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Teamwork Defined by Strengths?

Teamwork defined by a strengths based approach might sound unusual but it can provide you with a very useful perspective on how to define teamwork.

In our article Teamwork Theories we introduced our model to help you develop teams. This model encourages team development using individual strengths, combined with effective teamwork, in the pursuit of meaningful goals. Here we discuss the ‘strengths’ element of the model.

What are we to make of teams? In the 90’s they came to be promoted as a panacea for all situations. But all too often they were used to cover up poor management, struggling organisations or rationalisation programmes.

So it’s perhaps not surprising that the promulgation of a team focus can receive a mixed reception from people in organisations.

Nonetheless, there can be no doubting the importance of teamworking, and the fact that it is here to stay! In their influential book “The Wisdom of Teams”, John Katzenbach and Douglas Smith declared:

“Teams will be the primary building blocks of company performance in the organisation of the future.”

Although they also make the point that teams aren’t the answer to everything, they nonetheless believe that teams are an increasingly important factor in high performance organisations.

Teamwork defined by strengths

Yet all too often, the power of effective team working is not being harnessed at work. And what we call might call a team is really no more than a work-group, or worse – just a collection of individuals.

There has also been a tendency to build teams by asking individuals to develop a mix of skills, so that members can cover for each other. Whereas this approach to teamwork can be useful, it might lead to the loss of individuality in the team. And crucially, to the loss or neglect of individual strengths.

Team leaders should never forget that one of the key benefits of teamwork is the individual strengths of its members. It can be the blend of different strengths which makes a team really effective. Particularly when this creates a synergy which can drive high performance and successful attainment of team goals.

In team building literature or development sessions, we often hear the mantra: “there is no I in TEAM”. Whilst that is literally true, we might also point out that there is an “M” and an “E”, which happens to spell “ME”! Teamwork defined by strengths means capitalising on the power of “ME” to help deliver exceptional performance for “us”.

What are strengths?

Strengths are things people are good at, often seeming to come naturally to them. Perhaps for this reason, people can find it easier to develop strengths than to learn or improve other skills.

It is far easier and more rewarding to get better at something you are already good at, than to try and improve something that is a weakness. But that’s not to say weaknesses should be ignored. Especially where they may impact on your strengths, or if they are limiting your potential in other areas.

However, it’s unlikely that you are going to get really good at something you find difficult to do. This is when the balance of teamwork really comes into play. It may be a better use of development time and resources to find others in the team who have strengths to compensate for the weaknesses in another. For more on strengths and how to identify them, see our articles: work motivation and work life effectiveness.

What do we mean by teamwork defined by strengths?

People aren’t good at doing everything. We get the best performance when people invest in getting better at what they are already good at – what we already know, but don’t put in to practice.

In reality, far too many performance management and development/appraisals focus on weaknesses and gaps. All too often, performance managers focus on these perceived “development needs”, rather than on activities which might develop existing or potential strengths. As we’ve already said, it’s only worth focusing on weaknesses when they stop or limit effectiveness in the use of strengths. Otherwise, it’s far more useful to build on strengths and use other team members to balance out the weaknesses.

How can we promote strengths in team members? By:

  • Selecting team members with complementary strengths, with reference to team objectives, rationale and culture.
  • Enabling and supporting team members to use their strengths, in ways that combine well with others in the team.
  • Focusing development time and resource on people’s strengths, rather than trying to address weaknesses which can be balanced by others in the team.
  • Aligning and blending strengths to achieve results for the team.
  • Acknowledging and recognizing achievements where individuals are using their strengths for team benefit.

Teamwork defined by strengths is the first stage in developing teams that perform. It’s also a key element in encouraging happiness in the workplace. This begins to happen when an individual’s strengths are applied to tasks which they find both worthwhile and engaging. People are happier when their time is spent using their strengths productively, something we explore further in our article: what causes happiness.

If you do have the time to read more on the idea of teamwork defined by strengths, why not go to our teamwork articles. A good place to start might be to remind yourself of the benefits of teamwork, or by asking: why is teamwork important?

Tools to encourage teamwork defined by strengths

For some practical tips on encouraging teamwork defined by strengths, look at our great-value guides, or at our Team Building Exercises for all team stages. The exercises in this guide are grouped according to our team stages model. Remember, each team is unique and needs to be led through several developmental stages. These include:

Creating a new team or taking over an existing team

Exercises for all team stages!

  • Exercise 1: Being a TEAM together
  • Exercise 2: True or false
  • Exercise 3: Who does what in a team?
  • Exercise 4: Getting the mix right
  • Exercise 5: Doing something for the first time
  • Exercise 6: Two years from now

Developing a team

  • Exercise 7: A clearer vision
  • Exercise 8: Mad, sad or glad
  • Exercise 9: Seeing the bigger picture
  • Exercise 10: Positive feedback
  • Exercise 11: Conflicting views

Performing and achieving results with a team

  • Exercise 12: Did you notice?
  • Exercise 13: Limiting beliefs

Sustaining team performance

  • Exercise 14: Scarce resources
  • Exercise 15: Keeping going


Where to go from here:


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