What Do Strengths Have To Do With It? Building Strong Teams in Nursing Education

By: Jone Tiffany

It is human nature to try to fix weaknesses, or dwell on what needs improvement. For example, suppose a child brings home a report card with four As and one C. Where will the parent typically focus? Yes, that’s right, on the C.

We often fixate on our weaknesses – if I just work hard enough, maybe I can be good at the things I do not do very well. But attempting to improve on weakness distracts us from using our natural talent. It drains our energy if we do not enjoy what we do. The best advice is to focus on our strengths and find ways to manage our weaknesses.

According to the Gallup State of the American Workplace Report, building on the strengths of a person is much more effective than trying to improve weakness. Gallup found that when employees were aware of their strengths, they became 7.8 percent more productive. Teams that focused on strengths each day had 12.5 percent greater productivity, while individuals who used their strengths were 6 times more likely to be engaged on the job.

Never has there been a better time for nursing education to unleash the power of using strengths. Helping individuals identify their own strengths, and pinpointing the collective strengths of the team, can provide a sense of group identity, purpose, and meaning. Teams need to become more agile at deploying strengths to deliver positive outcomes in the classroom, clinical, lab, and online environments.

How do individual faculty strengths affect the way they evaluate students? How do nursing faculty teams improve interrater reliability among team members? Here’s an example. Several years ago, I worked with a group of faculty teaching health assessment to first-year nursing students. During performance exams, the faculty (and students) noticed there were differences in grading among the faculty team. After reflection, members of the team began to meet and talk through the evaluation process used by each person. Some faculty graded harder, some graded easier, and others graded in the middle. The faculty members were evaluating students through their own lens of what is competent.

After the first performance exam, faculty began to meet weekly to discuss their individual nuances and tweak the existing grading rubrics. Each faculty member either took the CliftonStrengths assessment or reported previous assessment results, and what we found was fascinating. Harder graders had the strengths of responsibility and belief in their top five strengths, and easier graders had positivity or harmony in their top five. As we discussed these strengths, we began to realize that some grading differences stemmed from the strengths and core belief systems of the faculty raters. After two years of working together, faculty agreement improved to the point where there was very little difference in how team members evaluated students.

In their book Strengths Based Leadership (2008), Rath and Conchie discuss how, in order to build well-performing teams, there is a need to recognize the unique strengths of each team member and optimize all their natural gifts. The first step is paying attention, identifying each person’s strengths, and then managing around those essential skills. The results include increased productivity, improved performance, and higher engagement. For nursing faculty to work better in teams and improve student outcomes, they need to meet and discuss how they evaluate students.

To begin the discussion around the individual strengths of the team, it may be helpful to do the following:

  1. Name them: Have faculty take the CliftonStrengths assessment and reflect on how their individual strengths affect how they evaluate students and/or work as members of the faculty team.
  2. Claim them: Have all faculty members share their strengths with team members and discuss how all their strengths and talents work together, how they unite to create improved teamwork skills.
  3. Aim them: Work together within the team to come up with goals for the team and make a plan to operationalize these goals. Meet frequently to discuss how each member of the team evaluates students and how their strengths affect those ratings.
  4. Evaluate how this process has worked.

The challenges nursing faculty face are complex. Teams that work well together are able to display a symphony of strengths and use those strengths. In an effective team, members know who their strength partners are—the people who will do things that the individual does not do well. Team members must understand how each person contributes to the overall goals and how their strengths play out in terms of the context of these goals.


References

Gallup (2017) State of the American Workplace Report.

Rath, T., & Conchie, B. (2008). Strengths based leadership: Great leaders, teams, and why people follow. New York, NY: Gallup Press.

 Tiffany, J., Hoglund, B., Schug, V., Holland, A. (2018) Using CliftonStrengths to enhance faculty collaboration on fair testing practices. Unpublished manuscript.

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