Reduce Conflict, Build Harmony: Discovering Superpowers for Your Team

by Erica Venton

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Superpowers cards from SYPartners

How good is Hulk without the Avengers? It’s great to have a superpower — might is a good thing. But when Hulk is paired with the swift action of Agent Romanoff and the ingenuity of Iron Man, the Avengers as a whole are much more effective. We see each other’s abilities as strengths because they are so different from the things that we can do. That’s the way it is using superpowers within your team.

No, your colleagues can’t fly even if they do appear to be at a tropical location during one Zoom call and their Michigan winter living room in another. But each person does have skills and abilities unique to them and the combination of strengths within a team can superpower collaboration if you learn to share and develop them.

There are hundreds of ways to surface personality profiles, like DiSC, 16 Personalities, and StrengthsFinder. Here in the Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology (Hub) at Michigan State University, we discovered Superpowers by SYPartners. In pre-COVID-19 times, we would have passed around a deck of playing cards, individually reading and rating the cards to discover our top superpower and often a secondary, or complementary, superpower. Now we use an app that can do the same thing in our new virtual workspace.

Though a few of us can run really fast, the superpowers we discovered were key skills that, when understood and combined within a team, could create effective and compelling dynamics and accelerate project outcomes.

Jerry Rhead, Head of Academic Entrepreneurship, has used the cards as ice breakers, since the activity is quick and the conversation it generates can build connections and appreciation within a group setting — the basis of trust-building.

Ashley Braman, Project Manager at the Hub, used superpowers to get to know colleagues better and says it “helps us and partners identify the strengths that each person brings to the unit and individual project. For example, Summer is a big advocate for accessibility for students, in part because empathy is her main superpower. She brings this skill and enhances the culture of our team and the work that we do.”

Superpowers can also be helpful when organizing smaller teams to work on specific projects, but should be used in conjunction with experience and background knowledge to be most effective. They are also a way to introduce yourself. Many Hub team members incorporated them into their staff stories on the website.

Breana Yaklin, Learning Experience Designer sought out Summer Issawi, Learning Experience Designer, in exploring their own primary and secondary superpowers to learn more about each other.

“It’s great to talk with others who have different skills or skills you’d like to work towards,” says Summer. “You get to learn how they think and how you can tap into their strengths. It’s also good to be mindful of the dark side of each superpower, as well.” Staying attuned to the dark side of a superpower reminds us to be attentive to potential challenges that could arise in our efforts. Summer suggests reaching out to people to learn more about their stories and how their superpowers show up in projects and collegial relationships every day. Knowing when and how to flex those superpower muscles is a major asset to any organization.

Knowing both the ‘light’ and ‘dark’ sides of superpowers is useful in understanding yourself, your teammates, and those you supervise or mentor.

“Each Superpower has a few ‘dark sides,’ or areas that are more likely to be challenging in work settings,” says Ellie Louson, a Learning Experience Designer and educator who is an advocate of superpowers in classroom settings. “One of my powers is Harmonizing, which means I use organization and communication skills to get the most out of my teammates. But Harmonizers sometimes neglect thinking about others’ growth opportunities. Knowing that’s a dark side means I should be careful not to assume that my teammates’ skills and interests are stagnant, and instead be deliberate in learning about their growth at work. I can also make extra sure the people I supervise know the ways the Hub supports their growth,” she says.

“Keep in mind that superpowers aren’t necessarily fixed — you grow and change often throughout your career and you may discover your superpowers change when you do this exercise again,” said Caroline White, Learning Experience Designer, whose primary superpower stayed the same, though her secondary one switched when she used the cards a year later. She suggests you go back and recheck the deck to see what new superpower is reflected.

Superpowers can be used to discover personal and professional growth areas, as icebreakers, for team building exercises, to help establish a project team, to navigate conversations among existing teams, or as an incredible conversation starter.

So what’s your superpower?

NOTE: Neither the Hub nor anyone affiliated with the Hub receives any funding or kickback from the use, sale, or distribution of the superpower tool. We just found it a unique way to have conversations around people and projects.

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MSU Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology

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