Insights from working alongside a high performance team: Using strengths

This last week I have being working alongside an IT team helping them to improve their team performance. A key weakness for frameworks like Scrum and Kanban is that they have little to offer in terms of actual team development. Thankfully, being a Business Psychologist one of my own professional areas of interest is team development. I am driven to help individuals and teams to find their ‘optimal performance zone’ to improve the ways by which they collaborate, problem-solve, resolve conflicts, communicate and so-on. Moving them from ‘good to great’ as they say.

I’ve found that taking a team through the Clifton Strengths Finder really helpful. Gallup research has found again (and again) that when people within teams focus on what they do best (i.e. their strengths) then they tend to succeed; perform better and are more engaged.

The Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment has helped people to excel for over 22-years. From top business executives and managers to salespeople, nurses, teachers, students, pastors, and others, millions of people have realized the benefits of leading with their strengths.

In 2001, Gallup introduced the world to the original Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment in Now, Discover Your Strengths. The book became a New York Times bestseller and sold nearly 2 million copies. Its author and creator of the Clifton StrengthsFinder, former Gallup chairman Dr. Donald O. Clifton (1924-2003), was named the Father of Strengths-Based Psychology by the American Psychological Association

 

Gallup have found that individuals that use their strengths regularly are:

  • 6x as likely to be engaged at work
  • 6x as likely to do what they do best every day
  • 3x as likely to have an excellent quality of life

This is an impressive set of results and resonates with my own experiences over the last 16-years.

“So what are my strengths and how do they complement my team?” asked one .net developer a few weeks ago. This is a really good question. It is good because it is framed by curiosity and it also underlies a desire to learn and grow; as well as taking personal responsibility.

The product that I have used the most is the Clifton Strengths Finder (Top 5 strengths).

Gallup Strengths Center Store

I have found that the top 5 is a very accessible introduction. It provides enough data for the individual to make sense of. And then you can easily map each of the 5 strengths for each team member across the total 34 strengths. I use a simple Excel spreadsheet for this purpose.

To give you a flavor of these I’ll include my own Top 5:

  1. Relator: People especially strong in Relator talents forms solid, genuine, and mutually rewarding relationships. Their relationships are close, caring, and trusting.
  2. Input: People with strong Input talents bring tools that can facilitate growth and performance. They love to provide relevant and tangible help to others. Their resourcefulness and curiosity lead them to store knowledge that can be culled and shared.
  3. Intellection: The particular genius of people with especially strong Intellection talents stems from the processing that occurs when they think.When they have time to ponder and process, wisdom and clarity result. They can serve as a sounding board that helps others “stretch” to discover new ways to solve problems or enhance the quality of their work.
  4. Learner: People with strong Learner talents not only love to learn, but they also intuitively know how they learn best. They can learn quickly, and when focused, they can keep a group, team, and organization on the cutting edge.
  5. Connectedness: People strong in the Connectedness theme build bridges between people and groups, showing them how to relate to and rely on each other. They help others find meaning in the unpredictability of the world around them, providing a sense of comfort and stability in the face of uncertainty. Putting it simply, their ability to “connect the dots” from the past, present, and future can give others perspective, guidance, and hope.

As you can see this reveals great insight for each team member and then the total team too. I’ve also noticed that something quite important happens in a team meeting when each member is appreciated for what it is that they bring to the team. It lends itself to what we call an appreciative stance to the work.

It also helps the team make sense of one another in new, novel and fresh ways. In the past it has also ‘released’ key energy and movement for the team too. Next, the team can reflect on any immediate ‘gaps’ across the total 34 strengths. They can question if this strength is needed or important for them? Or, can this contribution/ strength be made by someone else outside of the immediate team? Someone like a Senior Responsible Officer, or a Project Manager etc?

Simply seeing or just acknowledging this point can be quite liberating too! I’ve found in a number of contexts (more especially where there is pressure to deliver) that this ‘reframing’ of the positive contributions of those outside the direct team is very powerful too.

It is fair to say that over the last 16-years of using this strengths-based approach with various teams- across a range of professions- I have been genuinely struck by the practical ways by which it has helped moved teams along in their own unique journey from ‘good to great’. I hope it can help you too?

Take care, Jason

 

 

 

 

‘Agile is King and PRINCE remains the heir’? Not always…Project Design Choices.

At first glance the following sentence, or statement, will seem self-evident: “The project design will have a significant  bearing on the project’s success”. Fair enough I hear you cry! But what does the empirical evidence-base say about when, or what variables or factors determine when you should ‘design in’ adopting an Agile approach.. as opposed to say a more traditional approach like the classic PRINCE2?

AgileD

In this blog I’d like to focus on the team and project complexity factors. So I will ignore the organisational and the customer factors. I’ll cover those off in a later blog.

What do we know?

Firstly, that there are discernible team factors that should be analysed prior to adopting an Agile approach. These are as follows:-

  • Project teams committment (affective and psychological)
  • Internal project communication style/methods
  • Project teams expertise in the technical knowledge and actual delivery experience
  • Team dynamics and composition/maturity

What we know is that when the team is less mature, relatively inexperienced, and with low levels of technical skills and delivery experience and where the team dynamics are less collaborative and more ‘silo’ focussed then the evidence is that…traditional PRINCE2 project management is the best project design and this will predict project success. This holds true even when the project complexity is low and the project length and scope are short and narrow. A fascinating reality.

However, the opposite also holds true for Agile. What we know is that we should ‘design in’ an Agile approach in contexts where we have well established technical experts that have actual grounded experience of the given project’s demands. We also know that they all need to have worked ‘outward focussed’ and in typically more multi-vendor project designs in the past. In situations such as described and when these skills and experiences are found… but where the team is new then a professional PM can add value by developing the new team successfully in an Agile method as the Scrum Master.

This latter set of variables also holds true in project contexts where there is a need for pace, or urgency as well as innovation in the technical ‘fusion’ or integration of multi-suppliers. In this ‘innovation space’ Agile is ‘King’ and Prince remains in his younger, less mature but none-the-less ‘royal’ household!

I would add to this latter point that having a PM with actual experience of collaborative methods as well as some grounded, actual delivery, of complex projects (multi-million pound)would also be a critical success factor to this end. She, or he, can literally add value to the project outcomes in the ways outlined.

Happy project design!

As you can see your choice will have evidence-based consequences. Choose wisely!

All best Jason

whatisbp

‘Lessons to be Learned’ is this anything more than a rhetorical device?

network
You might recognise the picture above as a human neural network. This is the miraculous or amazing ways by which the human brain disseminates information that we all use to make sense of our external (environmental) and internal (psychological) worlds. I believe that this is a useful metaphor for learning at a number of levels, including individually, team and organisationally.

This blog is all about learning. But the motive behind writing it is all about relieving pain, upset, misunderstanding and disappointment. Consider the following scenario:

A loved one is treated poorly by a provider of care/ treatment. This results in serious harm or death. Given the seriousness of the error an external review is completed taking several months. Consequently a comprehensive 157 page report is produced. The same day this becomes available a press statement including the phrase that we all recognise instantly: “The organisation accepts the reviews findings and acknowledges that lessons must be learned” is given to the national, regional and local media.

Even though several months have passed for you the associated emotions remain raw or visceral and there is this sense of an injustice. You are energised to do three things. Firstly, you read carefully all similar reviews of the same type of error over the last 10-years. Secondly, you ask the organisation to demonstrate the ways by which they have implemented the ‘lessons learned’ from these previous reviews that you have found. Lastly, you informally ask friends that work in that organisation in what ways the ‘lessons learned’ from these reviews has shaped their professional practice over the last decade.

It is an obvious point but worth exploring none-the-less, what difference will it make to you if you discover that very little genuine learning has taken place? And, of course, if you discover that learning from previous reviews has indeed re-shaped professional practice and informed the ethical culture of the organisation what difference would this make to your sense of justice/injustice?

Around 7-years ago I was asked to review (yes me too!) and then design and implement a learning architecture that would address the points that I have outlined above. This is roughly what we co-created.

As a matter of interest this was within healthcare, but as I said before I believe the design features, or principles, could be applied in most organisational contexts such as banking/finance, IT, social services, foster care, schools/education, and the military, and the voluntary sectors such as charities and churches.

We mapped the following key learning building blocks:-

  • Insights from International, National Reviews
  • Learning from other external Reviews
  • Learning from Organisational ‘near miss’ events (logged)
  • Insights from Programme and Project ‘Lessons Learnt’ reviews/ evaluations
  • Learning from Conferences and other CPD events
  • Team Based Learning
  • Individual Learning (PDR)
  • Communities of Practice (Professional)

With bi-directional information and learning ‘flows’ we anticipate the following direct outcomes and wider systemic benefits.

Outcomes:

  1. The rate, or pace, of learning across the network ‘nodes’ should increase over time- given that we have specifically “designed-in” the learning connectedness
  2. There should be some correspondance of learning from each ‘output’ to the relevant learning ‘input’. In this way, we can see that any relevant learning from say a specific project review/evaluation should expected to be found, in say, the ‘community of practice’ for programme/project managers
  3. The same of course, could be said for any professional such as nursing, teachers, investment bankers and so forth
  4. Consequently, the knowledge management skill par excellence- is extracting the right degree of learning granularity from each knowledge input to each learning output

Benefits 

  • Having professional ‘communities of practice’ connected to learning knowledge management will enable skills and knowledge transfer in the most effective ways
  • The added-value from international/national reviews has genuine legitimacy to individual learning- with explicitly mapped transfer points or nodes across the network
  • The learning network is a key enabler for cultural and team climate improvements to this end
  • Individual learning evidently ‘scales-up’ to organisational learning. For example, an individual attending a CPD event would share a brief of that learning that is disseminated to each and every node

whatisbp
 Jason is a Business Psychologist.