Executive Coaching Services

Focus on Your Team’s Strengths, Not Their Weaknesses

Aashi Arora 05 Dec 2020

I recently coached a team of physicians and nurses in conflict. Individual members of the team had been recognized for their great service to patients, had great recommendations from peers, and colleagues outside their service, but their clinical service team together had been evaluated as “dysfunctional” and “uncoordinated.” The unit had a culture of gossip, with certain members frustrated by a perceived lack of collegiality. The nursing and physician leaders also struggled with getting along.

I was commissioned by the executive leadership team to identify, strategize, and help facilitate workshops that would create better working relationships with the team members. When I began with individual interviews, a common theme emerged. Individuals were quick to point out “weaknesses” in the team members as well as the team as a whole. When I tried to turn each conversation from weaknesses to strengths, there were often pauses, silence, and strange looks. The shift I introduced was to focus on the team’s strengths, and not their weaknesses, to help them get to their goals. It was a challenge for this particular team, but it did eventually lead to strong reflection and a mindset shift.

Adapted from research psychologist Bruce Tuckman, here are the 4 stages of team development where each stage has opportunities as well as potential challenges to get through for team success:

When I began with this clinical team, they were in stage 2, battling with the listed challenges and thus stuck in the stage. Each team member was unable to see that they were adding value. But they were so focused on each others’ weaknesses that they struggled in a negative cycle of blame, disruption, and calamity. Knowing individual strengths help shed light on that value. Had they focused on their strengths earlier, the process could have been sped up and they would have been at stage 4 sooner.

During the interviews, I also asked leadership “what type of team would be more successful for you?” I provided the following options:

  1. a dependent team – reliant on manager for assignments, solving problems, and main decision making.
  2. an independent team-can work independent of the manager but each person works independent as well.
  3. or an interdependent team-reliance on each other with a focus on strengths to get goals accomplished.

The answer may depend on the goals set for the team, but for a clinical services team, an interdependent team is critical. Understanding and valuing each other’s strengths helps to foster a culture of interdependence where there is a strong foundation of trust. And this value was important for me to get across to them.

Following the interviews, each individual member completed the Clifton Strengths Finder Assessment. I had individual coaching sessions with each member and then brought all of them together into a team strengths workshop. What resulted was astounding since more productive conversations ensued. There was a more positive spirit and collegiality that many of them later reported had not existed before. We discussed goal setting and everyone participated. I didn’t hear frustration in the group.  

Here are some strategies that you can incorporate with your teams in order to focus a positive, rather than negative, culture built around understanding individual strengths:

  1. Talk about Strengths – Flip the dialogue. Start your next team meeting with “what’s going well” and discuss what strengths are being used. Discuss who’s contributing to the success of the team and how.
  2. Have each individual take the Clifton Strengths Assessment – This tool provides not only a foundation of understanding, but also vocabulary and positive jargon that can be brought into the team environment. Help individual members claim their natural talents, name their strengths, and set goals to aim their strengths towards accomplishing those goals.
  3. Identify what strengths are missing from the team – Attract the needed talent based on the goals set for the team. Help brainstorm what strengths are missing and who could be brought into the team to compliment others’ strengths.
  4. Find complementary pairs in the team – Certain individuals with certain strengths can work well together and helping to identify those power pairs can lead to successful outcomes. Ask team members to partner up with others to work on specific objectives.
  5. Hire a team coach- A strengths-certified coach can help with analyzing individual reports as well as creating a team workshop to help individuals learn about their strengths. Workshops can be held virtually and can not only provide great insight into the dynamics of a team but can also boost morale with positive team building activities.

Why strengths? Its positive language. It makes us feel good about ourselves. It makes us understand others better. It helps us focus more on what we can do rather than focusing on what we can’t do. And the stronger an affirmation towards a goal, the more likely we are to achieve it.

Our differences can be our greatest strength. Integrate strengths language into your teams and understand what they are good at to get what you need.

Develop a strengths culture with your team. I can help you get there. Contact me.

Aashi Arora


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