the business who are simply not energised by management. Should we work on these people’s weaknesses primarily to shoehorn them into the available role? Should we halt their progress or risk losing them because they don’t fit the model? Or should we consider an alternative structure to ‘the one we’ve always used’ which is genuinely best for business, and plays to these invaluable strengths?

Businesses have huge opportunity to transform performance with this simple, straight-forward shift in focus and management. A study by Gallup into 1.2 million employees shows that strengths focus used in this way not only improves performance and engagement, but happiness, fulfillment and lower stress levels. Individuals in environments who focus on such positive traits smile and laugh more. Now who wouldn’t want that?

SGH Coaching provides training to enhance engagement and management skills. The first step of the process is to speak to Steph about your objectives, concerns and challenges. Steph will then work to design a training session, or programme to help you reach your objectives. To schedule a call, email Steph here.

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