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Business Journal

Strengths-Talk 101

How to jump-start the strengths discussion among teams (part 1)

by Kathie Sorensen and Steve Crabtree

The language of strengths can provide powerful insights when it is shared across entire organizations. It can focus individuals on what they do best and enable them to become more effective employees. It can help managers to motivate their employees and position them for success.

The concept of "strengths talk" becomes most powerful, however, when that language is shared by groups of individuals. Whether it's a project team, a work unit, or even a group of friends -- every group can benefit by strengthening their common understanding of one another through a common language of strengths.

But using a new language is awkward at first. How can managers facilitate the use of strengths talk? Here's an approach that might help.

The Gallup Organization supports managers in building a strengths-based organization by first assisting executive team leaders in developing an awareness of their own strengths and the strengths of their managers. Individual leaders can then work with their teams to extend and encourage this process. The goal is to ensure that "strengths talk" becomes a common way for employees to relate to each other, starting with who they are, instead of with their place on the organizational chart. In other words, the more the language of strengths is shared and incorporated into the dialogue between people and among teams, the more effectively the concept moves from a theoretical to a practical level.

But getting that dialogue started is challenging. People aren't used to thinking of personal characteristics in such refined ways. It takes time and practice for overused and vague terms like "people-oriented" to give way to a more helpful dialogue about each person's different and more specific patterns of relationship-building, and how to maximize the potential of those who use each type. An individual high in the Developer theme, for example, may tend to establish a connection with another person through an understanding of his or her goals. An individual high in Empathy, on the other hand, may be more likely to approach that relationship by investigating the other person's feelings instead.

Coming up with good questions to use as conversation-starters can be a fruitful approach. For example, a manager might want to introduce a dialogue about the different relating themes, such as Includer or Individualization, among team members. He or she might ask them to respond at a staff meeting to questions like, How many people do you know? How many best friends do you have? How do you meet people? What strengths do you think you use most often to meet people? Following up, team members might be asked to consider what their answers indicate about how they think about relationships.

During this series of Strengths Management articles, we will present a number of broad discussion topics intended to encourage managers and employees to use the language of strengths in their interactions with fellow team members. In doing so, their ability to recognize their own strengths and those of others will improve, enabling them to work together more effectively, with higher levels of productivity and satisfaction.

We have written a set of questions and suggestions about how to use the exercise to start staff meetings or other project meetings. Keep in mind that these questions are intended as starting points for discussion. You may find it productive to come up with your own questions -- there are innumerable slants for thinking about how individuals' strengths affect their daily actions. You might also think of different ways to use the questions -- for example, you could have each successive participant comment on the answer given by the previous person before giving their own. Or they could pick a person in the room whose answer they particularly related to, and say why. Any technique you can think of to stimulate dialogue can be helpful.

Here's an exercise: Talking about strengths. How do you deliver results? Get things done? Achieve your goals?

  • Think about a major task you just completed. What personal qualities did you use to complete it?
    • Or, let's say you were given an important assignment. How would you approach it? What would you do to get it done?
  • Think about your signature themes -- your five most dominant themes of talent, as identified by StrengthsFinder -- such as Responsibility or Discipline, Consistency or Empathy, Ideation or Significance. Share two themes that you draw upon to make things happen.
    • Describe how those two themes work together to help you accomplish your goals.
  • Is there another talent that might make you even more productive? Tell us how and why you would benefit from the support of this strength.
    • Does anyone in our group have that strength?

The next column in our series on how to promote the strengths dialogue in your organization will focus on encouraging others.

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