By Spencer Chalifour
People often underestimate the importance of self-knowledge when it comes to creating effective team dynamics. To collaborate successfully, you must first understand your personal strengths and how they fit with your team members’ abilities. The first step to uncovering these strengths, as recommended by the Effective Team Dynamics Initiative (ETDI) at Georgia Tech, is taking the CliftonStrengths Assessment.
The 30-minute CliftonStrengths Assessment consists of 177 paired statements that you will rate based on how strongly each describes you. The assessment then calibrates your answers based on 34 general areas or “themes” and ranks them based on how closely each applies to you. The top listed themes in your results are your strengths.
Some people will immediately recognize themselves in the results, but others have a more ambivalent reaction. You might wonder, “Is this really me?” “Should I take this again?” “Did I skew my results?”
If you’re in this second group, there’s no need to worry. In this article, we’ll go over some common misconceptions about the CliftonStrengths Assessment so you can best understand your results and apply them successfully.
Is the CliftonStrengths Assessment a Personality Test?
Many people think CliftonStrengths is a personality test due to its surface-level similarities to popular personality tests like the Myers-Briggs or DiSC. Maybe you’ve done one of these tests before or killed time with a Buzzfeed personality quiz like “Which Type of Bread Are You?”
Unlike these examples, CliftonStrengths is not a personality test. Personality tests often psychologically classify people using a five-factor model that includes: 
By contrast, CliftonStrengths is a performance-based assessment rooted in years of research from Gallup. The goal of CliftonSrengths is not to indicate personality traits but to maximize your potential based on your natural strengths.
How to Discover and Understand Your CliftonStrengths Results
When you finish the CliftonStrengths assessment, you’ll see all 34 themes listed in order of how closely they apply to the answers you gave. The top five will be highlighted as your most powerful natural talents. You’ll also notice that each theme is color-coded. These colors relate to the four categories, or domains, that CliftonStrengths uses to organize your results:
- Strategic thinking (green)
- Relationship building (blue)
- Influencing (orange)
- Executing (purple)
You may have themes from all four domains in your top five results, but it’s also common for one or two to predominate.
Your assessment results will then provide a thorough overview of your top five CliftonStrengths. These explanations will include sections like “How you can thrive,” “Why your significance is unique,” and “Watch out for blind spots.” Each section has two goals:
- To provide suggestions regarding what you tend to do well
- To highlight how your strengths can cause you to perceive other team members or tasks in a subjective way
You want to be aware of your strengths, but you also don’t want to be so invested in those strengths that you neglect to consider how other people might approach a problem.
ETDI uses CliftonStrengths as part of our undergraduate curriculum. For students, don’t think that you need to follow these recommendations to a T. Adapt the words in your report to your own needs. Approach your results with thoughtfulness and consider how you have worked in teams before. What went right, and what could have gone better?
Say, for example, that you’re an achiever. You probably have a strong drive to complete projects due to an innate ability to self-motivate or a strong work ethic. In either case, being an achiever could have allowed past group projects to go well because you could motivate your teammates. Or the teamwork may have gone poorly because you got too frustrated when others couldn’t meet your drive.
Understanding how your strengths have helped or harmed you in the past can help you navigate future projects more effectively.
Should I Just Focus on My Top 5 Strengths?
No! While your top five strengths are obviously important, don’t neglect your other results. Be sure to examine all ten of your top results by reading the descriptions, reflecting on your experiences, using these strengths in your everyday work, and remaining aware of your potential blind spots. You can also examine more of your strengths after your top ten if you’d like, but this step likely isn’t necessary to fully maximize your potential.
What if I Had No Relationship Building Strengths in my Top 5?
It’s not uncommon to have no strengths from a particular domain in your top five. However, some students might become worried or feel like they’re deficient in some way if one of the four colors doesn’t appear in their results. For example, a student who doesn’t see any relationship-building strengths in their top five might ask, “Am I not good at working in groups at all? Will I be a lone wolf forever?”
Don’t go howling at the moon yet! While someone with predominantly relationship-building strengths will be naturally skilled at bringing people together, this doesn’t mean that other domains lack team-strengthening qualities. For example, if one of your strengths is input (domain: strategic thinking), you might approach relationships as things you can collect to draw from later. If one of your strengths is woo (domain: influencing), you are adept at winning people over, which your team can then use to help make connections with others.
If I Re-Take the Assessment, Will I Get Different Results?
You might have re-taken self-assessments in the past and received different results. Perhaps you were a Hufflepuff five years ago, but now you’re a Ravenclaw. As a result, you may often wonder how accurate your CliftonStrengths results will be five or ten years in the future.
While it’s true that we continue to experience what’s known as neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to continue to change) into our 20s, CliftonStrengths results won’t change much after age 25. Undergraduate students might be troubled by this statistic, but there probably won’t be much change if you re-take the assessment. While it is highly unlikely you’ll get the exact same order as the first time, there is a very strong chance your top five themes will still appear in your top 8 to 12 results the second time.
What Strengths Do I Need to Become a Good Leader?
Some students might be particularly focused on trying to get a specific set of results to achieve a certain goal. Becoming a strong leader is a common objective, but students might also be curious about the strengths they “need” to succeed in a particular field or job. However, having specific strengths isn’t necessary to become a capable leader or pursue a certain career.
Instead of worrying about your results, you should focus on understanding and maximizing your existing strengths. It’s true that there are some strengths that appear more frequently than others. The most common CliftonStrengths include:
The least common are: 
Whatever your results, embrace what makes you unique! Understanding and highlighting what you bring to the table will help you stand out.
Learn How To Maximize Your Potential With CliftonStrengths
If you want to maximize your potential by using CliftonStrengths, please contact us to set up a free workshop. An experienced team dynamics facilitator can help students, faculty and administrators understand their results. You can also email us to learn more about how you can best understand and implement the CliftonStrengths test.