Creating a Positive Work Environment: Integrating Strengths-Based Language


Image courtesy of Shutterstock

This is Part Three of a three-part series on well-being. Caroline Dotts, the associate director for healthy lifestyle programs at Georgia Tech’s Campus Recreation Complex, shares on the way Georgia Tech’s Campus Rec (the CRC) is using CliftonStrengths to create a positive work environment. The series is meant for those that might be interested in doing something similar at their own schools to see how Georgia Tech accomplished it. 

If you have been on this strengths journey with us so far, you have an understanding of what the CliftonStrengths assessment is and have heard about the CRC’s quest to become a strengths-based department. In a little under four years, Georgia Tech’s Campus Recreation Complex (the CRC) has integrated strengths and a strengths-based language into the fabric of our team. Armed with the knowledge of the “what” and the “why,” the final chapter to this three-part series will equip you with the tools you need for the “how.”

The first and most obvious thing to do is decide on which assessment your department is going to use. The CRC decided to go with the CliftonStrengths assessment for a number of reasons. Out of some of the more popular personality assessments available (Myers-Briggs, DiSC, True Colors, 360-Degree), we felt CliftonStrengths offered the most applicable language for our department to use and was the only one to focus explicitly on howwe could productively aim and leverage our strengths, not just understand who we are. Said another way, CliftonStrengths helps us tangibly describe what we do, how we do it and why we do it that way.

The positive psychology framework of CliftonStrengths gave us permission to name, claim and aim our natural talents – and put us in the right mindset to accept and recognize the natural talents in each other. It didn’t hurt there were a handful of staff members that were familiar with the strengths assessment either, or that Gallup offered a vast catalogue of activities, continuing education opportunities, as well as extensive valid research and data to accompany the assessment. Whatever assessment your team ends up using, ensure you have enough supporting materials to help you build a solid infrastructure to weave the results of the assessment into the fabric of your department.

After you have chosen your assessment, you then need to take the assessment and have dedicated time to unpack the results. For the CRC, that meant a two-day retreat that took a deep dive into both our individual strengths as well as our team strengths. We had a Gallup-certified strengths coach, Dr. Mary Lynn Realff, lead this retreat, and I would recommend your team bring in an expert or certified coach to help you unpack your results. Having an outside perspective is also helpful for your team and you to discover blind spots you weren’t aware of before.

Implementation Beyond The Retreat

The assessment is completed, the results have been unpacked and now it’s time to start integrating strengths into your department. A few simple ways to get started include encouraging your team to put their Top 5 strengths into their email signatures, or placing their Top 5 strengths in a prominent place in their workspace – perhaps on their desk or in a communal spot like the mailroom. Having your Top 5 strengths on display in a public space or email invites continued dialogue around CliftonStrengths and what they mean.

Another easy implementation of the strengths language is to incorporate an easy strengths reflection question at the start of any regularly scheduled meeting. During our bi-weekly team meetings at the CRC, we begin every meeting with one reflection activity that has each person thinking about their own strengths and/or the strengths of others. Here are two example reflection activities we do:

  1. Write down one to two ways you saw your strengths in action over the past week. Turn to a teammate and share your response. Time: three to five minutes. Purpose: naming and aiming individual strengths.
  2. Pick a partner. Write down one to two ways you saw their strengths in action over the past week. Total time: five to seven minutes. Purpose: naming strengths in others and creating a culture of positive feedback and encouragement.

Finally, another easy way to incorporate strengths into your department if you send out a regular email or newsletter to your team is to consider closing your emails or newsletters with a reflective, strengths-based question such as “How are you going to productively aim your strengths this [day/week/month]?” Or, put another way, “Where will your strengths lead you to success this [day/week/month]?” It is a simple question that gets your team thinking about how they can aim their strengths toward achieving their goals or tasks in the days or weeks ahead.

Diving Deeper

After you have established a few staples of regular reflections on strengths, you can now begin a deeper dive into this rich language. At our spring 2018 retreat – two years after our initial strengths assessment – our team decided to take a look at our annual department goals and figure out how strength-based objectives would help us reach those goals. For us, this showed up in our goal to “be the world class standard for healthy lifestyles through dynamic programming and diverse, inclusive well-being opportunitieswith a specific, strengths-based objective to “provide experiences that develop multicultural competencies and promote global citizenship by expanding CliftonStrengths initiatives internally for all CRC staff. In our end-of-year reports for 2019, we will have data that meets this objective – team experience survey data as well as data from our employee satisfaction surveys – to support this goal.

We also weave strengths into our annual team experience training, purchasing the strengths assessment for all of our 350-plus student employees and designing our all-staff training around strength-based activities, ice breakers, and team-building initiatives – see Part 2 of this series for a deeper look at our team experience. Specifically, we turned to Gallup’s CliftonStrengths Team Activities Guide for group activities we could deploy in our team experience, with a deliberate focus on the reflection debriefs of each activity. We also use this guide for activity suggestions for our bi-weekly staff meetings, our student staff in-service meetings and our annual retreats.

Yet another way to bring strengths into your department is to use this language in your annual performance reviews. Embed a few reflective questions or statements into your reviews such as “Describe [employee’s] successes over the past year and how they used their strengths to accomplish them” and “How did [the employee] work collaboratively on this team over the past year? In what ways did you see their strengths in action?” Questions like these require the manager think about their direct report through a positive, strength-based lens first and also gives them the actual words to use when describing their strengths. Since our annual review form is restrictive on format, we use this strengths-based approach to describe our accomplishments and critical feedback in the comments section of our review. Both the manager and the direct report phrase their comments in the language of strengths.

At Georgia Tech, the CRC weaves strengths into our bi-weekly team meetings and in-service trainings, our all-department staff training, our annual performance reviews, our department goals and objectives, and, most importantly, into our everyday vernacular around the office. We deliberately mix up our seating arrangements every few months in our team meetings so we interact with different people who possess different strengths. At every single team meeting, we set out our name cards with our Top 5 strengths listed front and center, so we are constantly reminded of the talents our members are contributing to the team. This creates opportunities for continued growth and learning among our team members and deep conversations from different viewpoints and experiences.

Is it Working?

The activities and reflections listed here are just the start of integrating strengths into your department. Implementation will often feel slow, but every touchpoint you offer your team adds to the rich tapestry of your strengths-based story. Gallup’s Strengths Center offers a whole host of ways you can take your team on this journey, and the professional development your team gains from this ride is invaluable. From an internal survey of 22 of our professional staff members, conducted in March 2019, 86 percent minimally agreed they were able to regularly identify and/or apply at least one of their strengths at work; 73 percent minimally agreed that, because of CliftonStrengths, they understand and/or work better with their co-workers; and 86 percent minimally agreed the strengths assessment/related activities have had a positive effect on our team environment.

With almost four years under our belt, we are seeing the collective strengths of our team come together in ways like never before. We have watched our culture shift to a more positive environment, with a focus on team contributions and connection. For the CRC, committing the time and financial resources to become a strengths-based department has been worth the investment, and we can’t wait to see what’s next for us and Georgia Tech as we continue to reach new heights on our strengths journey. Won’t you join us?

So where can your team actively embed a strengths-based language into what you do as a department? What are some things you are already doing that you can now approach from a strengths-based lens? I’d love to hear what your department or campus is doing to build a strengths-based culture. Please contact me with your strategies, ideas or questions at

Caroline Dotts currently serves as the associate director for healthy lifestyle programs at Georgia Tech’s Campus Recreation Complex. Caroline holds two degrees from Belmont University, a bachelor’s degree in exercise science (‘07) and a master’s degree in sport administration (‘09). She has held positions in fitness and wellness at Cleveland State University, Georgia State University, and Georgia Tech. Caroline is aGallup-certified strengths coachand leads with her top 5 strengths Positivity, Woo, Communication, Includer, and Activator. You can reach her at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Campus Rec Magazine