Leveraging Strengths Finder with Scott Dunn
The Agile Weekly Crew and Scott Dunn discuss Strengths Finder and self-organizing teams.
Clayton Lengel-Zigich, Roy van de Water and Scott Dunn discuss:
Playing to your Strengths
Introducing Strengths to your team
Strengths and self-organizing teams
When Strengths go wrong
Clayton Lengel‑Zigich: Welcome to another episode of the Agile Weekly Podcast. I’m Clayton Lengel‑Zigich…
Roy van de Water: I’m Roy van de Water.
Scott Dunn: I’m Scott Dunn.
Clayton: Scott thanks for joining us today. I know that you are interested in the strength finder or the strengths…I don’t know what the generic term for it is, but maybe can you give, I guess, a little bit of a background of what that is and why you find that interesting?
Scott: Sure. Back when I was a manager for a web development shared systems team, looking for ways to have my team members be engaged and focused. I was at an event called the leadership summit. There, I heard someone named Marcus Buckingham talk about the level of engagement of employees and how low it was. I was definitely listening.
He gave a stat that less than two out of ten of us are engaged, meaning that we care what is happening at work and are doing our best. The company that he worked for at the time was Gallop. They did a survey of a million employees and a hundred thousand men trying to find what makes great management.
They boiled it down to twelve questions called the “Q12”. The biggest lever if you were a manager to get the best out of your employees was do they have a good chance each day to do what they do best?
IE Do they have the chance to play to their strengths? From there they came up with an assessment that you can walk‑through and get your top five strength which is called the strength spine which has been on the best seller list for four or five years now.
Marcus has recently come out with an assessment of the zone, he has recently left Gallop. This is called “The Stand Out” which talks more about your strengths, roles and puts you in several categories of manager, leader and sales.
There is a couple of ways you can approach it. From there you are talking to your team and working with them in a way that helps to discover what their strengths are and to find a way to leverage that as a coach, scrum master or manager.
Clayton: Let’s say I am a manager and I have this scrum team or agile team, how do I implement this? Do I make everybody take a questionnaire and then put people in boxes? How do these two roles meet?
Scott: That is a great practical question! What I have done before is something that I have detailed on my blog. We can circle back to that later but I do try and make it so people can go to and follow the cheat sheet.
But basically what I do is I give everyone a couple weeks’ head up and notice in saying, “I’m going to be putting books on your desk. Don’t worry about reading it right now. Just take the assessment in the back. You’ll find the code. You’ll go to a website and register and use that code to start your assessment.”
That gives them details about how the test works and try to lower the level of anxiety. It’s not a pass/fail test. You can’t not have any strengths. You’re not going to have a strength like loser or something like that show up, and you’ll be…
Clayton: Roy hasn’t taken the test yet.
Roy: That’s right. I’m really strong in the ability of being fired.
Roy: Sorry. Go ahead.
Scott: Is beer drinking a strength? Well…
Roy: I think I’ve got that one covered, too.
Scott: Yeah, you’ll get lots of funny responses, but the amazing thing is the results I’ve had. I’ve done this with at least 200 people so far. On every team that I’ve been on when I was independent we’d always do this because one, it’s a big team‑building thing. It’s very affirming. These people come out like, “Wow.” They’ll routinely say, “That really nailed me.”
I promise you, over 99 percent of the time they’re saying, “That was so accurate. They’ve been reading my mail. I can’t believe this.” It’s a very affirming process. Not just for them, but that next step after they’ve taken it I schedule a meeting for all the team to come in.
We just walk through their strengths. I just list them up on a grid. I’m writing them up in front of everybody, and I’ll open up the book and read off, or I’ll read off their reports. Everyone’s getting to hear about each other’s strengths, what they’re naturally good at where they’ll find the best of each other. These teams aren’t great teams because everyone’s well‑rounded. They’re great teams precisely because each person’s not, and you find out. You get that insight.
I had one manager come up and say when she followed that. That was the most her team had talked to each other in four years. You get these amazing sharing and insights into each other as a team, and that’s part of the team‑building process as well. From there you start talking about coaching, and we can get into that a little bit later.
But even if you just did that, you’re talking 12 to 14 bucks for this book, a one‑hour meeting. They spend a half an hour of their own time taking the test, and it’s a huge ROI as far as just the connection that they’re going to make and your insights as their manager or Scrum master as well. It’s very powerful.
Clayton: What do the results look like? I’m trying to think of, I think it’s the Myers‑Briggs Personality Test or something like that. I can’t remember. I think they have these little codes. Is it the same type of idea?
Scott: No, and I like the Myers‑Briggs. I took it, and my response is what I think most people think the strengths assessments are going to be, which is, “Oh, that’s interesting. That says that I’m an extrovert.” Well, but what do I do with that? How do I use that at work? Be more extroverty? You don’t know what to do.
The strengths by it, it’s going to give you top five strengths, which are really more like action verbs, or the stand‑out will give you your top two roles and list out all nine. But, there are some that are actionable, like a maximizer. It’ll give you action items to take with that. If the stand‑out will say, “Here’s what you’re best at. Here’s what you can do with that. Here’s a great next step.”
If you’re a maximizer, look for areas where something’s happening with your team, or the company, or a process. It’s OK, but it can be made great. You’ll naturally be pulled towards making things great. Average bugs you.
It opens your eyes to say “Wow, that’s true. We had a deployment processes, and it’s OK, but I know that we could shrink the time down. Or, a build process, we could shrink that.” These people, if they’re on your team, and they’re a maximizer, they’re going to love doing that. They’ll thrive doing that. They’ll learn the most, and grow the most and perform the most. The team can lean on it, and these people will never get tired of doing that stuff. That’s one of the insights. Each one of those will be like that.
I had a team member once, and we were at a lull at work as a Web team. I said, “Just take it easy. Surf the Web. No big deal. Enjoy your paid time off here.” It turned out she got frustrated and left for another job, and the reason was one of her strengths was activator.
The worst thing I could have done for an activator, or I should say an achiever‑‑ that’s someone who loves to check off everything they’ve done that day. They love coming in that day, and there are 10 things to do. They get to check, check, check. “Look, I’ve been productive. Look…”
Scott: …that was driving her nuts. She would rather have me just cook up some work or given her a checklist of things to do and say, “Hey, could you just take a look at some of these areas in the code base, and review it for areas for opportunity”? Anything. I could have made it up. For me, that would have killed me. For her, it bugged her so much that she left for another opportunity where they would have kept her busier. Those are a couple of examples of doing that.
Clayton: I understand that it’s a really good tool for figuring out what kind of jobs the members of the team can do that are personally motivating.
Do you find it’s, also, a good tool to use to help team members discover their weaknesses? So that they can try to round out areas they might not necessarily be proficient, or necessarily enjoy as much? Try to find enjoyment in areas where they don’t excel, so that the team can go more for that “Everybody in our team is a well‑rounded individual”?
Scott: Right. That’s a great question. That’s a common one, because most of our performance reviews are really spent like, “I see that you’ve done this, and this, and this and this. Thank you for your contribution. Now, let’s spend the rest of our hour talking about these areas where you [laughs] suck.
Where you’re not so strong, where you failed, or come up short, or you just don’t perform well.” Those areas where you’re looking at the clock and say, “Is the clock broken? I hate doing this, anything but this. Let me check my email one more time.’” That type of work.
For me, it was organization. “Here’s our recommendation. Use the DayRunner, or why don’t you try the PalmPilot?” I’ve tried those things. The truth is, areas where we’re we
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