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ATD Blog

How Self-Awareness Takes Team Performance to New Heights in 2021

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

It’s unsurprising there’s a lot of talk about well-being in 2021. It’s trending and rightly so. But, in addition to well-being, we need to keep track of performance too.

In the past year, performance has often been spectacular. Perhaps not in the traditional sense but in new pandemic-inspired ways.

How? Because people and organizations adapted to whatever needed to be done, which has shown a massive amount of versatility and resilience. A lot of rethinking, rebuilding, and redelivering, all of it at speed. We’ve seen and heard about strengths and talents being applied in different ways, often far beyond core roles.

This shift toward agility was a trend even before the pandemic. Digital technology, connectivity, and the need for rapid innovation combined to create flatter organizational structures and greater horizontal movement for many workers.

But the pandemic—the ultimate disruptor—exploded it.

Suddenly, there was no time to plan and model these ways of working. The teams and businesses that succeeded just did it. There was no choice. And in this new, shaken-up reality where workers, teams, and even organizations got redeployed for different purposes, we saw people using their potential in ways that might have taken years to materialize pre-pandemic.

This is what we mean when we say performance has been spectacular. A global crisis opened our eyes to a different way of working.

Deloitte includes it as one of its top five human capital trends for 2021. In their introduction to “Beyond Reskilling: Unleashing Workforce Potential,” the organization writes, “When given the chance to align their interests and passions with organizational needs, workers can fulfil their potential in ways that leaders may never have known that they could, positioning the organization to thrive in the long term.”

Deloitte goes on to say, “In our view, the most important way that organizations can unleash workers’ potential is to empower them with agency and choice over what they do . . . to choose how they can best help tackle critical business problems as organizations and ecosystems evolve.”

The question now is how do workers choose how best they can help and contribute? This is where an understanding of personality pays big dividends, both for individual employees and leaders.


Use Personality to Strengthen Your Team

Do you want your team to be at its best? Get people doing more of what they enjoy. Do you want your team to be ready for future changes and able to respond quickly? Get people doing more of what they enjoy.

How? Help them find out what their strengths are. The MBTI assessment, with its 16 personality types, is one way of doing this.

It creates self-awareness, which helps people understand how their personality preferences affect their behavioral choices. Remember, preferences don’t dictate behavior, but they do often motivate them. With self-awareness, a person can make a conscious choice about behavior—they can scan the situation and identify the best behavioral choice. That choice may align with natural preferences or it might not. If not, a person needs to choose a behavior that doesn’t come naturally but is right for the situation.

Let’s look at someone with a preference for intuition, as an example. This person likes working on the strategic direction of their business, which means being a visionary and predicting future market needs. These qualities are associated with intuition.

But this person still needs to use their less-preferred sensing ability. Why? Because tasks like managing the current year’s financial performance, for example, need a focus on past performance. And this is a quality associated with sensing.

The takeaway is that while we all prefer one type or another, becoming self-aware opens our behavioral options. It gives us an understanding of why some tasks may be less enjoyable or require more energy.


Another benefit of self-awareness is that it gives people the confidence to speak up about their preferences, which is crucial in a team where people have more agency and choice. Teams that become more self-aware then learn to appreciate differences as beneficial rather than right or wrong. They can make use of everyone’s strengths for the betterment of the organization.

Of course, personal development means developing blind spots as well as building on strengths. But in the first instance, and to capitalize on what we’ve learned in the last year, a focus on strengths is a sure way to expand a team’s performance potential.

Create Certainty and Boost Morale

Giving people the tools to choose what they should do at work gives them more control. In a year when so much has been out everyone’s control, this could be a huge morale booster. It gives people certainty in an unstable time.

As the world moves beyond the worst stages of the pandemic, what we’ve learned can be carried forward into a future that’s characterized by change.

Now is the time to break old habits and start thinking creatively about team members’ strengths and how to use them.

In HR Predictions for 2021, industry analyst and thought leader Josh Bersin writes, “What most companies now need to do is create a capability taxonomy that documents the primary business capabilities needed to drive the business ahead. . . . A focus on capabilities will help you create deeper skills, bring people together, create mentoring, and leverage the expertise within your company.”

Open the discussion with your team and ask people what they can do and what they want to do. Then give them the tools they need to be able to do those things. Start with self-awareness so they (and you) can identify strengths and turn potential into action.

After the year we’ve had, and the challenges we’re still going through, we owe it to ourselves to grasp the positives and use them for good.

About the Author

Sherrie Haynie is the US director of professional services for The Myers-Briggs Company. She oversees strategies to manage the design, delivery and operations of consultancy engagements and practitioner development and is a regular contributor to Forbes Coaches Council.

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