Strengths-based Approach to Development

by Stephanie Walters

Using a strengths approach with your team

You can use and embed a strengths based approach with your team at almost every stage of their employment.

Recruiting and selecting team members

When identifying who you need to recruit in your team to fill a vacancy, think about

  • What strengths you would like the new recruit to have – not only what you want them to be good at, but also what you want them to be energised doing
  • What strengths are missing in the team as a whole and what could the new recruit add to the team.

When carrying out interviews to select a new team member, as well as asking competency-based questions, also ask some key questions, such as

  • What activities give you energy, what do you like to do most at work?
  • What activities give you the least energy; what do you like to do least at work?
  • What role do you most like to play in a team?
  • What would other team members say about what role they like you to play in a team?

At weekly one-to-ones

When carrying out weekly one-to-ones to talk through how they are doing

  • Ask them where they think they have used their strengths that week
  • Highlight and praise them where you have seen them using their strengths
  • Ask them what they enjoyed doing the most and the least in the week
  • Ask them what they feel they have achieved this week and celebrate any achievements you feel they have made
  • Ask them if any of their strengths have gone into overdrive this week (in other words, if they have used a strength too much or in the wrong situation, where it had unintended impacts)
  • Discuss strategies for managing strengths when they go into overdrive.

Performance reviews

When carrying out performance reviews, identify if the person is an underperformer, a steady performer or an over performer. Take a different approach with each.

  • For an underperformer, if the reason for the underperformance is due to attitude not capability, a strengths approach may not be appropriate. That said, by understanding what they love to do, you may see that they are not suited to the role they are in.
  • For an underperformer who has low capability, work with them to help boost their confidence by exploring how they use their strengths and helping them to see how they can use their strengths more.
  • For a steady performer, identify areas where they are using their strengths within their zone of comfort and discuss ways they could develop their strengths further. See if you can give them stretching opportunities to use their strengths in new and different ways.
  • For an over performer, discuss whether their strengths are being stretched enough in their current role. If not, then provide them with more stretching projects or help them to look for career moves that will play to and continue to stretch their strengths.

Career discussions

When carrying out career discussions with members of your team

  • Explore what they most love to do in their role
  • Explore what environments and teams they most enjoy working in
  • Identify if they would like to work towards a promotion, gaining more breadth or more depth in their next role
  • Identify roles in the organisation that may fit with what the person most loves to do
  • Identify what strengths are needed in other teams or departments and work out if the individual’s strengths match these requirements.

Building a high-performing team

Identify what strengths each individual has and what they all love to do. Get them to share this with each other.

  • See if there are any strengths that the team shares and identify what areas the team are collectively strong in. Consider how you can harness this more in pursuit of the collective team goal.
  • Work out what strengths you need in the team and see if there are any gaps. Does a team member have a strength that would fill that gap, but the team is not listening to them or seeking their opinion?
  • Share with each other what role each of you would most like to take in the team and agree how those roles will help you as a team to achieve your collective goals.
  • Discuss how some strengths are complementary and some strengths cause clashes in the team. Discuss how you can understand each other’s strengths better to help minimise or manage the clashes more productively.

Developing your own leadership skills

The first stage here is to identify what type of leader you would like to be. Next,

  • Look at your strengths and consider how you can use them more to lead in the way you would like
  • Discuss with your own manager how to find opportunities to practise using your strengths to lead your team
  • Identify any weaker areas or strengths in overdrive that get in the way of you leading the way you would like
  • Discuss strategies with your manager on how you could use a strength to overcome any weaker areas or any strengths that go into overdrive
  • Seek feedback from your team around what sort of leader they would like you to be, what strengths they value in you and where there are opportunities to use your strengths more.

Organisational change

You can use a strengths approach to help your team to overcome the challenge and uncertainty that come with change and other difficult situations.

  • Listen to any concerns they have and help them feel understood.
  • Remind them of their strengths and spend time celebrating how they use their strengths at work. Focus on what is working right now (see the Appreciative Inquiry topic to find more questions you can ask to help them focus more on the positive aspects of the problem).
  • Work out with them what activities in their life as a whole give them energy or that they love to do. Find out how often in the last few weeks they have done any of these (the activity might be running, meeting up with friends, reading a book and so on; it will be different for different people). Help them find ways to do more of these things to help them get their energy back.
  • Help them to explore how they have got through difficult, challenging or changing times in the past. Help them identify what they did and what strengths they used.
  • Discuss how they could use their strengths now to overcome the current difficulties