“Team building” is a common catchphrase in corporate America, used to describe activities that encourage camaraderie, trust and collaboration among groups of employees. Yet many companies miss a key piece of creating effective teams: understanding each employee’s strengths.
A growing body of research and thought leadership suggests that the highest-functioning teams identify each individual’s strengths and use that information to better define each person’s role on the team. Using strengths also makes employees happier and more engaged, according to a study in the Journal of Positive Psychology. For example, knowing that someone is particularly good at communicating ideas orally — even if it’s not in their job description — can ensure that their communication prowess is fully utilized.
“The simple truth is that if we stop trying to ‘fix’ our employees and rather focus on their strengths and their passions, we can create a fervent army of brand evangelists who, when empowered, could take our brand and our products to a whole new level,” says Ekaterina Walter, a leadership and business culture writer.
So how can companies better incorporate strengths into their team building?
1. Identify employee strengths
You can’t optimize for strengths if you don’t know what they are.
Several assessment programs can help identify employees’ strengths and teach employers how to better utilize them in the workplace. Clifton StrengthsFinder is perhaps the best known. The 177-question test has identified 34 unique “talent themes,” such as “ideation” and “empathy,” and gives each test taker their top five.
2. Train employees how to use their strengths at work
The next step is teaching employees how to use their strengths most effectively. Someone may find out they’re good at, say, coming up with innovative ideas, but do little brainstorming in their day-to-day work. A manager can figure out how to better utilize that skill, such as inviting that employee to weekly brainstorming sessions or assigning that employee a project that requires coming up with new ideas.
3. Encourage other employees to embrace co-workers’ strengths
Beyond encouraging an employee to use his or her strengths, you should consider how teams can benefit from understanding strengths. Many companies encourage their employees to discuss their personal strengths — even listing the top five strengths on badges or at workstations — and then turning to each other when a team member’s particular talent may prove handy.
Some companies use strengths to build well-rounded teams. They look for people with complementary, not overlapping, talents.
“Bringing together two or more people with complementary strengths not only compensates for the shortcomings of each but also results in a team in which the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts,” wrote leadership consultants Michael D. Watkins and Stephen A. Miles in Harvard Business Review.
Learning to use strengths is not only good for engaging employees in the workplace, but it can help them improve their personal lives and foster better relationships, as well. And that makes the practice all the more valuable.