Improving productivity by building strong teams

Building strong teams and successful businesses is the driving force behind our work. An important part of this approach is ‘strengths based’ methodology – looking at what teams already do well, rather than focusing only on areas for improvement. How can your business start using this approach to improve productivity, and ultimately, profitability?

When it comes to building strong teams, a management approach based on an organisation’s strengths can be far more effective than the more common ‘deficit model’.

The ‘deficit model’ examines areas where individuals and teams are falling short and suggests improvements. Exclusive attention to shortcomings and remedies can adversely affect morale. It isn’t something that makes people feel good about coming to work and can be counterproductive by
undermining team members’ motivation and enthusiasm for their job.

High performance depends on both skills and confidence, and on the energy needed to apply skills. A more balanced, strength-based approach is a logical alternative, so the obvious question is why don’t more organisations do it?

Part of the answer lies in the time needed. Businesses have a finite amount of time and resources for development of new capabilities, while rectifying problems typically demands immediate attention. This encourages a focus on weaknesses. Managers often observe their team in action to identify the development needs of the whole team and individuals. Problems arise all the time, and a leader is tasked with resolving them, so their observations tend to veer towards weaknesses and under-performing areas. When a leader turns into a ‘trouble shooter’ and someone who deals with ‘problems’, they usually stop seeing things that their people are doing really well.

The evidence for a more balanced approach

Research conducted by Gallup spanning several years shows the benefits of a more balanced approach to development – one that properly takes into account what is already being done well. For example, a 2012 article by Dr Jim Asplan (Chief Scientist at the strengths-based development centre at Gallop) highlights:

  1. People who use their strength each day are six times more likely to be engaged during their work
  2. Teams focusing on their strengths each day show 12.5% greater productivity
  3. Strengths-based feedback for teams results in 8.9% greater productivity.

The evidence is clear that we need to support our people so they can apply and develop their strengths. Of course we need to work on weaknesses at the same time, but it’s also important that people enjoy their work and contribute to the success of their organisation.

Using a ‘strengths based’ methodology

Accru’s internal use of the method is extensive. In 2015 and 2016, we conducted a specially designed Management Development Program for up-and-coming leaders in our firms, with a central focus on a strengths-based approach. Through workshops and online learning, leaders were able to understand their own strengths and how to apply them in their role as trusted advisors.

As the owner or leader of a business, it’s straightforward to begin using this approach yourself and it’s good for your own performance too. Many business owners start out as general-purpose managers, handling a multitude of tasks in their business. However as the business grows, this becomes problematic and it’s necessary to make decisions on what to keep doing, and what to drop. Reflection on your strengths as the business owner, as well as the strengths of your team, can be extremely helpful in this regard.

In some cases, owners and managers can hold tightly onto responsibilities or tasks that they enjoy, or through habit. The fact is that another team member may have the capability to do it better. Delegating can save time for the boss and make better utilisation of the business’s most expensive (and valuable) resource – its people.

Making it happen

There are three simple ways you can apply this approach:

  1. When you have discussions about work with individuals, ask them what they enjoy doing most at work and what drains their energy. It’s no surprise that what we enjoy doing is also what we are good at doing. Simply talking to people about this can raise awareness of strengths, and it encourages appreciation for the capabilities each person brings to the team.
  2. It doesn’t take long to ask your team if they can list their strengths and weaknesses. You can do the same. A supportive ‘check’ through each other’s lists, with maybe some suggested additions, can be a big help. People usually underestimate their own strengths.
  3. The Clifton’s StrengthsFinder resources managed by Gallup are very helpful, costing only $15. These allow you to complete an online assessment and identify your ‘top 5’ strengths. An individual report then reveals how you can develop and apply those strengths.

To find out more about using a strength-based approach to develop yourself and your team please contact your local Accru advisor. We also offer a range of business management services designed to improve business performance.

About the Author
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Jessica Fazackerley
With a degree in Maths, Jessica has a real handle on the ‘numbers’, and an ability to think fast and spot any potential business problems a mile away. While working on anything from business processes to culture, or teams to operations, she empowers people so the organisation can take care of itself. Jessica helps to change mindsets, planting the right seeds with effective training and coaching.
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