A lot of us describe our affiliate as a family. It comes with the territory. Close community is essential to the SVP experience, and we carry that into our daily operations. When we hire new leadership, we go as far as searching for people who consider ‘cultivating relationships’ part of their DNA.
What if I told you there was a tool to help you build a high-performing team based on how we interact with each other?
No, I’m not talking about having your staff complete that popular Harry Potter quiz on BuzzFeed. Though, it was well-received at SVP Seattle. I’m 44 percent Gryffindor. Holla!
I’m talking about the Enneagram and Values in Action assessments, both of which the staff at Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund are very familiar. Personality and values diagnostic exercises, they provide a framework to help team members understand their strengths and motivations.
SV2 Executive Director Jen Ratay has had her team go through both. First, the Values in Action three years ago at their annual staff retreat. And most recently the Enneagram at their last staff retreat. Whether your affiliate is experiencing staff change or a leadership transition, Jen explains, both exercises fuel gluing teams together by helping each team member understand themselves and their teammates at a deeper level. If your affiliate is about to hire for a new staff member, you probably already know the hard skills you’re looking for, but Values in Action and the Enneagram can help identify softer traits and character attributes, like what makes an individual tick and thrive or when they tend to get stuck as professionals.
Both are undeniably great exercises for just plain old team building.
Learning a new language
Out of the University of Pennsylvania, the Values in Action tool is an assessment based on positive psychology. There are 24 core values that researchers have identified that all people hold at various levels of intensity. Some are ranked as more prominent depending on your answers.
“It’s given our staff team a new language to talk in,” says Jen. “In a supervisor-supervisee relationship, you can look at those values in your one-on-ones. When someone is struggling, oftentimes one of their core values is being stepped on.”
For instance, Jen explains, if you know that one of your colleague’s core values is creativity, then it’s easier to see and empathize when they feel stifled when there’s no space for creative thinking. Or, if you’re onboarding a new hire, it’s a great way to share that, as their boss, one of your core values is forgiveness. You’re not so rigid that they need to stress about being perfect.
While the Values in Action identifies your core values (author’s note: my top value is forgiveness btw), the Enneagram breaks down nine character types. SVP Portland Partner and Leadership Coach Monique Breault has taken this further by defining each type using metaphors for transportation. Using this method, Jen gave me a few examples.
The enneagram 9 mediator type is represented by a canoe. They tend to be analytical and able see an issue from all sides. They are often great at building consensus on a team and bringing all stakeholders along. However, it’s not uncommon for this person to struggle with decision paralysis or to be conflict adverse. They tend to be more uncomfortable in choppy waters than other types.
The enneagram 7 hot air balloon is a connoisseur of all things in life. Someone who identifies with this type loves meeting people, ideating and thinking about all the new horizons they can explore. Structured project management can be less enjoyable for this person, because it can feel constricting.
The enneagram 6 ambulance is always considering contingency. They tend to be very detail-oriented and have a knack for thinking through all the possible scenarios, including what could go wrong. For example, Jen says, a former staff member at SV2 who identified as an ambulance was an asset when SV2 launched experiential impact investing to complement its grantmaking, then a comparatively risky unknown path.
“I leaned on her to help us think through best and worst case scenarios and everything in between,” Jen explains.
Jen is an enneagram 2 bus driver. This giver type focuses on making sure everyone thrives. Type 2s enjoy getting all the passengers on the bus and headed where they’d like to go. Not a bad attribute as the leader. Although, that also means that she might not know when to pump the brakes. This type struggles to say no to requests from others, express their own needs, and has a tendency to offer more help than they can sustainably give.
Once Jen and her staff figured that out, they came to the consensus that the team has a role to play in helping Jen make sure she’s aware of her capacity. As a sort of staff mantra, they regularly repeat, “The team is at its best when Jen is at her best.”
“Hearing this from my team was so powerful for me,” Jen explains. “You can see how that lends to how we work together. Hands down, cultivating greater empathy for our teammates has been one of the most important benefits of this work for us.”
How do I do this at our affiliate?
There is a range of ways to bring this to your staff. Some would argue that it works best with smaller teams. If your staff is fairly large, consider having each department complete either the Values in Action or Enneagram as a smaller team. If your staff is tight on time, you can do a light touch version of the Enneagram in a single staff meeting by having staff members review the Enneagram descriptions beforehand, self-identify, and then share their type’s leadership strengths and motivations during the meeting.
If you want to go deeper, have each staff member complete the online Enneagram test and review their results in a full-staff retreat. You can also give them some pre-reading to learn how they interface with other types. Each person can then go over the aspects of their character in terms of what they like about their type and which parts they struggle with. Think about it as a great icebreaker for other team building activities.
Got money on your mind? Both tools are incredibly affordable. The Values in Action assessment is free. And the Enneagram ranges from a $12 individual account to a business account that offers bundles and discounts depending on the number of participants. The business account also collects staff results for a test administrator.
If you’re looking for an easy-to-understand intro to the Enneagram, you can also read The Essential Enneagram. It offers self-tests, as well as walks you through the fundamentals and how to maximize your inherent strengths.
Lastly, if you’re an ED or hold a supervisor role and really want to geek out, read The Enneagram in Love & Work. Like a handbook, it gives practical advice on how to ensure the best possible interactions and relationships with different character types. In other words, it’s a great field guide to managing different personalities on a team, board and just other stakeholders that inevitably come up. Because we know they inevitably come up.