What are we talking about?
We are all only too aware that we can only be our “best self” (i.e. perform at the top of our ability) if we can work according to our strengths – because we then feel involved, build up productive working relationships with colleagues, and are proud and happy with our work. But we are also aware that every individual not only has strengths, but also weaknesses. So how do we deal with weaknesses?
“Gallup has discovered that weaknesses never develop into strengths, while strengths develop infinitely. […] Organizations shouldn’t ignore weaknesses. Rather, they should minimize weaknesses and maximize strengths.”
In the business world, we always talk about ‘challenges’ or about ‘areas for development’, and we continue to believe in ‘one size fits all’ competence models in which we ignore the diversity in skills, personality and behaviour. We may find that talking about weaknesses doesn’t feel as encouraging and doesn't sound as positive as talking about strengths. Perhaps we even fear that identifying something as a ‘weakness’ may actually restrain our growth?
“Building on employees’ strengths is more effective than trying to improve their weaknesses. Weaknesses shouldn’t be ignored, but a focus on strengths offers managers a better chance to develop individuals in the context of who they are, instead of attempting to change their personalities.” – (Gallup organization)
We cannot always chose which work we would like to do, of course, but we can create an environment where, at least most of the time, we can deploy an individual according to his/her strengths. A good understanding of ‘strengths’ and ‘weaknesses’ would already take us a long way down that path. Both Meredith Belbin and Daniel Ofman offer us stepping stones to gain a better understanding, and to start working with this in practice.
The Belbin Team Roles represent behavioural clusters, the specific manner in which individuals behave, contribute to the team and connect with others in the group. The Belbin team role theory provides the individual and the team with an insight into their own behaviour, and allows this to be adjusted according to the situation. Most of us have some preferred roles (strengths that feel natural), and there are also roles that we can manage (roles that can be developed with some small effort), and then there are the non-preferred roles (those roles an individual finds difficult to perform and would rather avoid; this often corresponds to our ‘weaknesses’).
Each team role consists of a strength and a weakness. Such a weakness is something very natural, and we shouldn’t really worry about it. That is what Daniel Ofman defines also in his Core Quadrants theory: every strength (core quality) happens to have a sunny side and a shadowy downside. This downside is the ‘weakness’ or, according to Ofman’s theory, the ‘pitfall’. In fact, it is often a core quality that has become excessive, too much of a good thing. A very creative person, for example, may appear rather oblivious to his environment when he’s brooding about a new idea. Or someone who is strong in organisation and structure will often show resistance to change if that could affect his/her efficient work practices.
Both Daniel Ofman and Meredith Belbin always promote an open dialogue about someone’s strengths (their positive contribution in a work relationship and/or team) AND for making someone’s pitfalls (Ofman) or ‘allowable weaknesses’ (Belbin) open for discussion. Both strongly believe in complementarity, whereby we can supplement each other’s strengths and weaknesses if the necessary openness is in place.
How can we put this into practice?
An individual is expected to become aware of his/her strengths, and the possible pitfalls that can be associated with them. Each of us is therefore challenged to avoid falling into our pitfalls too often … and this is often a lifelong learning process.
Strengths can complement each other within groups and teams, and, together, the team members can ensure that a person’s weaknesses are balanced out or eliminated:
- By naming each other's strengths and pitfalls in a respectful and open, vulnerable manner
- By together analysing where possible gaps may impede cooperation
- By identifying where one person should help the other, and possibly even take over tasks
- Note, however: this is not about shifting jobs that we don’t like carrying out; it is important to be aware that the ownership remains with the original team members
For many of us, identifying and understanding our own weaknesses – and developing a strategy to manage them and sharing them openly – is often a fascinating, heart-warming process that brings a lot of relief. If you would you like to know more about how you can use the Belbin team role theory and Ofman’s core quality model in daily practice, please contact us without obligation, or read more about core qualities or about the Belbin team roles.