We are feeling stuck. The pressure of constant change, of being asked to do more with less, of keeping our heads down to keep our jobs and the economic pinch outside of work are leading us to feel that we have limited choices and control. So we keep on going in the hope that things will improve, watching the economy moving in a positive direction, but not necessarily feeling the benefits ourselves.
And the teams we work in can add to that sense of pressure and powerlessness. The number of team meetings we are asked to attend is increasing, along with growing action lists and never-ending demands from management and from customers. All adding to the feeling of having too little time to do the things that we know can make a real difference and leading us to question the true value of our work.
So how can we break the cycle? How can we re-engage ourselves and our teams to stay positive, powerful and energised, as well as unlocking the full power of our team with all the benefits that can bring to performance? A senior banking team we worked with recently was described as being like an international sports team of ‘individual superstars’. But team members complained that the team didn’t feel like a team at all, in fact quite the opposite. It comprised individuals working to their own agendas, who didn’t know each other well, didn’t utilise each other’s strengths and who focused on their own operational objectives. Attending team meetings felt unnecessary, a bit of a chore and without the positive feelings of a shared purpose, social support and pride in joint achievement.
As we have with many other teams, we supported them using our 5As team development process to help them rediscover what mattered and to better understand how they could supercharge the team. The 5As process helps teams to understand how to apply their individual and team strengths by developing positive habits and disciplines to keep a focus on the team as well as on individual objectives. We describe their story, and the 5As process, below.
Aspiration – what are we here for and where are we going?
We started off by having one to one conversations with each member of the team to get a read on its purpose, level of development, strengths and weaknesses, as well as asking for stakeholder views. Then, bringing the team together, we reviewed the findings and got the team to start thinking about their purpose – as a team, what were they there for? What did they do that no other team did, and how did this link to the organisation’s objectives? The team also mapped out how it wanted to deliver on its purpose, developing a list of ‘promises’ that defined the team, building a sense of pride and meaning. For example, the team promised to ‘break the boundaries’, ‘share leadership’ and ‘recognise the value of differences’. These group discussions really helped the team to rediscover a shared purpose and meaning as a team.
Awareness – who are my team-mates and what do they bring?
The team identified those things that they loved the most about work, as well as describing their greatest strengths – those things that energised them about work. They asked other team members to draw on these strengths to help the team achieve its goals, as well as asking for help in areas of weakness. One team member offered to use their critical thinking and creativity to act as ‘devil’s advocate’ in team discussions. Another offered to use their empathy and compassion strengths to provide the external customer perspective. And another asked teammates to help her with her goal of becoming more effective at developing others. The team decided that they would ‘buddy’ each other, combining strengths where they could be used to best effect for particular team goals, in twos and threes.
Action – how are we going to start doing things differently?
Next, the team explored team strengths and weaknesses. As a team, they shared the strengths of decisiveness and flexibility, bringing a great advantage in navigating change where making quick, nimble decisions was important. But on occasion, these strengths could go too far and lead the team to make decisions too quickly, with the need to then change direction repeatedly in order to get it right – energising for the team but not for their stakeholders, who became confused and stifled by the constant change. Through a series of powerful conversations, the team decided to introduce rigour to their decision making, to ensure that their actions were right first time, well planned and well communicated to avoid the constant ‘tacking’ of the past.
Agility – how do we go from good to great?
The team was conscious that it needed to spend more time together, providing constructive feedback and on-going support, making space to work on the team and not just in the team. So following initial discussions, the team made the opportunity to get away from the office each month to spend time with each other, check in and monitor progress against plan, as well as carving out a little time (five minutes) at the end of each meeting to openly discuss what they felt was going well and not so well within the team and coming up with solutions to keep on track.
Achievement – when will we know we’ve got it right?
One of the team’s promises was to take more time to reflect on achievements, something that had been lacking before, as they pushed forward from goal to goal, delivering on objectives but not taking the time to celebrate success. They also decided to make improvements based on customer need and not simply through boredom, or a desire for new stimulation. The team committed to asking for stakeholder feedback on their behaviour and performance and to monitor this over time to keep themselves customer-focused.
As you can see, supercharging your team doesn’t have to be complicated. Following the steps above will get your team re-engaged and energised to take on the challenges ahead rather than feeling overwhelmed and burnt out. This approach ensures that you have the support of your team-mates, a clear plan of action to draw on your own and other’s strengths when the pressure is on and that you will know when you’ve got it right and can build positively on this experience. What are you waiting for? Start using strengths to supercharge your team and take back control.
Dr Paul Brewerton, Joint Managing Director, Strengths Partnership