You wouldn’t have to look too far to find various forms of media dedicated to teaching you how to overcome your shortcomings. If you are having problems meeting people you can find seminars that will show you how to be more outgoing. If you are always on the go and can’t settle down you can find books that will teach you how to focus. If you are stressed out about your best friend’s health issues you can find a web site that will let you know that it’s ok to not get so involved in other people’s lives. All this seems to me like rowing against the stream, so I’m pleased when I find sources of information that show us how to harness our strengths instead of fixing our weaknesses.
Not long ago I had the pleasure of going to a school sponsored summer camp with my kids. The camp is located outside of Boone, Iowa and is operated by the YMCA. The kids call it Y-Camp. Zach, Abby and twenty or so of their classmates spent two days being led through various team building exercises by the main camp counselor, Mike.
Mike is one incredibly interesting dude. He once spent a year living out of a teepee, he has hitch-hiked from Iowa to Seattle, Washington, and he knows something about just about anything that walks or crawls in the woods. He even has a pony tail and he looks like one of those guys that is uncomfortable wearing shoes. If this were 1968 we’d call him a hippy. He’s a naturalist by trade but I’m sure that he’s had some formal training in psychology. We learned so much from him that week.
The kids were split up according to their class in school and then had to work their way through challenges that were impossible to overcome as individuals, but with proper planning and teamwork, they were able to overcome the obstacles and even had some fun.
What really stood out for me was when Mike introduced the kids to TACO. TACO is a way of categorizing people, according to their personalities, into four main characteristics. The T is for Thinkers. A is for Active people. The C covers Caregivers. And last are the Organizers.
Each category has its strengths. Thinkers are creative people who are always coming up with new ideas and ways of solving problems. Actives need to be doing something almost all the time. They want to take the ball and run with it. Caregivers are the people who are always thinking about others. They’re very safety conscious, not just physical safety, but also emotional well-being. Organizers are very good at prioritizing and planning. They also like to communicate their plan to others in an easy to understand fashion.
Each also has its weaknesses. Quite a bit of the time Thinkers are introverts that quietly stand in the corner and just think. They often have difficulty getting their ideas communicated to others. Actives need to keep moving. They’re usually not big on planning because that just takes too much time and “we gotta go!” Caregivers want to make sure everyone’s ok. They are very cautious by nature and are slow to take chances. And Organizers are prime candidates for OCD. They sometimes want to over analyze things to the point where they have trouble getting started acting on their plans.
I’m probably over simplifying things but I’ve found that most people fit into one of these categories but will also have tendencies in one or more of the others. While I was listening to Mike explain TACO, it wasn’t long before I was contemplating where I fit in the pie. I like to think of myself as a Thinking Caregiver. I’m pretty good at coming up with new ideas and ways of solving problems. I’ve always got one eye on how dangerous the solutions are and whether people will like them or feel comfortable with my ideas.
The idea is that once we identify what type person we are and what type of people our teammates might be, we can use these characteristics as strengths and maybe even tailor the work to fit people’s abilities. At the very least we should be mindful of what those around us are good at.
There was one moment during one of the exercises that, to me, stressed this last idea. The kids were told to stand in a circle close enough so that they could reach the person to either side of them. They were then given a small teddy bear and told that they needed to pass the bear to each person as quickly as possible so that the first person to touch the bear was also the last. They tried simply standing in a circle, taking the bear from the person to their left, and handing it to the person to their right. But that was too slow for Mike. So after several minutes of talking amongst the group they came up with the idea to stand sideways making the circle as small as possible and using their inside hand, pass the teddy to the inside hand of the person behind them who was now only inches away. The plan worked like a charm and within 10 seconds the bear had been passed by over twenty people.
But then Mike asked if anyone could tell him who came up with the idea. There was awkward silence and some stammering. Most of the kids claimed that it was Taylor but she denied it. A sly smile crossed Mike lips as he pointed to Vaughn and said. “That’s the guy who came up with the idea and he quietly repeated it three times before Taylor heard him. She repeated the idea more loudly to get everyone’s attention and that’s why you all thought it was her plan.”
Mike explained to them that Vaughn was most likely a Thinker. He had stood off to the side quietly contemplating the problem and then came up with the idea. But Vaughn wasn’t enough of an Organizer to convey his plan clearly to the rest of the group. And being small for his age, he wasn’t active enough to loudly communicate his idea. The real problem was that no one was aware of his particular skill set enough to pay attention to him and look to him for inspiration. Taylor was the first to figure that part out. Then she did what her organizing personality does best. She packaged the idea into an actionable plan and clearly communicated it to the others. Than Austin did his hyper-active best to position himself so that he could move the stuffed animal as close to the speed of light as possible while Kimber tried to make sure that no one stepped on anyone’s toes or was left out of the bear passing party.
It all came together as soon as everyone chipped in with what they felt was most important, the way they felt they could do the most good, in their individual TACO way.