Who are we?: Use assessments to identify strengths

Question:

“The president of our company has asked me to identify an assessment tool that we can use to explore one another’s strengths within the leadership team. He suggested we use the DISC instrument, which one of his colleagues from his TEC group used with his leadership team. What are your suggestions?”

Answer:

Using an assessment tool to explore strengths within any team, including a leadership team, is a well-established approach to building intrapersonal, interpersonal and team understanding. What are the preferences and “characteristic ways” of team members? How can such insights be used to build even stronger esprit de corps? These are only some of the important questions that can be explored within assessment-based examination of the behavioral styles of team members.

In the question, the reader referenced the DISC tool. This tool is based on the theory of personality advanced by psychologist William Marston, who posited that four major traits best describe personality: Dominance, Inducement, Submission and Compliance.

In its current form, the DISC tool, a self-report test, measures the factors of Drive, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance and presents the profile within a matrix in which individuals are on two poles: Assertive vs. Passive and Open vs. Guarded. A total of 15 personality patterns or types are possible (e.g., Achiever, Agent, Appraiser, etc.).

A second tool that is widely used is the very popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which just might be the most widely used measure of “normal” personality on the market. The MBTI is based on the personality theory of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, who was a contemporary of Sigmund Freud. Jung suggested that four dimensions best categorize personality: orientation to the world (i.e., Extra- version vs. Introversion), preferred manner of learning (i.e., Sensing vs. Intuition), preferred manner of deciding (i.e., Thinking vs. Feeling), and preferred manner of organizing (i.e., Judging vs. Perceiving).

The dichotomies noted parenthetically, above, are the basis of arriving at a four-letter typology that best describes the profile of the individual completing this self-report measure. The higher score for each of the dichotomies is the person’s dominant preference for that factor and, as a result, a total of 16 types is possible (e.g., ESTJ, INTP, etc.).

A relative newcomer to the assessment scene is the StrengthsFinder, a self-report assessment tool developed by Dr. Donald Clifton, based on research conducted by the Gallup organization. Originally popularized in the best-selling book, “First Break all the Rules,” written by Clifton and Marcus Buckingham in 2001, this assessment tool is based on the theory that every individual possesses certain distinctive attributes or styles.

The theory is firmly grounded in the emerging area of positive psychology that focuses on helping people identify what their strengths are, as opposed to identifying weaknesses. The basic tenets of the model, therefore, are very consistent with management theorist Peter Drucker’s observation that, “The point of working on weaknesses is to make them irrelevant.” The greatest gains can be made when we focus upon and unleash our strengths. Within the StrengthsFinder framework, a total of 34 themes or patterns are possible (e.g., Learner, Maximizer, Positivity, etc.) and the test-taker is given a list of his/her top five strengths upon which to focus.

Any of the tools above are useful for the kind of application that the reader outlines. For what it is worth, the MBTI has been the focus of more controlled research over the years. The psychometric properties of DISC and StrengthsFinder have not been exposed to nearly as much peer-reviewed research. In any event, as with all assessment tools, the user is encouraged to do some investigation to make sure a given tool’s measurement properties (e.g., validity, reliability, utility) are in keeping with the application to be pursued.

In general, the following four-step model of intervention is encouraged:

1. Data gathering

Once the assessment tool has been identified and acquired, it should be made available to team members with a specified “due date” attached. In our experience, sometimes the hardest part of the process is simply getting the data gathered . . . people are busy, busy, busy!

2. 1:1 feedback

After the self-assessment tool has been completed and a report generated, the facilitator should meet with each individual of the team to review his/her results, discuss implications, and answer questions.

3. Group feedback

As in No. 1, above, once the individuals have received feedback, the facilitator should meet with the team as a whole to share individual and composite or aggregate results. What are the “types” of the members of the team? What is the team’s “type?” How can this information shed light on the team’s interactions?

4. Follow-up

Depending upon the rigor with which the team wishes to move forward based on the insights gleaned from the assessment process, a variety of follow-up activities are possible including individual coaching, process consulting with the team, action planning and goal setting, team building, etc.

Using an assessment tool such as one of the measures discussed above can help a team and the individuals that comprise it to identify a framework for talking about “how” the team interacts. This is a nice balance to focusing on the tasks to be carried out, the goals to be met, etc. (i.e., the “what”). Plus, if the process is well-orchestrated, it can be fun and enlightening as well as impactful.

Daniel A. Schroeder, Ph.D. is president of Brookfield-based Organization Development Consultants Inc. (www.OD-Consultants.com). He can be reached at (262) 827-1901 or Dan.Schroeder@OD-Consultants.com.

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