March 12, 2020


Working Better While Working Apart

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Stephanie Kawamura

Head of Operations

Being a fully remote (and global!) growing startup has its challenges. One of the biggest challenges is building a team culture we can be proud of and getting every individual on our team working together in a friendly and productive way.

Earlier this year, the entire team converged on the city of Amsterdam for one week. Some of us were meeting each other in-person for the first time, and others were catching up. During the sprint, we spent time going through work-related business as well as some fun team-building exercises. The one I want to talk about here is StrengthsFinder developed by Gallup Education.

What is StrengthsFinder?

For those of you who are not familiar with StrengthsFinder, it is a personal development tool, that provides insight into an individuals “Top 5 strengths”. There are a total of 34 different strength themes that are divided into four different categories, these include: Strategic Thinking, Relationship Building, Influencing and Executing.

Some believe wholeheartedly in exercises like this, while others feel strongly that these types of things are of no use. No matter what you think, at the very least it’s a great conversation starter. Talking about ones perceived strengths and weakness in a safe environment is immensely valuable. Given that, I thought it would be a great exercise to do with the team to help us better understand ourselves and each other. We did a mini breakout session given our time restraint but StrengthsFinder offers a number of different tools and exercises so you can always expand on any initial learnings

How did it work?

We started with the individual assessment…this was probably the biggest hurdle to overcome. I can’t tell you the amount of “What?! 20 minutes!” and “REALLY?!”s I heard when I told the team about this. 🙂

Finally, many questions and cupcakes later, everyone completed the assessment. Upon completion of the assessment, each person received their top 5 “strengths”. These strengths are delivered based on how an individual answered the questions in the assessment. Though you may have team members who have the same “strengths” they likely will not mean the exact same things as it is all based on how all 34 of your “strengths” align. (note that these “strengths” do not denote that this is the only thing one is good at or that anything not listed is a weakness).

What did we do?

Once everyone had their top 5 “strengths”, you could see the team, very intently, reading their results. Some had smiles on their faces, others shook their heads or had quizzical looks on their faces. After that, the discussions began!

I had the team go around the table and talk about their 5 “strengths”. I asked them to talk about what they thought to be accurate and what they thought didn’t quite align. I could see from the conversation that everyone was trying to absorb and understand what their teammates were saying and how they were talking about their “strengths”. Individuals would chime in with anecdotes or examples from their own experience. The discussion ended up being quite fruitful. The team really enjoyed being able to discuss their findings and of course, jokes were rampant throughout.

Looking back

Initially, there were some reservations about the assessment. Not everyone was convinced that the exercise was a good idea. Still, as the results came in and the discussion got going, they found that it was pretty interesting. Now that we’re all back at home, I’ve noticed a positive change in how the team interacts with one another on Discord and Slack.

The exercise we did was just a sample of the ways we can continue to expand on our relationships and understandings with one another. This may not work for everyone, but I’m glad we did it. Anything we can do to get conversations going and get people to open up is something we will always strive to do. Be it through something like StrengthsFinder or be it through throwing everyone in the same kitchen to cook a meal together. The stronger the communication and the bond, the better our foundation will be for growth.

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