I took the StrengthsFinder assessment last weekend and renewed an obsession!
Have I mentioned before that I love frameworks? I do. I tend to gravitate to anything promising both depth and structure. Then I dissect it and synthesise its components into my internal web of interconnected frameworks. Each newly-internalised framework re-shapes the overall structure of my mind map, which is just thrilling.
I did not initially gravitate to the Clifton Strengths framework. I first took the assessment in late 2016. I was working as an analyst on a new government project, and we initiated our teamwork with the strengths assessment. I had so much fun learning about the talents of my colleagues, and mapped a plan for how we might best leverage each other. Then, I closed the book.
As a framework, it felt a bit shallow.
Then I discovered Gallop’s Strengths Based Leadership, which offered a new level of depth by grouping the themes á la Keirsey into quadrants. Wow, now the strengths work with the Myers-Briggs type theory, with some intriguing deviations.
In Please Understand Me II, David Keirsey introduces a historical overview of “character/ temperament typing” that I reproduce here:
Interestingly, C. J. Jung’s cognitive functions are not included. This is because Keirsian type theory focuses on observable behaviours of personality vice the cognitive functions themselves. Keirsey’s central idea is that the rapid-ability to “type-cast” people into one of four categories enables one to better empathise and relate to the motivations of others. So the focus is less personal development, and more other-relating (typical NF).
While these groupings do not perfectly align to produce one, universal perspective, (which would be awesome), I do think that they are all striving to describe four important axes (4^2 = 16 types) of human cognition.
So, choose your axes and the appropriate framework will follow.
Myers and Myers-Briggs, and Jungian typologists focus on the axes of:
Keirsey and modern business-world oriented frameworks (to include Gallop and Personalysis) focus on the axes of:
The Clifton Domains
Now enter the revised Clifton Strengths as “domains”. I find it so interesting that the granularity of the identified strengths collapses back down into a quadrant framework.
From a universal framework perspective, Clifton’s 34 “themes” really should be condensed to 16. Alternatively, the next axis could be defined, which would square the number of types to present 64 potential talents. But how useful is a list of 64 strengths when trying to work well with others?
Because the number four reflects a most-basic and universal number sense among humans, a framework of four categorisations may most-easily apply to real-world, type-casting scenarios.
To me, this means that the focus for application might be better spent, not so much on the top five of 34 talents and on my uniqueness, but rather on the full-quadrant’s score and on the dominant quadrants of my team members.
For example, I scored highest in strategic thinking and executing “talents”. But my influencing and relational dimensions are quite limited. That is simple for me to understand, for me to articulate, and for others to understand about me.
With a quadrant model, it is also easy to identify where dominant preferences are an asset and should be leveraged, and where one should seek out specific preferences to fill a needed gap.
And, to make it really intuitive, we can add colour coding!
She is red and green, and he is blue and yellow. We need blue for planning this product, and red for executing this project. Let’s leverage him here, and put her there.
Interestingly, Gallop’s position that teams should strive to be well-rounded runs counter to Don Clifton’s theory that natural talents should be leveraged and trained up as strengths — basically, don’t waste time on the lower 29.
I disagree with the proposition that teams should be well-balanced in all four quadrants. I feel like an insistence on this balance would potentially produce high-conflict teams, where members do not find much in common due to core-value differences.
Perhaps this is because I work in IT. I work with a lot of intuitive “thinkers”. Many of us prefer to work with (and work well with) other intuitive thinkers. Stick a naturally-inclined sales person in our mix, and we might strangle them.
Where I have noticed or experienced conflict is less along the thinking/feeling axis, and more along the judging/perceiving axis or the intuitive/sensing axis. In function-type theory, thinking and feeling are both identified as rational functions, and sensing and intuition are identified as irrational. In terms of connection and communication, differences matter most in terms of our irrational preferences. We see these tensions best managed by Keirsey in his selected type groupings: SP, SJ, NT, NF.
The strengths framework offers “influencer” as a new category, possibly with an “executor” counterpart. (So, “doers” vs. “talkers”, lol.) This framework, like Keirsey’s, speaks to the inherent tension between judgers and perceivers. As an achiever, I do NOT want to work with people who do not deliver. But I do understand that I need to hand-off my solutions to a strong influencer, who can build the advocacy and buy-in that I would never have patience or skill to go after.
From a system’s perspective, the team may be understood to have its own type preference representing the collective talents and preferences of its members in relationship. Groups may have their own psychologies, after all.
And here is where I see the opportunity and excitement of StrengthFinders as a framework in the business domain.
A teams-focused strengths-based strategy would leverage cross-team collaboration, enabling each team to specialise in their dominant strengths, and then hand-off or leverage other teams along different phases of product/service development.
(Wow, I really see that individualisation preference now…)