To the Point Collaborative

Building a team: Soar with strengths

Showcase individual skills to improve team dynamics

What’s the best way to build a results-driven small virtual team? I’ve always found that a simple mantra I learned years ago is the foundation of strong, small teams: Soar with your strengths.

The four-word directive comes from the book of the same name by Donald Clifton and Paula Nelson (1995). The message is deceptively straightforward, but oh so hard for some to put into practice: Find what people are good at and love to do, then ask them to do more of that, so the entire team will flourish.

Conversely, by trying to make people do things they don’t love and aren’t really really good at, you undermine their confidence and can bring down the whole team.

Observe and engage to uncover strengths

When working with small virtual teams, if often takes a while to pinpoint someone’s sweet spot.

Contractors have a tendency to say they can do anything that is asked of them. Managers of small teams have a tendency to want to believe them. So when a new members joins the team, it is natural to test their skill set.

Two members of our team sing in a band together! This wouldn't have happened if they hadn't discussed their strengths and interests with each other. Two members of our team sing in a band together! This wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t discussed their strengths and interests with each other.

But, how to know what someone loves to do and what they are willing to do? A few simple rules will help narrow down one’s skill set to the soaring elements:

  1. Ask people what they love to do. Before you say, ‘Can you do this? Can you do that?’ ask them what, in a perfect world, they would do all day on the job.
    Hint: Someone’s volunteer activities may reveal what they love to do, because they’re doing it for the love of it. Remember to ask what they do to give back.
  2. Give them specific assignments with deadlines that both of you agree upon. Choose different types of tasks. If the person consistently meets deadlines for one task but  misses it with another, you have learned something valuable.
  3. Pair them with another team member who has complementary skills. How do they work together? Who takes the lead on certain tasks? When people whose skills overlap work together, you’ll soon see where their real strengths lie.
  4. Find out what your team members’ secondary skills are and help them develop those. Then, when gaps in the team occur, you can temporarily take advantage of a person’s secondary skill.
    Warning: Don’t make this the focus of their work or they will get distracted and they won’t soar. However, if a person seems to be thriving with the secondary skill, you may have helped identify the true soaring strength.

Don’t force a role

Remember, above all else, to resist the effort to make a person something they are not. Small-team workers need to focus to be successful and to contribute to the team. They may be willing or able to do a variety of tasks. But it’s up to you as the team leader to evaluate their work and identify what they love to do.

One of the joys of the virtual team is having an all-star at every position. It makes you look smart, and your clients will appreciate it too, as the work gets done smoothly and effectively. Now you are soaring with your strengths!

Check out our To the Point Collaborative team to see how our strengths can benefit your next conference, Wikipedia page, or design project.




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