Due to the ongoing global pandemic, the new locus of teamwork is online, distributed, and hybrid. Such teams are generally cross-functional, cross-cultural, and cross-generational in make-up.
Hybrid teams today are collaborating across multiple time zones and cultures. Typically, members work from multiple points using multiple modes and means – home, office, transit, remote, synchronous, asynchronous. Most individuals don’t know each other well. Often, team members have never met in person and likely never will. This is a lot of complexity to visualize, track, and manage well. While technology keeps improving remote communication, human nature remains the same. Everyone faces the same challenge. How to mutually maintain cohesiveness, psychological safety, and wellbeing across such far-flung teamwork while staying on point?
A Harvard Business School study examined why it’s good sense to focus on and optimize what we like to do and are good at.1 The authors note “that knowing your strengths offers you a better understanding of how to deal with your weaknesses — and helps you gain the confidence you need to address them. It allows you to say, “I’m great at leading but lousy at numbers. So rather than teach me remedial math, get me a good finance partner.” The authors conclude by observing that indeed, “understanding and acknowledging each person’s strengths can be a team-building exercise.”
It’s important to note that there are no established theories about the practice of strengths- based leadership. None-the-less, instituting a strengths-based program involves a particular orientation as well as essential activities in support. This involves, for example, participants learning to –
• Identify their own positive strengths.
• Reveal their positive strengths to each other
• Explain their unique contributions to each other’s work
• Find opportunities to use their positive strengths and allow new strengths to emerge
• Know how to be most useful when collaborating with others
• There is also consensus about teamwork dynamics.
• Strong and cohesive teams bring into play everyone’s strengths
• Different team members bring unique strengths to fulfill different needs
• Effective teams are generally well-rounded
This article examines three different strengths-based development models and methodologies for individuals and teams: Clifton Strengthsfinder, VIA, and All Star Teams.
VIA Institute, Gallup Organization, and All Star Teams have separately developed distinct strengths frameworks and lexicons. VIAs features 7 Virtues with 24 Strengths. Gallup’s features 4 Domains with 34 Strengths. All Star Teams features 5 Strengths, each with 10 Attributes. For all their differences, these models share certain fundamentals. For example, strengths are broadly seen as goodand beneficial as well as authentic and energizing. As well, their respective model outcomes and benefits make similar promises. Please see the Appendix for more comparative analysis
The study of positive psychology is now two decades old. It started in 1998 with the publication, “Positive Psychology: An Introduction” by co-authors, Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Each author was already well-known within the international field of psychology due their stellar contributions. Their paper was widely read. For example, Seligman previously developed the theory of “learned helplessness”.
This led to his pioneering work in resilience and learned optimism. His resilience programs were widely adopted. Csikszentmihalyi originated the psychology of “flow” and written extensively on creativity. He defined the “flow state” as “the holistic sensation that people feel when they act with total involvement” (1988). Moreover, “the best moments in our lives … usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).2 Both authors thought that contemporary psychology was too narrowly focussed on illness. Conversely, no importance was given to the study and cultivation of psychological wellness. Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi proposed a new professional sub-field of research and practice:
“Psychology is not just the study of pathology, weakness and damage, it’s also the study of strength and virtue. Treatment is not just fixing what is broken; it is nurturing what is best. Psychology is not just a branch of medicine concerned with illness or health; it is much larger. It is about work, education, insight, love, growth and play. And in this quest for what is best, positive psychology does not rely on wishful thinking, faith, self-deception, fads or hand-waving; it tries to adapt what is best in the scientific method to the unique problems that human behavior presents to those who wish to understand it in all its complexity” (1998).3
The emergence of positive psychology inspired further research, innovation, and development. For example, both the Values in Action Institute and the Gallup Organization were founded in response. Both groups are quite separate.Both also offer quite different strengths-based programs for employees and students. For all of their differences, they have important similarities. These are discussed below
Values in Action Institute
Dr. Martin Seligman and Dr. Christopher Peterson introduced the “Character Strengths and Virtues Handbook” in 2004. This provided a common classification framework and a language for the emerging field of positive psychology. They also introduced “Values in Action”, a new psychological instrument to profile individual character strengths. This involved a 240-Question Survey measuring 24 Character Strengths. To date, over 400,000 individuals have used it.
Clifton Strengthsfinder 2.0
About the same time Seligman and his partners were producing their theory on positive psychology, a parallel unconnected development was underway. In 1999, another character strength-based assessment was introduced by Dr. Donald Clifton, a psychologist and entrepreneur. He identified 34 distinct strengths, which are grouped into four domains.
Strengthsfinder 2.0 is an assessment of individual and team strengths available online or paper- based. Its design is informed by a philosophy that all individuals have personal strengths and the potential to grow. Moreover, it’s advantageous to focus on building these strengths rather than trying to address or “fix” weaknesses, although these may not be ignored.
The assessment is designed for both individual and team use. It consists of multiple questions and may be completed in under 60 minutes. Results are aggregated for both individuals and teams into visual data tables. Team members are able to understand and see themselves from each other’s perspectives. The goal is to establish a better sense of how individuals and teams can work better together and by delegating work intelligently. As Dr. Clifton wrote: ““Strengths develop best in response to another human being.”
The American Psychological Association called Clifton “the father of strengths- based psychology and the grandfather of positive psychology.” Dr. Clifton later acquired and became chairman of Gallup, the famed polling firm, which administers Strengthsfinder 2.0 today. Approximately 12 million individuals in 50+ countries have completed an assessment, and which is available in 20+ languages.
All Star Teams
All Star Teams is a strengths-based experiential learning platform and methodology for virtual, distributed, and hybrid teams and organizations. It’s designed to quickly and easily establish psychological safety and trust. The All Star Teams methodology consists of three online Modules designed for use respectively by Individuals, Teams, and Organizations. Each Module features a Digital Whiteboard Template and a set of scaffolded exercises with simple step-by-step guidelines. These Modules and exercises are used, whole or in part, according to need and context.
Participants start by completing their individual iStar, a strength based self- assessment. They are presented with 22 simple scenarios online. They choose from “most like” to “least like”. A personalized Digital iStar Badge and iStar Report is generated.
Like our Five Senses, we also have Five Basic Strengths. “Strength” is defined as “good or beneficial quality or attribute of a person or thing”. The iStar Badge features these strengths holistically as follows: Thinking (Green), Feeling (Blue), Planning (Yellow), Acting (Red), and Imagining (White). We use all five in daily our lives and at work automatically and unconsciously. Each triangle of the star represents one of these strengths depending on how a person responds to their assessment scenarios and is colored symbolically. The iStar Badge is read clockwise, from 3:00, starting withone’s default or Keynote strength.
The head is where imagination percolates. It directs thearms and legs to do whatever and go wherever one envisions. This notion of vision is intrinsic to individual self- actualization as well as to systemic organizational innovation
Participants use their imaginations, unlike traditional assessments. They create and share a “micro-story” how they use their different strengths and what their idea of excellence and core values are. By explicitly asking team members to illustrate and later share their iStar Story. This allows participants to represent themselves as whole human beings with ideals and aspirations.
Moreover, participants are able to understand and appreciate their diverse strengths. And how best to play to their respective strengths in unison . Once team members share their respective iStar Stories and unique constellation of strengths, the team as a whole is now ready to view their Analytics. This enables members to instantly picture their team’s overall inventory of strengths. They are able to immediately diagnose for themselves what gaps or imbalances they have.
The All Star Teams exercises that follow show teammates and organizations how best to align and harness their diverse strengths together to achieve their project goals while maintaining mutual respect and trust.
Clifton Strengthsfinder 2.0 & iStar Alignment
There is a natural complementarity between Strengthsfinder 2.0 and the iStar Self-Assessment. Both instrument’s design and purpose are grounded in a philosophy about human character and development that is positive and constructive. The iStar is just faster and simpler to deploy. It focusses on “5 Basic Strengths”, which everyone uses daily. This aligns well with Strengthsfinder 2.0’s 4 Domains as illustrated below. What iStar uniquely adds is the strength of imagination. It allows space for people to picture themselves holistically and to allow for the aspirational. Individuals and teams benefit from imagining their goals, picturing what excellence looks like, and how they’re going to use their diverse strengths to achieve those goals. That’s why the iStar Story exercise is so crucial and which is another differentiator.