Winning teams identify strengths and build skills

Every person has a set of innate strengths – things they have natural aptitude towards. For example, you might be great at winning people over, or at coming up with a plan to achieve a goal. These natural strengths come easily and you will find them enjoyable. When you’re working in your areas of strength, you’re in your “happy place”. Strengths are different to skills, which can be learnt – for example, you might be a whiz at touch typing or at writing code. Winning teams are those that allow team members to each tap into their natural talents, and then invest in developing people’s skills.

Gallup’s CliftonStrengths, which is an online assessment methodology rooted in positive psychology aims to identify areas where an individual’s greatest potential for building strengths exists. CliftonStrengths explains the idea like this: “It isn’t until people know what makes them talented and unique that they know how to perform better in their job. Or how to find one that’s a better fit. And to build better relationships and be a better teammate. And to feel like they’re improving, every single day.”

Teams and organisations that focus on helping people identify their strengths and develop their skills are fulfilled, productive and have a competitive edge. They recognise that every person has different talents to offer and they help each person to “find their lane and run in it”. And because each person is working in their happy place the majority of the time, they are more committed, engaged and effective.

I’m sure you’ve had projects that frustrated you enormously and others that you thoroughly enjoyed, even if they were challenging. Part of the reason you feel this way about these jobs may relate to whether or not you were able to run in your strengths, and if you and your team were equipped with the skills you needed to execute the job at hand.

Practical application

A simple way to start doing this is to get your team involved. Explain the difference between strengths and skills to your team and then ask each person to write down three strengths that each other person in the team has. You could do this over email or in a designated meeting time.

It’s not only a confidence booster for your team, but it provides a useful starting point for mapping out what roles and responsibilities each person is best suited for in the team. For example, if you have a person on your team who is naturally competitive and persuasive, that person might be well suited to pitching for new projects or clients.

If you have a team member who is naturally gifted at managing conflict and being empathetic, perhaps that’s the person who should be in charge of mediating disputes.

Once you’ve mapped out your strengths, you can look at the skills your team has in a similar way, and also to help you identify skills gaps and opportunities for development.

Future focus

Mapping your team’s strengths and skills is helpful in the present, but even more so when it comes to hiring new recruits. My advice is to hire for strengths and for cultural fit first, and for skills second. Skills can always be taught, but strengths can’t.

It’s a different way of framing things, but in my experience, it’s effective. People’s innate strengths make them who they are. If you can uncover those things and help people to do work in their strengths, you access the real value people can add to your team or organisation, and you can also be a better employer.

We all dream of spending our time, energy and passion on the things that really make us tick. Focus on making that a reality in your team and you’re guaranteed better results, increased engagement and higher levels of loyalty from your people.


F.R. (Rhys) Robinson, PhD is Executive Director, Infinitus Reporting Solutions (Pty) Ltd.

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