Finding our agency’s collective strength—associates


Alternately titled: All the things you can do with spaghetti and a marshmallow

By Dawn Buzynski and Jill LaBarre

Can we ask you a question? What motivates you? More specifically, what is it about your professional occupation that drives you to give your best every day?

If something did not immediately jump to mind or if you cannot really vocalize—even to yourself—a meaningful purpose to your work, chances are you are disengaged or simply disinterested in your job.

Disengagement of employees in the U.S. has reached critical levels, especially when we already face an ever-growing skills gap in the workforce. The idea of a steady paycheck and benefits is no longer enough to incentivize employees. Now more than ever, an employer needs to connect employees to a clear and meaningful purpose.

This is especially important to the Millennial generation entering the workforce. According to Gallup, only 29 percent of Millennials say they are fully engaged in their jobs. They also list opportunity to grow and advancement as extremely important in job satisfaction.

So as a leader, how do you give your employees what they need to connect?

As an agency that lives each day by our mission: Finding A Better Way, Always, Strategic America believes in building a strong culture of growth and development for associates. In that spirit, we spent the past year learning about our associates, their true talents and how to leverage their strengths in the team environment. We went through an agency-wide discovery exercise that unlocked their true talents, shared them across the agency and unified the team with a better understanding of what collaboration looks like.

All SA associates took part in the CliftonStrengths® assessment program. This popular online assessment was developed by well-known psychologist Don Clifton, and was first introduced in the late 1990s as a new approach to employee engagement. Many companies faced a growing trend of demotivated workforce and low employee morale. The premise of CliftonStrengths is to shift the focus away from a person’s weaknesses and what needs “fixed” to one where an employee discovers their natural talents and how to tap into those strengths in their professional life and personal relationships so they reach their full potential.

The assessment identifies five top themes/strengths and provides in-depth insight on how these strengths look in various scenarios. We launched this program by taking teams through the program by department. First, we had associates read the book Strengths Finder 2.0 and take an assessment. From there, Dawn facilitated group/team workshops where each associate was featured with an “unveiling” of their individual strengths. For some associates, the results were surprising and for others it only served to validate what they knew about themselves. During the two-hour sessions, associates learned about their teammates and how they can engage each other to work together based on strengths. The first opportunity for everyone to work on strengths-based teams was to build a tower only using five items: a lunch-sized paper sack, dry spaghetti noodles, string, tape and a marshmallow that had to be on top.

What we learned during this yearlong initiative is that it’s important to understand we are all unique, whether we share similar strengths or not. And, each associate is as strong as another on their team—they just express their strengths differently with the influence of their other strengths. Curious to know our collective strengths as an agency?

  • Responsibility: Takes psychological ownership of what is promised or expected.
  • Empathy: Instinctively senses the feelings of others and see things through their eyes.
  • Achiever: Energized to work hard and accomplish challenges each day.
  • Harmony: Strives to find the common ground within a group.
  • Relator: Enjoys close relationships and only seeks mutually beneficial friendships.

Not only did we learn about our strengths, but we learned there are a plethora of ways to build a marshmallow tower with a spaghetti and a paper bag.


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