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:
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:
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.