7 reasons to recognize and utilize individual talent in team leadership
These days, everyone is looking for the key to more effective team leadership. Learning to identify and utilize the talents of individual team members is a crucial way to get the best out of your team.
A year and a half ago, we expanded the e-point UX team. This presented a challenge: How could we get a group of great specialists to work as an integrated, effective team?
As the team leader, it was particularly important for me to ensure that team members were:
- Engaged in their work and enjoying their assigned tasks.
- Actively supporting each other in overcoming problems – and doing so proactively, on their own initiative.
- In a happy, collaborative atmosphere.
- Appreciative of each other’s contributions to projects and to team development.
How we discovered talents
Inspiration came from the book First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. This book introduced me to the concept of “talents” as developed by the Gallup Institute. It also highlighted issues related to the impact of talent development in personal motivation and individual engagement. (For more information on this topic, please refer to Lilianna Żuchowicz’s article “Why it is worth investing in talents”).
The following aspects of individual talents in business management really stood out:
1. Talent synergy can be achieved by gathering individuals with different strengths into one team. Individuals will have personal predispositions or potential in specific fields, but a well-organized and diverse team should also be well-rounded.
2. Utilizing talents properly can have a positive impact on team strength and on the motivation, engagement, quality of work, and productivity of team members.
3. Applying the talent model allows you to build an atmosphere of leadership rather than management.
4. Talents can be applied to virtually any form of team communication, whether that’s leader-to-team-member or team-member-to-team-member.
5. Talent development is also a great tool for establishing a culture of recognition and positive reinforcement within the team.
So our journey with the Gallup Institute’s talent-based work model began. And it’s been continuing ever since. Thanks to this firsthand experience, I’ve learned there are at least seven good reasons to recognize and use individual talents in the workplace.
#1. Leaders better understand what motivates each team member
Once I knew the talents of my individual team members, I worked with them to determine what motivates them, what inspires them, and what they need to operate at their optimal level. Some may say that you don’t need talents to figure this out, that you can simply base this on experience. I found that knowing each member’s unique talents made developing individualized methods of operation much easier. And it brings benefits for both of us: the employee becomes more aware of their strengths and I can facilitate effective cooperation with them.
Here are several examples of how we put this into practice:
- Our team has a large number of people with the “Individualization” talent. These people see the unique traits and potential of others, but they require individualized treatment themselves. Knowing this, I am aware that I need to have one-on-one conversations with them (as opposed to just team meetings). And I need to give them individual support. Such a personalized approach motivates them to work harder.
- Some of our team members have the “Learner” talent; for them, gaining new knowledge is motivating. So I try to place them in roles that give them an opportunity to learn something new or to acquire new skills. This gives them greater satisfaction in their work.
- We also have some with the “Ideation” talent. These people are very well suited to develop new ideas, so it’s important that I allow them the freedom to create during ideation processes. I don’t want to clip their wings!
- And then there’s the “Achiever” group. To feel appreciated and engaged, these team members must be kept busy. I make sure to give them a steady stream of new tasks and present them with new challenges to overcome. This really boosts their motivation.
- An awareness of talents gives team leaders the ability to appropriately guide each team member’s development in areas that relate to their natural strengths. This, in turn, gives them the opportunity to really master what they do.
#2. It’s easier to match tasks to talents
Now that I understand my team members’ natural talents, I try to assign them tasks based on their predispositions as well as their competencies. Below are a handful of examples:
- An individual with the “Analytical” talent comes in handy when we need to verify a specific concept; they’ll be able to see all the holes in that concept and clearly explain them to other team members.
- When we need to resolve problems in a project, an individual with the “Restorative” talent is ideal; in a critical situation, they can arrange everything properly – and get a great deal of satisfaction in the process.
- Individuals with the “Individualization” talent make great HR staff and have great intuition about people. When recruiting new team members, I ask them to help assess the candidate’s potential.
- Many in our team have the “Relator” talent. They work great in small teams that have almost a family-like feeling, but they feel some discomfort when meeting new people. When it is necessary to establish a new relationship, e.g. with a new client, I tend to enlist those with the “Woo” talent, as they are open to forging new relationships and do not find it difficult to quickly establish new contacts.
- There’s also a lot to be said for putting different talents together. For example, we have found that putting a strategic thinker with someone skilled at executing ideas yields great results. One of them generates concepts, while the other can plan the concept’s effective delivery and implementation.
- And when I notice that a given talent or talent combo has been particularly helpful during a project, I will look for a similar talent or combination when implementing a comparable task.
#3. Leaders can better communicate task requirements
There’s more to effective team leadership than matching tasks to people’s natural predispositions. Knowing about talents also allows me to effectively communicate with each team member. For example:
- If an individual has the “Focus” talent, I have to clearly and unambiguously set the goal and determine priorities when I give them a task. Otherwise, they will find it difficult to adapt to the challenge.
- When assigning a task someone with the “Harmony” talent, I have to make sure not to surprise them with “throw-ins” (i.e. tasks that need to be completed on short notice). Such tasks disrupt their work on other projects, and the small amount of time involved causes them stress. If I give them sufficient notice about a task, they can plan out their work accordingly; for these people, it is actually best to frequently discuss the current status of tasks.
#4. Leaders know the potential of their team
Gallup Institute studies have shown that the most effective teams balance their talents throughout four domains: executing, influencing, relationship building and strategic thinking. This balance enables teams to be effective, to minimize downtimes and problems, and to make better decisions. A team that is too homogeneous (i.e. its members are all strong in a few talents/domains, while other talents/domains are underrepresented or missing) can lead to lowered effectiveness; this team will likely lack motivation. It can also lead to a non-diverse perspective, which can really cause problems later on.
To see how talents were distributed in our team, we used a “Talent Map” (a matrix of talent distribution that allows leaders to verify which domains have a talent shortage and which have excess talent). What conclusions did we draw from the Talent Map?
- Our team, which is responsible for creative processes and developing new ideas, is dominated by talents in the strategic thinking domain.
- Many members of our team also have talents in the relationship-building domain. This means we’ve gathered individuals who value close working relationships.
- There are also a few “pearls”, or lone talents worth utilizing. For example, “Futuristic” individuals are fascinated by the future and its possibilities; they are able to inspire and motivate others with their ideas and vision.
- To achieve a balance of talents, our team needed slight reinforcements in the domains of executing and influencing. When we started recruiting new team members, we took this into consideration.
#5. Feedback is more effective
As already noted, it’s easier to communicate with individual team members when you understand their unique ways of processing information. When I understand what motivates them and how they operate, it’s easier to give them feedback during scheduled check-ins or after they complete a task.
In conversations about their successes and their not-so-successful challenges, I try to utilize my knowledge of their talents. During such conversations, we can both address how the completed tasks corresponded to their talents and whether any of their talents require stronger reinforcement. It’s also important for team members to understand my own set of talents; this enables them to understand what I expect of them, what I find important, etc.
#6. Onboarding new team members is easier
A talent-based work model introduces a certain work order and structure. Based on conclusions and observations derived from that model, I find it much simpler to present the strengths of my team as a whole and those of each team member to a new recruit. By using the traits associated with different talents, I can more fluently show the newcomer where to seek assistance in specific matters. I can also show them the areas they are expected to support the team (e.g. how they fit into the team’s organizational structure and sphere of responsibility).
By joining our team and coming in contact with the talent model, the new member can better understand themselves, identify their strengths, and learn how to develop them. It is a simple path to being more content and engaged at work.
#7. Leaders can spot potential team members
Although the talent model is not generally seen as a recruitment tool, verifying a candidate’s talents helps me identify their strengths, see how they could fit into my team, and determine what talent domains they can reinforce.
The candidates themselves are usually also pleased to discover their natural talents and learn the development areas they should focus on.
What I’ve gained from understanding individual talents
We have been using the talent model in our team for over a year. We are still learning how to optimally utilize our individual talents and their synergies. Talent development is a systematic, planned process that encourages each one of us to strive for excellence. However – and, from a team leader’s perspective, more crucially – it also supports our team and company goals. I feel that the knowledge I’ve gained of individual talents has helped me be a more effective team leader and a better team member.