A lot of team-building strategies tend to focus on shoring up your team's weaknesses and coaching individuals to get better at things that may not be in their natural skill sets. While it may make sense to help your team members develop these skills, I often see this become the dominant focus in team-building strategies.
I think teams can perform better when business owners and leaders take their eyes off of what the teams aren't good at. When you start playing to your team's strength, you may see ways to handle the things they aren't great at so you don't get tripped up by them.
Choosing Where You Focus Your Team-Building Strategies
If I asked you to make a list of what your team is really good at, I bet, with some thought, you could come up with a solid number of strengths.
But if I asked you make another list of what your team isn't good at, I bet that list wouldn't require as much thought—and it could easily be longer than the first. Many of us simply find it easier to filter for what assets we are lacking rather than for what assets we already have. As managers, being aware of both can be important, but it is where you apply your focus that can help change your team's performance.
Let's look at a non-work example to illustrate what I mean. Let's say you are cooking dinner for a group of important people whom you want to impress. You are great at making amazing salads and fabulous main courses, but you're not very skilled in making equally amazing and fabulous desserts. You now have a choice. You can focus the majority of your time and energy learning how to make an elaborate dessert or you can come up with an alternative that allows you to concentrate most of your energy on what you're good at. Which would you choose?
The Benefits of Increasing Your Team's Performance
If you chose the latter—coming up with an alternative that lets you concentrate on what you're good at—you're well on your way to understanding why your team may be able to perform better under the same scenario.
In my experience with developing team-building strategies, I've found three reasons this is true:
1. We may be happier doing the kind of work we are really good at. In his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, world-renowned researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes that satisfaction in work doesn't depend on position, reward or environment. Instead, he posits that it depends on our ability to improve, to produce higher-quality work and to enjoy what we do.
2. We may be faster doing the kind of work we are really good at. That naturally makes sense, doesn't it? Theoretically if we're good at something, we know how to do it so well that we're quicker at it than someone who isn't as good at it.
3. We may produce higher quality work when we do what we are really good at. Again, that may not be a big surprise. If we are good at something, we usually produce higher quality work than someone who isn't.
Playing to Your Team's Strengths and Handling Their Weaknesses
Filtering for what your team does well—and making a plan to fill the gaps for the things they don't do as well—can help increase your team's productivity and enthusiasm. These five strategies may help you accomplish that:
1. Take the time to assess the strengths, weaknesses and interests of each team member. You probably have a good idea of what each person is good at, and maybe what they aren't good at. One way to know for sure though is to take the time to ask questions and actually find out. While you are at it, consider finding out what they are interested in doing that they may not be good at.
2. Develop a skills composite of your team. You can use what you just learned to develop a comprehensive team composite. This composite can help spell out what your team is good at and where the specific skill gaps are. This can help give you a very clear picture of what's missing. At this point, you have two choices: You can hire new team members who have the missing skills (which may be cost prohibitive), or you can train current team members in those missing skills.
3. Start filling in skills gaps within your team. Remember when you asked your team members what they were interested in that they may not be good at (yet)? You can use the information you gathered to map out who would be the best candidates to learn those skills. Offering them additional training or education in those areas can help you start filling in those gaps. If someone raises their hand and says "Yes, I'm interested in that," they may be an enthusiastic learner.
4. Assign tasks based on strengths. When you have a team project, try divvying out tasks according to the strengths of each team member. If you've got a task that no one is particularly strong at, consider giving it to someone who has expressed interest in learning that skill. If you still don't have anyone, you could develop a system for rotating these kinds of assignments so the same person doesn't always get stuck with them.
5. Regularly re-evaluate your team skills composite. As team members start filling in skill gaps, your team composite may shift to reflect these new-found strengths. By updating your composite on a regular basis (I recommend at least quarterly), you may be better able to focus on what your team is good at and monitor your progress on shoring up what they aren't good at.
When it comes to developing team-building strategies for your employees, investing the time in learning your team's strengths and weaknesses can pay off. Once you know this, it can become easier to focus on what they do well. You can then begin to anticipate what they need to perform even better.
By shifting your focus and your energy to playing to your team's strengths, you may start to feel more confident in them and they, in turn, may feel more confident in you.
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