Privacy Consent Cookie Banner by TermsFeed
Woman working from home.

How Can We Better Work Together?

cliftonstrengths collaboration future of work Feb 07, 2022

Recently I heard someone bemoan the work ethic here in the United States. They were concerned with the future of our country if things continued to progress in the current manner. They cited the recent "Great Resignation" and workforce shortages around the country, and suggested people—especially young people—didn't even want to work.

Can you blame them?

When I look at the current state of the economy I see a society stuck in the mire. Very few people seem to enjoy the work they do. A recent Gallup study showed that only 36% of U.S. employees are engaged at work. Globally it is much worse, at only 20%.

So why is it that only just over a third of U.S. employees are engaged at work, and what does that mean? First, let me expand upon the Gallup study's findings and their definitions.

The full breakdown for U.S. employees is:

  • 36% engaged
  • 49% not engaged
  • 15% actively disengaged

Engaged employees are involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace. They are given a clear set of expectations, opportunities for development, and their opinions count at work.

Actively disengaged employees report miserable work conditions and are poorly managed.

Almost half fall somewhere in between, not being engaged, but not quite actively disengaged.

There are several factors at play here.

To begin with, as a society we don't do a very good job of identifying people's individual talents and helping them find work that is meaningful, engaging, and challenging to them. The majority of the workforce is just doing whatever work they can find, or what they think will help them support themselves and their family.

Even in management and executive roles I often see misalignment between someone's talent and skills and the position they are in. A lot of this comes down to privilege: someone who knows the right people or who was able to go to the right school finds themself in a CEO or other executive position, but this person has little or no strategic talent.

I've personally seen this happen in both the non-profit and for-profit worlds. I would even go so far as to say it's the norm. Someone with little or no talent or interest in leadership or management 'runs' a company, division, or department, and wonders why their workers—many of whom do have strong strategic thinking skills—are so inefficient and disengaged.

My wife is a certified CliftonStrengths coach, and many of her clients—especially women of color—are highly talented in strategic thinking, but are not listened to because they are in a 'lower' role at the company, and are afraid to speak up in a work culture that doesn't value them or their perspective.

However, talent misalignment is just one element at play in the lack of engagement at work. Another is work culture. How do people work together?

We often hear of a more competitive or a more collaborative work culture.

Competitive work cultures can get a bad rap, but there is nothing inherently wrong with competition. In fact, in its truest sense, competition is meant to help us push ourselves to grow.

Think of an athletic competition. If you like running, you may find you enjoy yourself adequately by just running on your own. Running contributes to your overall health and quality of life. Yet you may find that when you run with others you push yourself that little bit extra, which can make you a better runner than if you just ran by yourself all the time.

Similarly, a pianist or violinist may be perfectly content learning to play the pieces they know and love, but by entering a competition they will push themselves to take on more challenging compositions.

The main problem with competition is when it becomes about something external, not the competition itself.

For the musician, they may begin to lose the enjoyment that making music once brought to them. Or a young musician may not even be particularly interested in music, but is being pushed by their parents to compete for prizes and renown.

When a person's motives go beyond growth and begin to focus on external rewards, competition becomes unhealthy.

Cooperation or collaboration it usually a better approach to getting work done well. But working together and taking everyone's strengths and skills into account is important.

If you take people's talents into account when filling roles but then pit them against each other in a competitive environment with an emphasis on limited external rewards, you're making collaboration unlikely.

Find out where people excel, what they find most rewarding and challenging, and then give them what they need to do their job. Keep them challenged but not overworked. Encourage continued growth and development, and if you notice someone under-performing, try to understand whether this is due to a poor fit with the company or whether they need something from you that they're not getting.

The world of work is always changing, and the pandemic has in some ways accelerated change in the workforce.

In the future more and more people will be working for themselves, starting their own businesses, and working remotely. We need better support structures for these people.

It is far better for the economy to help people to understand their inherent talents and help them develop the skills they need to do intrinsically rewarding work than to continue looking backward to outdated modes of employment.

We shouldn't fear automation, but we also shouldn't try to automate everything. When we automate repetitive or menial tasks, we free people to do work that is more meaningful to them. When we automate for the sake of automation, we lose something important about what makes us human.

If you are unfamiliar with the CliftonStrengths assessment from Gallup, I recommend you start by taking it. Then work with a certified CliftonStrengths coach (like my wife) to help discover what you could be doing to live in alignment with your talents and do meaningful work.

You will then be well-positioned to develop yourself professionally: whether that means finding a great job or going into business for yourself.

Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or need support.

Are you with me?

Sign up to receive my weekly newsletter with insights and actions you can take to make real progress in your life and career.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason. You may opt out at any time.