Playing to your strengths on teams

You’ll recognize this scenario: The team understands its common objective, agrees upon a general strategy, and has identified the tasks to be completed.

The time comes to assign various tasks to individuals. Each person secretly knows which tasks appeal to them; those they enjoy performing ; the ones they are good at; the tasks that motivate them; the assignments that will allow them to shine!

Team leader: What about you, Bob, which tasks would you prefer?

Team member Bob: I’ll be glad to work on whatever the team needs.

In his new book Go Put Your Strengths to Work, Marcus Buckingham identifies three myths that can prevent someone from capitalizing on their strengths. According to Buckingham, ninety-one percent of people believe the following:

Myth: A good team member does whatever it takes to help the team.

At first glance, this statement sounds quite reasonable; an approach that could be taken by the quintessential “team player.” I mean, who doesn’t want a teammate who “does what it takes?

However, Buckingham convincingly argues that this approach is neither good for the individual nor the team, because it does not align teamwork tasks with an individual’s strengths. To create a win-win situation for the person and the team, Buckingham proposes the following:

Truth: A good team member deliberately volunteers his strengths to the team most of the time.

When all team members are playing to their strengths, individuals are able to get even better in areas where they excel and the team gets the benefit of “consistently near-perfect performance” on tasks that naturally align with team member strengths. Team members are not being selfish by volunteering for strength activities. Rather, they are providing a valuable service to help the team maximize its effectiveness.

(Because team tasks are unlikely to align perfectly with team member strengths, Buckingham adds the obvious caveat, “…occasionally each team member will have to step outside of his strengths zone and ‘pinch-hit’ for the team.”)

So let’s try again..

Team leader: “What about you, Bob, which tasks would you prefer?”

Team member Bob: “I really get a charge out of doing “x” and I’ve had a lot of success at it. I think the team would benefit if I took ownership of the “x” assignment. How does that sound to everyone else?”


By the way, I will post a review of Go Put Your Strengths to Work by Marcus Buckingham at Joyful Jubilant Learning’s A Love Affair with Books on March 30.


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4 Responses to Playing to your strengths on teams

  1. Lisa Gates says:

    Hi Blaine,
    Great post. I would add that when businesses and the individuals who make up the business distinguish their core values, both the individual and the company can see where they are aligned. From here, an individual’s contribution would not seem “self serving” but for the good of the whole.

    2 cents?

  2. That makes good sense Lisa. I guess it leads to thinking that the more aligned someone’s own values and strengths are with their organization’s values, their team’s objectives and their day-to-day activities, the better for everyone involved.

    As an aside, I’ve heard some ranting on the word “aligned” as being overused. While the comment has merit, I think “aligned” gets used because it captures the idea we are talking about better than all the alternatives – synchronized, in step with, seeing eye-to-eye, on the same page.

  3. Chris says:

    This is a good post. I’ve been guilty of falling into the trap of believing that doing “whatever the team needs” was actually being helpful. But if a manager really evaluated my sentiment they might recognize that what I was really saying was “I lack faith in the team members”. It’s an unfortunate sentiment, and not even accurate, but I think it happens a lot. One way to solve this is to do what you and Buckingham both suggest: focus on what you’re talented at. That itself builds confidence because individually you are working at your best for the collective. And there is always good room to pull the best out of each other.

    Using your strengths is a really important topic right now and I’m excited to see people talking about it.

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