Team Questions and Active Listening Impact Strengths Based Conversations
At Lead Through Strengths, our StrengthsFinder events are designed to help you dial deep into your strengths so you can understand yourself better and strengthen team performance. What better way to launch this goal into action than through meaningful activities and strengths based conversations that are grounded in your natural talents!
But how do you keep the value of these conversations when your reality hits? Maybe these conversations feel weird to you over Zoom or MS teams. Maybe you don't know where to start, and you feel a little too woo-woo kicking off strengths based conversations when you're usually the person who gets right to business. Or maybe you prefer to leave the CliftonStrengths kickoff to the experts, so you're waiting for that to happen.
In yet another idea-rich episode, Lisa Cummings and co-host Joseph Dworak will take you through fun and engaging ways you can create strengths based conversations, whether in full-length or “bite-sized” sessions, in-person or virtual. Even the popular online game World of Warcraft was an important part of their conversation, so join in.
Learn more from this video version of the episode.
Lisa: You're listening to Lead Through Strengths, where you'll learn to apply your greatest strengths at work. I'm your host, Lisa Cummings, also joined by your other host this week, Joseph Dworak (claps and cheers).
Joseph: Hello, hello.
Lisa: We're to talk to you about Strengthsfinder activities and strengths based conversations that help you go deeper as a team over time. Now, of course, in your ideal world, you hire Joseph to come in. He's your facilitator that you request. It's easy, because he has a bag of great tricks, because he's been doing CliftonStrengths for 20 years.
But sometimes people come to us and say, “Oh, gosh, you know, I don't have the budget right now, but I can buy everyone a StrengthsFinder 2.0 book.” So Joseph, if we were going to share some of our favorite kinds of things that might give someone a path to have solid strengths based conversations, what are some of your favorites?
Joseph: Yeah, I have to give credit to Chip Anderson, who was one of the founders of the StrengthsFinder movement with Don Clifton back in the day. I saw him do this in 2001... I just started going through my own strengths and I was at a retreat with a bunch of USC and UCLA students that we were with, and I was kind of getting into their groove and Chip Anderson had everyone take our glasses. And he did this whole thing about strengths being the lenses that you see the world through, and we all have unique glasses.
And so then he had people divide up into the four quadrants, so people who have strategizing themes over here, and people who have Influencing things over here, and people who have Relating themes and so on. And then he would have a little bit like what you and I talked about before with a strengths mixer, where he would say, “What's the strength that you really like of your Top 5 and talk about it.”
The other person has to actively listen for a minute and the other person can't interrupt. They actually have to actively listen, which is his own skill in this day and age. And they would talk back and forth. And he would do that for two hours. And he would just, "All right, switch partners. Okay, what's the strength that gets in your way sometimes, and why?
“What's the strength that fits you best, and why?
“What strengths combinations do you see working together?”
And he would just keep rotating and rotating and rotating. And I took that one. And when I became a strengths facilitator about a year later, I'd be some version of that for, as you mentioned, 20 years now. And that's a great way where it's one-on-one, because some people do well in the group setting, some people do well one-on-one... Some people will do well just reading the StrengthsFinder book on their own and doing it.
But that strengths mixer, that's what came to mind when you asked that question about a good strengths based conversation to get a team started.
Lisa: I love that. One idea that I used recently for Zoom meetings, courtesy of Charlotte Blair — thank you, Charlotte — she had this idea of renaming yourself in Zoom with your talent themes.
So say, for example, I renamed myself Lisa - Strategic, Maximizer, Positivity, Individualization, Woo, (do as much as you can fit). You might have to truncate a little bit, so it helps to leave your surname off.
That works great, because as you're in chat, you can have conversations about your activities. As you kick off these strengths based conversations, you start to see people's answers. And because that's the name label, you can see how that strength showed up and colored their answer.
For breakout room purposes, what I've been thinking about doing is: if you want someone in that mixer idea to be able to go in the same breakout room, then you pick a strength where you'd like to be matched up with somebody. You'd have to have a pretty large room. I would imagine it to be a 200-person kind of event for this to work.
But let's say you want to find all the other people who lead through Learner. So you rename yourself Lisa - Learner, or I think you'd have to put Learner first so that'd be alphabetized: Learner - Lisa.
And then the person who's facilitating could use those to make the breakout rooms because then you could quickly grab anyone who is listed by Learner first, and it would be in order.
So I think it could be done. And if you had the team's reports in advance, and you wanted to pre-place people in breakout rooms, you can do that in technology. Pre-set-up your breakout rooms.
Bite-Sized Activities: Keep The Strengths Based Conversations Short But Engaging
Joseph: Yeah, and just a take-off on what you talked about where you have the common strengths: there's also the activity that I've done over the years where you have a certain amount of time and you have to find people who have strengths that you don't have. You ask them:
What is that strength?
How do you use it?
What good is it for you?
Maybe it's a strength that you're like, “Well, how is that even a strength?”
But you can do the same in breakouts. You can even just be with 5 or 6 people and say, “Okay, I have these strengths. You have these strengths. I don't have Connectedness. Let's talk about that one. And how's that strength strong for you?”
So that was an old Gallup activity from way back, probably when I first started, and I think you could do that in a virtual setting as well.
There's one that I used to use in in-person events. Let's see. I would use this. It's like the spin-the-wheel sort of thing, where I would have the team brainstorm some challenges or questions that they're going through. And then you list the challenges as all the options, and then you can spin the wheel. And then you have to get into groups and really quickly say, “Alright, which strength could you lean on to solve for that issue? And how would it help you get through the challenge?”
And so to translate it in a virtual environment, there are actually spin-the-wheel apps, so you can share your iPad on screen, or whatever device and have the spin-the-wheel going and replicated in a virtual.
Let's use this to kind of take the arc towards something that you said to me in the past, which was, that you've been really thinking a lot about how to introduce this stuff to your team in bite-sized pieces. You want to have strengths based conversations, but you don't have time for an hour long meeting every week.
As we were just talking, I was thinking, “Yeah, we're stuck in an old-world thinking of what training activities are. We matched them to a time when we had 4 hours to spend together in person in a room.”
And if that's not our reality, and we need to get down with the new plan, which is, “Hey, bite-sized! What can we do when we have 5 minutes to do strengths together and it's remote?”
So what are some of the strengths based conversations you're having in that bite-size?
Joseph: Yeah. That takes me way back to when I was working with some different collegiate teams. I remember I had a great partner-client, University of Maryland. I had the pleasure of working with a couple groups there. And they would always ask that question, because they were bringing me in more than once a year, which was great. But then they wanted to know: how could they keep the strengths based conversations going?
I would often give them 50 strengths based questions. They would typically choose one to use at team meetings. Ask just one question, and have everyone give a 30-second answer. So it might be 10 minutes, but they didn't need to be the expert StrengthsFinder facilitator just to ask those strengths based questions.
And one of those questions a lot of times would be, “Where have you seen a teammate’s strength that works in the last week or 2? Give an example of that.”
“Oh, I saw your Empathy here, and you did this there.”
And so those can be really short and sweet and keep people engaged. But I just think about that for how clients could keep the conversation alive, post the engagement of strengths.
Lisa: Yeah, that's a big one - remembering to keep the strengths based conversations going after your CliftonStrengths kickoff meeting. It's reminded me of something that just popped in my head, facilitating last week on Microsoft Teams, where I said, “Post a GIF that demonstrates how your strengths are serving you this week.”
That is a fun one. It gets the team energized, and it takes about 2 minutes. And if somebody posts some random thing, like a guy sliding on a banana, and you say, “Hey, Sally, tell us more about that one.”
And then when she explains it, that becomes the piece that you expand. So you get a bunch of funny ones, but then you also got that one little deep strengths snippet that opened it up for that person.
Joseph: Yeah, and, and that stuff is happening in instant messages between people anyway, so, bringing that out into the meeting is fantastic. And I think the image piece on that is so powerful, too. Because, for those who are visual learners, it can click in a different way than listening to you or I talk about the strength, or even the teammates talking about it to think, “Oh, I see that. I get that.”
And that's something we tried to do over the years, is get into the image. We'd ask, "what image would you think of with your strengths?" And then you combine that with narrative and you combine that with experience. That's where you start getting more powerful and it gets deeper and it sinks. It's where the fun really starts.
Virtual Meetings: The Creative Ways You Can Strike Up Strengths Based Conversations
Lisa: Oh, I think you just brought up something else just by virtue of talking about what we used to do.
So if you think about the old activity where we'd bring in an image, (select the picture that best represents your strengths) as you're getting started, if you actually said, “Everybody on the team is going to be on a camera, and go around your house for just a minute and find something that represents your themes to you.”
And then people come back with props where you have the real-life object where I'm holding a pig that's flying, and I'm talking about how that seems like my Maximizer because somebody else may have thought, “When pigs fly, we’ll do that.” But I can see the quality steps from here to there, and the description of it makes it all come to light.
Joseph: Well, what's interesting, you just reminded me, I have a friend who leads a faith community in north of San Francisco and he was talking about how they've been doing all virtual church for Covid times, and there's been a lot of debates saying, “We want to get back in person..." and all of this....that's a whole different conversation... But he was saying that they've actually connected more with their congregants more than ever because people are actually doing that, whether they're walking around their house and they're in their house where they were used to be in church together.
And now they do time of sharing and they can see what's going on in the person's house. So it's interesting. It's not even a fully-formed thought. But what you were just saying is really important. And then people are opening their houses up to connection. And that's a whole different level. So I'm still thinking about that one. But that's really powerful to have people walk around and kind of show that imagery piece.
Lisa: Well, the lesson I'm taking away from what you just said is, many of us who facilitated in-person for years, our first thought is, “Okay, I had all of these great exercises that I did in person, can I retrofit that into a virtual environment?”
And it may or may not work to translate old activities into a new environment. Instead, why not take the thing that seems like a disadvantage and turn it into something you only get when you're remote and you only get when people are in their own comfortable environment?
Or the things that maybe in the past we joked around about seeing moving boxes in the back, because it's your real life. You just moved. So now we have a conversation piece.
Oh, where did you move? Are you still in Denver? Did you get closer to the mountains?
I have 100 questions I could ask you prompted by the U-haul box that I never would have seen if we were in the office. So I think going native for the platform and letting it create a new set of activities, conversations, the way that we're thinking - even the cadence getting down to the small bits instead of, “Don't torture people with the full-day on virtual trying to do one CliftonStrengths workshop for six or eight hours virtual. Don’t do it. Don’t do it.”
Joseph: And yeah, so interesting. And the thing that you made me think of was, I remember a number of years ago, and I think this game still exists, the game, the online game World of Warcraft. So you're a character, and to get things done, you typically have to work with other people as a character in this game. At some point, I read an article in, Harvard Business Review and that said, “If you can do well in a World of Warcraft, you can lead the teams of the future, because you're able to get people.”
And it was people who you have no rank on. It might be a 12-year old and a 40-year old playing at the same time, and you don't know who people are. And you have to get these people on, online, to work together. Wow, I hadn't thought about that till right now, but how prescient, based on where we are now, because now we're fully into that. We're fully virtual, and that in some ways those massively online games were 10 years ahead of what we would hit with Covid.
And it's even more true now in terms of how you lead with people. And how do you work with people? And how do you get up, especially in a flat organizational structure where you need to be collaborative. And certainly, the generations coming behind you and I, collaborations are just a given. It's different. It's not as hierarchical. I don’t like to be too “generation this is that” and others. But in general, they do prefer to be collaborative.
So lots of good stuff here. Lots of stuff that tie in with strengths. Strengths help, so we use strengths.
Lisa: Yeah, and I think even using the game example and relating it to workplaces that are complex, they're matrixed, they're global... You're on all different time zones, working with all different people in the organization at different levels in different departments and business units with different priorities... And if you can figure that out — and oh by the way CliftonStrengths, it gives you a lot of tools to figure out how to navigate that world — then, yeah, then you're on the right path to figuring out how to navigate work in the years ahead.
Joseph: Who knew that online games would give us a glimpse of the future?
Lisa: Yes, so if you're listening to this and you need a CliftonStrengths facilitator or a World of Warcraft... I just got it all wrong. What is it?
Joseph: It's World of Warcraft.
Lisa: World of Warcraft. Okay, that's what I was about to say. But as the tongue twister was coming out, I was thinking I'm getting this wrong. Then, yeah, Joseph is your consultant. He's ready for you. Whether you need strengths based conversations or a World of Warcraft leader 😉
So be sure to go over to the leadthroughstrengths.com/contactus form and make the formal request that he'd be your facilitator. And he can bring some of these cool strengths conversations and activities to your team in bite-sized chunks, of course.
With that, we'll leave you for now, and this has been Lead Through Strengths. Good luck to you as you claim your talents and share them with the world. Bye for now.
Additional Resources To Help You Engage In Strengths Based Conversations
If you missed our previous episode with Joseph, First Step: Talking About Strengths To Get In The Zone, check it out as it articulates how talking about strengths beyond mere definitions results in quality interactions and higher productivity in their strengths.
The same idea is echoed by Adam Seaman in another episode when he said that relationships with a team are optimized better when you understand not only your strengths but their strengths as well. He offered the German word “umwelt” and the Freaky Friday concept, where you get to inhabit someone’s head and understand what they care about, how they make decisions, or deal with the world. In the world of strengths, this can obviously be activated when you get people talking about their strengths.
Strengths based conversations also lessen the risk of missing people’s assumptions and expectations, which could be a source of conflict in the team. Here's a conversation guide that will help you prevent conflict. This one calls for an open conversation with each person on your team in a one-on-one meeting.
Carmie is a professional writer and editor at Lead Through Strengths. Having spent 8 happy years with a nonprofit child organization as a storyteller and sponsorship relations team manager, she continues collaborating with others across the globe for the joy of human development and connection. Her days are powered by coffee, curiosities, cameras (film and digital), music, notebooks, and a cat. Where books are home, she’s home. She calls her Top 5 StrengthsFinder Talents “CLIPS” (Connectedness, Learner, Intellection, Positivity, and Strategic)–you know, those tiny objects that hold connected things together. She’d like to think she’s one.