Managing to Strengths in Small-Staff Associations

HR By: Anne Collier

A "coach approach" can increase a small staff’s capacity and efficiency.

So little time, so much do to: Managers at small associations face the same challenges as managers at larger associations but have fewer human resources to work with. This can make personnel management even more challenging. But small-staff managers who adopt a coach approach utilize their staffs more effectively. When this approach is coupled with a focus on employees' strengths, you can develop staff members' confidence, skills, and leadership.

What does it mean to adopt a "coach approach"? It means making the most of staff's strengths by getting each individual's best thinking through insightful open-ended questions rather than a purely directive, command-and-control management approach. It also means following questions with additional questions, only contributing potential solutions after you ask team members the kind of insightful questions that will cause them to do their best thinking.

To be effective, the manager must give staff members time to think between questions, be patient and ask more questions if the staff members are stumped, and resist the temptation to give them an answer when asked for help, because doing so deprives the manager of the staff member's best thinking.

By incorporating the coach approach into your management style, you can support your staff with guidance and develop their confidence and ability to handle situations independently. Ultimately, you will be able to delegate more as team members develop and strengthen their skills. Moreover, by delegating responsibility so that staff members do what they do best, the association makes the most of its resources and ultimately increases the team's capacity for work.

Strengths Versus Blind Spots

An important aspect of management is creating an environment in which all team members know each others' strengths and blind spots so well that they can work together to ensure that individual and team blind spots do not affect member service.

Most people have a general sense of where their strengths lie. However, using an assessment such as Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Strength Deployment Inventory, or Strengthsfinder 2.0 can sharpen a team's understanding of individual and team strengths. Further, by establishing a neutral framework, these assessment tools support team members in effective self-management and aid in creating a nonjudgmental understanding of others' behavior, strengths, and blind spots. An assessment tool can also create a vocabulary for discussing differences so that a team can work together creatively, unconstrained by job titles.

For example, suppose a team's strengths include

  • Making decisions quickly, sticking to them, and taking immediate action;
  • Setting clear, tangible goals;
  • Achieving practical results.
  • And suppose the team's blind spots include
  • Making snap decisions, moving to action too quickly, and then having to redo work later;
  • Quashing new ideas, rejecting them as impractical before giving them a chance;
  • Failing to recognize trends or see the big picture because the team is too focused on short-term results.

Just being aware of these blind spots makes them less blind. In addition, even a very small team likely has sufficient type or work-style diversity to be able to harness individual strengths, thereby minimizing the impact of the team's blind spots. In the example above, an association can manage around the aforementioned blind spots by harnessing individual strengths so that the team's decision making includes

  • Making sure the team has spent time discussing all the facts, possibilities, and implications of its decision;
  • Identifying inconsistencies or flaws that need to be dealt with to make the new idea work;
  • Imagining a best-case scenario;
  • Asking how the projects being discussed fit into the goals of other teams within the association (if they exist), the association itself, or the membership;
  • Asking what would happen if current plans could be extrapolated one, three, or more years into the future.

Incorporating a coach approach to management and focusing on strengths makes the most of limited resources, develops staff, and ultimately increases a small-staff team's capacity. All this reduces a manager's stress by having a more professional team on which to rely.

Anne Collier, MPP, JD, is a professionally certified coach in Washington, DC. Email: [email protected]