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Flowing through powerful communication

Whatever sector and role you are in, the last year has been a tough one for everyone, both professionally and personally. Teams have been challenged like never before, whether having to start working together entirely remotely or being thrown into unprecedented, frantically busy circumstances on the frontline.

With the health crisis of the pandemic turning into a deep economic crisis for the UK, the next year isn’t likely to be much easier for organisations. In this context, it perhaps has never been so important for teams to be able to work seamlessly together, to innovate and create great organisational outcomes.

Taking a strengths-based approach is a key ingredient for creating a high-performing team, as we will explore in this article. And a wider focus on strengths, feedback and praise is integral to enabling teams to create and experience ‘flow’ together. Flow is the optimum state of intrinsic motivation, in which people experience peak performance and greater wellbeing.

Why strengths and feedback matter

Being part of a cohesive team means having a sense of unity and mutual commitment and accountability. Each member of the team has their own unique strengths and it is by blending them together that the team is able to flow collectively and achieve high performance.

Timely, constructive and relevant feedback, linked to strengths, helps the individual team members to know whether their actions have driven the team forward towards its goal. Research on the theory of flow has also shown that clear and unambiguous feedback fosters individual flow.

Constructive feedback and open communication helps improve performance and unambiguous praise is also an important element of feedback and critical to achieving flow. Gallup data says that receiving regular praise at work makes people more productive and engaged, as well as boosting their wellbeing and increasing customer satisfaction scores. Not to be sniffed at.

So why the focus on strengths? Using strengths gives us the best chance of building deep connections quickly in our work relationships – much needed when teams are thrown together or find themselves facing a new challenge suddenly.

There is a wealth of research that also shows the value of strengths in individual, organisational and team performance. According to Gallup, using our strengths everyday as an individual makes us more engaged and productive. And when it comes to team performance, Gallup research has found that teams who focus on their strengths every day are 12-15% more productive.

Creating a positive feedback loop

Developing a culture of strengths-based feedback and praise means moving from a place where people are told about their weaknesses in annual performance reviews and even getting beyond that prevalent process: the anonymous 360-feedback survey.

The ideal is a culture where teams regularly ask their colleagues for feedback, using questions tied to work expectations, and where strengths are used in feedback and praise whenever someone has accomplished a task or achieved an outcome.

Taking a strength-based approach doesn’t mean ignoring underperformance, quite the opposite in fact as a focus on strengths can help to address underperformance.

Using strengths in all performance conversations helps develop open and trusting relationships, meaning that difficult conversations become easier. Focusing on strengths also allows people to reflect on what really motivates them, and can therefore help find the root cause of underperformance and lead people to re-craft their roles or find something else that suits them better. When we are given specific feedback that relates to our strengths it’s relating to what we do best, what we enjoy, what we are confident in and it tells us that that person really knows us, knows who we are as a unique human, knows what we care about and develops a bond.  It is a powerful communication approach that is so subtly different to how we might communicate generally, with what can create a positive emotional impact.

Using strengths in our feedback positively creates inclusive teams, where each person’s unique characteristics are celebrated, respected and valued.  Using strengths language provides a safe and positive platform for people to be more vulnerable in offering their own personal stories and experiences without judgement or assumptions being made negatively.  This creates a safe climate where people feel equally respected and included in work and beyond.

Learning to do all of this well creates a positive climate in a team. It increases trust, respect, unity and feelings of belonging, and contributes to teams flowing seamlessly and joyfully together. The next year is going to be challenging for all of us. Let’s aim to create the kind of positive environments that make work better for our teams, and so create fantastic organisational outcomes.