Play to Your Team's Strengths: Unlocking Potential and Driving Engagement

19 March


As Leaders and Management professionals, we understand the importance of building a skilled and engaged workforce. However, in our quest to equip our teams, we can sometimes fall into the trap of pigeonholing them by focusing solely on closing perceived skills gaps and neglecting their unique strengths. This one-size-fits-all approach, although more straightforward for the Leader or Manager to classify and assess, can stifle creativity, hinder engagement, and ultimately limit organisational growth.

Leaders and Managers need the time and skills to identify and nurture the strengths of their team members. Understanding the unique abilities and talents of individuals within a team is essential for maximising productivity and fostering a culture of growth and engagement.

Here are some tips to help you delve into the art of recognising strengths, expanding skills, and avoiding the trap of pigeon-holing employees.


Identifying Strengths: The Foundation of Success

The key to unlocking true potential lies in playing to your team's strengths. By identifying and fostering these unique abilities, we can create a thriving and engaged workforce that contributes meaningfully to overall success.


High-performing teams are marked by a sense of common understanding, psychological safety, and prosocial purpose.

David Burkus


Every individual possesses a set of strengths that define their unique contributions to a team. As Leaders, it is imperative to conduct thorough assessments to uncover these strengths. By identifying these strengths, managers can tailor development plans that align with individual talents, setting the stage for personal and organisational success.


Don’t fall into the trap of using standard skills assessments. To find individual skills, you will need to use many tools and techniques. And be aware it will take time!

Sharon Robson


Identifying Your Team's Strengths:

The first step is understanding your team member's strengths. The trick here is to look for the strengths! To see the strengths, you need to consider what strengths you want or need to see. Be conscious of your own biases here. Think long and hard about the characteristics you are trying to see, why they are valuable, and how they correlate to the organisation’s strategy. This is harder than it sounds! Push yourself beyond the “standard” strengths and think about what you need in your teams, employees, and the organisation. Go the extra mile and ask the team members what strengths they think the organisation needs. Then use these characteristics as the lens through which to observe.

You can find the characteristics through various methods once the characteristics have been identified. Here are the ten most valuable methods I have used many times to build high-performing teams:

  • Self-assessment tools: Utilise personality tests, strengths assessments, or surveys to gain insights into individuals' preferred work styles, natural talents, and areas of expertise.
  • Performance reviews: Take a strengths-based approach to performance management. Focus on identifying and acknowledging positive contributions while encouraging further development and utilising those individual strengths.
  • Observation: Consider how team members excel in different situations. Notice who naturally takes the initiative and demonstrates strong problem-solving skills or exceptional communication abilities.
  • Informal conversations: Foster open communication and encourage team members to share their passions, strengths, and areas of interest during one-on-one or informal meetings.
  • Name Team Member Strengths: Acknowledge and name the strengths of each team member, give the strengths a name and describe them.
  • Assign Work Based on Strengths: Allocate team activities according to employees' strengths to maximise performance.
  • Ask Team Members: Ask them about their strengths and weaknesses and have them identify what other strengths are needed in the team or organisation.
  • Build Relationships: Establish strong relationships with team members better to understand their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Create Competition for Learning: Foster a friendly learning environment that can highlight individual strengths and weaknesses within the team. This is not about ranking, but for identifying the different roles needed to create an outcome and who has the skills to show and teach the team. *Think about a sports team, the different positions they all have to play to create a winning side. No one person can win the game by themselves!
  • Normalise intra-team feedback sessions: Create a psychologically safe environment where team members feel empowered to give each other meaningful, strength-based feedback regularly. Normalise giving and receiving strength-based feedback within the organisation.

By implementing these strategies, Leaders can identify their team member's unique strengths, paving the way for tailored development plans and enhanced team performance.


Expanding Skills While Embracing Uniqueness:

Once strengths are identified, the focus shifts to expanding skills in ways that capitalise on individual uniqueness. Rather than forcing employees into predefined roles or tasks, Leaders encourage them to explore areas that naturally interest them. Employees are more likely to excel and feel motivated to contribute meaningfully to the team's objectives by providing opportunities for skill development in alignment with personal strengths.


Once identified, don't just plug skill gaps; strategically expand upon existing strengths.


Driving "Buy-In" by aligning personal goals with organisational objectives enhances employees' commitment to overarching organisational goals and personal growth. When individuals are empowered to leverage their strengths in pursuit of shared objectives, they develop a sense of ownership and commitment to the organisation's mission. This alignment between personal interests and organisational goals boosts morale and drives performance and productivity across the board.

This involves:

  • Providing opportunities for skill mastery: Offer training programs, mentorships, or project assignments that allow individuals to refine and elevate their existing strong skills.
  • Building on strengths to address weaknesses: Instead of focusing solely on weaknesses, leverage existing strengths to mitigate them. For instance, if someone excels in communication, encourage them to take on a leadership role where they can utilise this strength to empower their colleagues.
  • Cross-functional collaboration: Encourage collaboration between individuals with diverse strengths. This fosters knowledge sharing, idea exchange, and team synergies, ultimately leading to more efficient and effective problem-solving.
  • Creating a culture of learning: Foster a culture where continuous learning is encouraged and supported. This allows individuals to explore their interests and develop new skills that complement their strengths, creating well-rounded professionals.


Psychological safety determines whether employees can effectively use their strengths or if they hold back out of fear and fall short of their potential.

David Burkus


The Benefits of Playing to Strengths:

By embracing and developing individual strengths, we reap numerous benefits:

  • Increased engagement and motivation: When individuals feel valued for their unique contributions, they become more engaged and motivated to perform at their best.
  • Improved productivity and efficiency: Teams that leverage individual strengths are better equipped to tackle challenges and achieve goals more efficiently.
  • Enhanced innovation and creativity: By encouraging individuals to explore and utilise their strengths, we foster a culture of innovation and creativity, leading to fresh perspectives and novel solutions.
  • Reduced turnover: Employees who feel valued are more likely to stay with the organisation, fostering a stable and experienced workforce.


Beyond the pigeonhole:

A common pitfall in many organisations is pigeonholing employees based on their current roles or perceived limitations. This practice not only stifles individual growth but also hampers innovation within teams. HR and L&D managers must actively work against this tendency by promoting versatility and encouraging employees to step outside their comfort zones. Embracing diversity in skills and perspectives fosters a culture of creativity and adaptability, which is essential in today's fast-paced work environment. Strengths are not limitations. They are the foundation upon which individuals can build and grow. By playing to our team's strengths, we empower them to contribute their unique talents and unleash their full potential, leading to a more engaged, productive, and, ultimately, successful organisation.

Recognising that each team member is a unique asset with distinct strengths waiting to be unleashed is paramount. By investing time and resources into identifying these strengths, expanding skills thoughtfully, avoiding pigeon-holing, and driving "buy-in," you can create a workplace culture that thrives on diversity, innovation, and individual growth. Playing to your team's strengths is not just good practice—it's a strategic imperative for success in today's competitive business landscape.


If you're in need of some help identifying the strengths in your team, expanding their skills, and avoiding the trap of pigeon-holing, we'd love to help!

Get in touch!



This piece was written by Sharon Robson, an accomplished business agility and transformation coach, all-around agile guru, and SoftEd trainer.



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