Working With Teams? Weave In Strengths!
August 16, 2017 by VIA Contributor ·
Thank you to our VIA Contributor, Fiona Hunter, for detailing below how VIA character strengths transform her workshops to build more effective teams.
I use the VIA for my strengths-in-teams work, and have used it for many years. I greatly appreciate the benefits that the VIA toolset offers, and in particular the VIA Survey.
As a former social worker who worked in the community social work space, both in Scotland and New Zealand – I had exposure to strengths-based thinking through a wonderful mentor and manager in Scotland. This wonderful induction into the world of strengths started for me in the mid- 80s. In recent years, I developed and extended that founding strength-based practice and have now brought it into team development in the business world. I develop and run programmes using strength-based practice to enable leaders of teams to create positive change by themselves, and create an empowered way of working; this is not dependent on myself or anyone else for facilitation – a true strengths-based enablement philosophy.
When I start working with a team who are looking to deepen their engagement in their work, lift performance or connect as a new team, I virtually always start with the VIA Character Strengths assessment.
I have designed the VIA into the core of my 9-month programme for managers who are one of: new to their leadership role in a new organization; new into a leadership position in their existing organization; or who simply needs to boost their team performance. VIA appears consistently throughout the 9-months, and teams who have used it continue its application, approach and talking about strengths for years.
The first action on the programme is being asked to complete the VIA; I explain that it is a powerful means of starting our team work and team communication. We do this before we start our face-to-face work.
The feedback on the VIA ranges from people who love to enquire about their strengths and values to people who say they are skeptics and can be resistant to completing the assessment. However, this changes when I start the process of sharing feedback from others; even the skeptics complete it – sometimes out of curiosity or to prove it’s meaningless.
Prior to my first session with any team I gather their top five VIA strengths and create a profile on A3 (ledger) colour card and place them up on the meeting room wall in our first session. This is a fantastic way to open a session on strengths; seeing your colleagues top-5 up there on the wall for all to see. I ask everyone to spend up to 20 minutes in silence, reading about their colleagues. For me, this creates a tone of inclusion, valuing diversity and trust before anyone has even spoken. The room is different after this exercise.
Once everyone has read all the profiles, I ask each person to open the meeting with what resonates most with them in their top five. Despite the strengths all being different, I hear common themes from people in every single session. Some say these reflect them very much, they loved doing the questionnaire and it adds to their confidence that they know themselves pretty well and then talk happily for a couple of minutes about their top five. Others find one or two that resonate and talk about one that means the most to them and applies most to their family or work but that some others were a surprise to them. And then there are the ‘skeptics’ who tell me that honestly they wondered what kind of person I was asking them to do something so outlandish, and the thought that the results would have no bearing on them. The tried to second-guess the questions, and they thought it would be a waste of time. Without exception, my sceptics find that their top five resonated strongly, and so their strengths journey starts with curiosity as to what the day session would bring given such a strong beginning. For me, VIA is such a fantastic start to an engaging and genuine strengths conversation when facilitating any team workshop.
Post Workshop Feedback
Many people, after my workshops, tell me that they get their friends to do the assessment and their children as it sparks very positive and hopeful conversations. One of my participants talked about how she valued LOVE, this value strength resonated with her “big time” and it got her reflecting that some of this love in her life was time over dinner with family which she had stopped doing for some reason or another, so she started it again with the support of her family and it felt fantastic.
Consistent feedback from a range of managers has been that they themselves feel more able to talk about each person’s contribution to their role – including their annual performance conversation.
Many have told me that as an assessment, it was gentle and respectful and set a very positive tone.
I find that VIA is an assessment that once people experience it, enjoy passing it to others to experience and add to career pathway conversations at work. Many of my workshop participants reflect that the VIA and delve into strengths changes the language they use about their own strengths in an interview; impacts the way in which they renew an appreciation of everyone’s strengths being different; and also connects teams in their understanding of their being such a wide range of strengths, yet they are all linked by strengthening that person – so people feel it’s a great connector.
For me, VIA has proved itself hundreds of times as being a superb conversation starter about individual strengths. I have the privilege of discussing strengths and their personal contribution at work and help each person tackle how to describe who they authentically are from a strengths perspective, which leads to a deeper team conversation about many aspects of being in a team and how to become a high performing team. As you can tell, I’m a big fan.
If this information piques your interest, and you want to know more about my strengths-based programme that is designed for anyone to do and starts with the VIA, have a look on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Woven-strengths-approach-building-high-performing/dp/0473386682
To use the VIA Survey with your work team, create a VIA Pro Site and get immediate access to your employees’ or clients’ strengths.
Fiona has been immersed in strengths-based work for over 3 decades, starting off as social-worker in Scotland. She worked for over a decade on the frontline in low socio-economic areas with families, parolees, clients of sexual/physical abuse, serious offenders and people with mental-health and addiction issues.
Following her frontline work, Fiona shifted her strengths-based practice to team and leadership development. Over the last 20 years, she has used this approach with private sector executives, private and public-sector teams, and also coaching of coaches and senior leaders. Fiona has been an operational manager in the public sector and understands both the practical application of strengths-based approaches, as well as the theory behind them.
For over 3 decades she has been passing on strengths-based thinking and strategies, enabling others to run strength-based development programmes and deliver strengths-coaching. In her spare time, she currently runs a strengths-based leadership programme for young girls, gifting proceeds to CanTeen, a cancer charity for kids in NZ, and prior to this ran a strengths-based dance company called Felines for young girls, again with all proceeds going to CanTeen (see the Felines story here: http://www.thepositiveencourager.global/felines-gift-love-strengths-style/)