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Balancing Strengths and Interests: Strategies for Leaders to Optimize Team Performance



As an HR and leadership consultant, I have seen leaders face various challenges when trying to identify and leverage their team members' strengths. While strengths assessments can be a useful tool for identifying team members' strengths, leaders should not rely on them exclusively when assigning tasks. Instead, they should take into account other factors, such as team members' interests, career goals, and development needs.

In this article, I will explore some of the common challenges that leaders face when trying to identify and leverage their team members' strengths. We will also discuss some strategies that leaders can use to ensure that team members are not pigeonholed into tasks solely based on their strengths assessment results. Finally, I will examine how leaders can balance the assignment of tasks based on team members' strengths and interests.


Undervaluing What We Do Well


I have seen many organizations struggle with unlocking the full potential of their employees. One of the most common missteps that I have observed is that organizations fail to recognize and acknowledge the strengths of their employees. Experts have long encouraged people to "play to their strengths," but it's much easier said than done. As a leader, the challenge is not only to spot talent but also to convince your people that you value their talents and that they should, too.


It's not uncommon for people to undervalue what they inherently do well. This can be due to many factors, such as societal pressure to "improve weaknesses" or a lack of awareness of one's own strengths. As leaders, it's our responsibility to help our team members recognize and leverage their strengths to achieve their full potential.


The first step to unlocking the strengths of your team members is to identify them. This can be done through various methods, such as strengths assessments or simply asking team members what they enjoy doing and what they feel they excel at. However, people often downplay what they do most easily, so it's essential to ask questions that help them recognize their strengths. For instance, you might ask them, "What compliments do you tend to dismiss?" By doing so, you can help them identify the strengths that they may not have recognized before.


Once you've identified the key strengths of each team member, it's time to evaluate whether they are doing work that draws on those strengths. It's not uncommon for employees to be assigned tasks or projects that don't align with their strengths, which can lead to frustration, burnout, and decreased productivity. As leaders, we need to ensure that we are taking on projects that make the most of our employees' strengths. We can ask questions like, "Are you doing work that draws on your strengths? Are we taking on projects that make the most of your strengths?" If the answer is no, it's time to reassign people to new roles where their strengths will be put to better use.


By aligning the strengths of our team members with their assignments, we can create a more engaged and productive workforce. People are more likely to be engaged in their work when they are doing something that comes naturally to them and that they enjoy. When we are engaged in our work, we are more productive, and we are more likely to go above and beyond what is expected of us.


As HR and leadership professionals, we need to help our team members recognize and leverage their strengths. By doing so, we can create a more engaged and productive workforce. It's our responsibility to identify the strengths of each team member, evaluate whether they are doing work that draws on those strengths, and reassign people to new roles where their strengths will be put to better use if necessary. Let's commit to playing to our strengths and helping others do the same.


Common Challenges that Leaders Face When Trying to Identify and Leverage their Team Members' Strengths


I have seen leaders face various challenges when trying to identify and leverage their team members' strengths. Here are a few common ones:

  1. Lack of awareness: One of the most significant challenges is a lack of awareness among team members about their own strengths. Many people are not aware of what they are good at or what they enjoy doing. As a result, they may not communicate their strengths to their leaders, making it difficult for leaders to identify and leverage them.

  2. Stereotyping: Stereotyping is another challenge that leaders face when identifying and leveraging team members' strengths. Leaders may have preconceived notions about what types of people are good at certain tasks or roles. As a result, they may overlook team members who don't fit their stereotypes, even if those team members have the necessary strengths and skills.

  3. Inflexibility: Leaders may also struggle with being flexible when it comes to assigning tasks and projects. They may have a set idea of what each team member's role should be and may be hesitant to deviate from that, even if it means not leveraging a team member's strengths to the fullest.

  4. Time constraints: Finally, leaders may struggle with identifying and leveraging team members' strengths due to time constraints. It can be challenging to take the time to get to know each team member and their strengths, especially in larger organizations.

To overcome these challenges, leaders can take various steps, such as conducting strengths assessments, encouraging team members to communicate their strengths, being open-minded, and making time to get to know each team member personally. By doing so, leaders can create a more engaged and productive workforce that leverages each team member's unique strengths and skills.


Strengths Assessments Leaders Can Use


There are many strengths assessments available that leaders can use to identify the strengths of their team members. Here are a few that I have found to be particularly effective:

  1. CliftonStrengths: CliftonStrengths, formerly known as StrengthsFinder, is a popular strengths assessment that helps individuals identify their talents and strengths. It consists of a series of questions that measure individual strengths across 34 themes.

  2. VIA Character Strengths: VIA Character Strengths is another popular assessment that helps individuals identify their core character strengths. It consists of a series of questions that measure individual strengths across 24 character strengths.

  3. The Highlands Ability Battery: The Highlands Ability Battery is a comprehensive assessment that measures an individual's natural abilities, talents, and strengths. It consists of a series of timed exercises that measure cognitive abilities, such as problem-solving, spatial reasoning, and memory.

  4. DISC Assessment: The DISC assessment is a personality test that helps individuals identify their behavioral tendencies. It measures four dimensions of behavior: dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness.

These assessments can be incredibly helpful in identifying the strengths of team members. However, it's important to note that assessments should not be the sole determinant of how a team member is assigned to a specific task or project. Leaders should also take into account other factors, such as the team member's interests and career goals.


Ensuring Team Members Aren't Pigeonholed into Tasks Solely Based on Their Strengths Assessment Results


While strengths assessments can be a useful tool for identifying team members' strengths, leaders should not rely on them exclusively when assigning tasks. Instead, they should take into account other factors, such as team members' interests, career goals, and development needs.

Here are a few ways that leaders can ensure that team members are not pigeonholed into tasks solely based on their strengths assessment results:

  1. Encourage open communication: Leaders should encourage team members to communicate their interests and career goals openly. By doing so, leaders can gain a better understanding of each team member's aspirations and can assign tasks and projects accordingly.

  2. Provide opportunities for growth: Leaders should provide team members with opportunities for growth and development, even if it means assigning tasks that may not align with their strengths. By doing so, leaders can help team members develop new skills and broaden their experience, which can be beneficial for their long-term career goals.

  3. Assign tasks based on team members' interests: While strengths assessments can be helpful in identifying team members' strengths, leaders should also take into account their interests when assigning tasks. Team members are more likely to be engaged and motivated when they are working on projects that align with their interests.

  4. Be flexible: Leaders should be flexible when assigning tasks and projects. They should be open to adjusting roles and responsibilities based on team members' changing strengths, interests, and career goals.

While strengths assessments can be useful, leaders should not rely on them exclusively when assigning tasks. Instead, they should take into account other factors, such as team members' interests and career goals, and provide opportunities for growth and development. By doing so, leaders can create a more engaged and motivated workforce that leverages each team member's unique strengths and skills.


How Leaders Can Balance Assigning Tasks Based On Strengths and Interests?


Balancing the assignment of tasks based on team members' strengths and interests can be challenging, as leaders need to balance the needs of the organization with the needs of individual team members. Here are a few ways that leaders can strike a balance:

  1. Identify overlapping strengths and interests: Leaders can identify tasks and projects that align with both team members' strengths and interests. By doing so, leaders can assign tasks that are both engaging and productive.

  2. Provide opportunities for growth: Leaders can provide team members with opportunities to develop skills and interests that may not align with their strengths. By doing so, leaders can broaden team members' experience and help them develop new skills.

  3. Encourage cross-training: Leaders can encourage team members to cross-train in different areas. This can help team members develop new skills and interests while also providing the organization with a more flexible and versatile workforce.

  4. Be open to feedback: Leaders should be open to feedback from team members. They should encourage team members to communicate their strengths and interests and adjust assignments accordingly.

  5. Prioritize tasks based on organizational needs: While it's essential to assign tasks that align with team members' strengths and interests, leaders should also prioritize tasks based on organizational needs. Leaders should assign tasks that are critical to the success of the organization, even if they don't align with team members' strengths and interests.

Balancing the assignment of tasks based on team members' strengths and interests requires a delicate balance. Leaders need to identify overlapping strengths and interests, provide opportunities for growth, encourage cross-training, be open to feedback, and prioritize tasks based on organizational needs. By doing so, leaders can create a more engaged and productive workforce that leverages each team member's unique strengths and skills.


How to Identify Overlapping Strengths and Interests


I have seen many ways to identify overlapping strengths and interests. Here are a few examples:

  1. Ask team members about their interests: One way to identify overlapping strengths and interests is to ask team members about their interests. This can be done through informal conversations, surveys, or team-building activities. By doing so, leaders can gain a better understanding of what team members enjoy doing and what they are passionate about.

  2. Analyze performance data: Leaders can also analyze performance data to identify team members' strengths. For example, if a team member consistently performs well in a particular area, it's likely that they have a strength in that area.

  3. Observe team members in action: Leaders can observe team members in action to identify their strengths. By doing so, leaders can see firsthand what team members excel at and what they enjoy doing.

  4. Conduct a strengths assessment: As I mentioned earlier, strengths assessments can be a useful tool for identifying team members' strengths. By conducting a strengths assessment, leaders can gain a better understanding of each team member's unique strengths.

Once leaders have identified team members' strengths and interests, they can look for tasks and projects that align with both. For example, if a team member has a strength in public speaking and an interest in marketing, they may be an excellent fit for a marketing presentation that requires public speaking skills.


Identifying overlapping strengths and interests requires leaders to be proactive in seeking out information about team members' interests and strengths. By doing so, leaders can assign tasks and projects that are engaging and productive, while also leveraging team members' unique strengths and skills.

Conclusion

Balancing the assignment of tasks based on team members' strengths and interests requires leaders to be mindful of the needs of both the organization and individual team members. While it can be challenging to strike a balance, leaders can take steps to ensure that team members are not pigeonholed into tasks solely based on their strengths assessment results. By identifying overlapping strengths and interests, providing opportunities for growth, encouraging cross-training, being open to feedback, and prioritizing tasks based on organizational needs, leaders can create a more engaged and productive workforce that leverages each team member's unique strengths and skills.

 

Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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