By Spencer Chalifour
For the past two years, DeMarco Williams has served as the project manager for the marketing and digital strategy team at Georgia Tech. His work often involves projects marketed to people wanting to return and continue their education. “It’s demanding,” he says, “but it’s really nice to see your work in person, because when you see someone graduate, you know that they came through your website.”
As an Effective Team Dynamics (ETD) workshop facilitator, Williams similarly encourages many members of the Georgia Tech community to reach their full potential. However, Williams’ path to ETD wasn’t straightforward. “In my previous job, we had done some kind of personality test – I think it was a Myers Briggs,” he says, “and I don’t like boxes and being told that this is who I am or this is what I am.” Williams had heard of CliftonStrengths through a friend who was a coach, and he “liked how they talk about your strengths and how you can use them and what you’re good at.” So, when Williams came to Georgia Tech, he was excited to discover he would be participating in a CliftonStrengths workshop as part of his new role. He contacted Dr. Mary Lynn Realff, the workshop’s facilitator, and took the coaching certification class so he could continue helping others develop their strengths.
As for his own strengths, Williams identifies his most used CliftonStrengths themes as “strategic, arranger, learner, and connectedness, which are four of [his] top five.” These strengths frequently come up in his professional life: “Strategic is very helpful for me because of the position that I’m in; I have to be really clever with how I get work done. We don’t have a lot of resources, so I have to really think about how to map it out.” He notes that his skills as an arranger help to put everything together and see the big picture. “I have to rely on people to do a job like I’m not actually doing the work. So, I have to really goad people into understanding why we have to get this done in this manner or in this amount of time. So being able to connect to a person quickly but also genuinely is really helpful to push work along. All of this is possible because of the team I work with. They constantly go above and beyond.”
As far as being a learner goes, Williams says, “I love being able to learn things and spit that knowledge back out if needed, but it also helps me adjust quicker and just be flexible with the demands that come.” Williams says that all these strengths “have helped me really catapult in my career, and I think they’re going to really take me even further.”
Though Williams recognized himself in four of his top five strengths, he does say that one was a surprise: “My fifth strength is self-assurance, and I think that’s probably one where I was a little unsure about how that got in there. But once I started to understand how [CliftonStrengths] worked, I said, ‘ohhh ok.’” Even though Williams didn’t originally recognize self-assurance as a strength, he notes that this strength has become one of the most important in his current work: “Self-assurance is really good for my role because I’m making decisions. If I’m not confident or if I’m not exact on what we’re going to do, then that’s going to cause people to waver or maybe question some of the things that I’m asking them to do. I feel like self-assurance also comes in with internally saying, ‘Hey, you’re good enough to do this, you know that you can do this, you’ve shown you could do this type of type of work.’”
Finding this self-assurance was important for Williams as he transitioned into project management from his previous roles: “My background is IT. I started off as a software developer, [and] I didn’t like it. I moved more toward customer-facing roles and business analysis, and now I’m doing project management, and I really like it…I like people. I like talking to people. I like working with people. I like seeing how people think and tick, and I think that’s the part of the job I gravitated towards.”
Since becoming involved with ETD, Williams states that he has seen the benefits of approaching team dynamics through a strengths-based approach. He says, “I enjoy learning about myself and others, so it’s really fascinating to see how some people work together, even if you have the same strengths. Dr. Realff and I share a few of the same top five, but we’re still very different in how we approach those.” Outside of his work as an ETD facilitator, Williams has witnessed the benefits of implementing effective team dynamics in his project management work, too. “I’ve been using those strengths to work with my team and communicate with them in the language of their strengths,” he notes, “and I’ve seen a great impact on not just my team but GTPE as a whole. We’ve done a few facilitations with teams there and the feedback has been tremendous.” Williams remarks that even his personal life has been positively impacted by ETD: “I’ve been coaching a few friends on the side, and I got my wife to take the session, and that was really fun to see how we work together.”
When asked what advice he has for students at Georgia Tech who are new to ETD or group work in general, Williams recommends, “Just be open, don’t have any expectations walking into the room, because if you come in there with a certain mindset and it doesn’t meet your expectations, you’ll already feel a little defeated. Be observant. Listen to your teammates. Listen to yourself as well.” Williams also says that understanding your role means understanding when to defer to someone else’s expertise: “My advice would just be to feel where you fit in and then really fill that space to your best capability, and lean on your teammates to fill in the other gaps.”
Williams has similar advice for members of the Georgia Tech community in administrative or leadership positions, but adds, “Really be open to hearing what your team has to say… I remember we had one session with a manager, and they were not necessarily taken aback, but they felt what their team members were saying. They really took it home, and you could see the difference already in that team. They’re more upbeat. They’re more communicative with each other. They appreciate the work that they’re doing. And I think from a management standpoint, that’s the key.”
Williams also advises everyone interested in ETD to follow up. Even if you’ve already done one session, Williams recommends continuing to build and understand your strengths with ETD facilitators so they can continue to assist with group dynamics: “Let’s make sure we really reinforce these things that we’ve learned. That helps the team, that helps everybody.”
If you’d like to get started with ETD or would like to schedule a workshop or follow-up session, please see the ETD contact form here.