How to Help Your Team Realize Untapped Potential

By Mike Raia Posted November 7, 2018


All managers have employees who can do more for their company and own careers. Realizing this untapped potential requires an understanding of your role as a manager, the personality types and motivations of  your employees, and a variety of proven management techniques. This post discusses the strategies that allow managers to help their employees achieve their full potential.


An organization’s greatest untapped resource is usually its employees. Gallup Research reports that organizations typically use less than 20 percent of their employees’ potential, which includes their skills, creativity and general resourcefulness. The key to unlocking this potential is more than simply motivating current employees to give 100 percent of their effort. The most successful companies excel at recruiting and retaining the best employees. The specific techniques for helping team members realize their untapped potential include the following:

  • Identifying Personality Types
  • Understanding Emotional intelligence
  • Focusing on Retention
  • Improving Communication
  • Fostering Empowerment
  • Providing Recognition

Identify Personality Types

Peter Honey, Teams and Leaders, 1984 describes four common personality types among employees, including Doers, Carers, Thinkers and Achievers. There have been many other variations on this theme over the years, but they all fall into similar types. A team will typically include a variety of these types, which can complement each other under the right leadership. You can probably recognize these types within your own team:

  • Doers give the team drive and ensure the job gets done. They’re willing to help others by getting involved in their work. Doers also hate wasting time and want to see continual progress on a project.
  • Carers keep the team together by promoting harmony and easing tensions. They’re also sensitive to the relationships between team members and want everyone to fit in.
  • Thinkers like to find solutions to problems. They’re typically good at getting good ideas and rejecting bad ones.
  • Achievers want their projects to succeed and strive to achieve good results. Like Doers, they become impatient with delays.

Recognizing these types within your team will help you determine the best methods for helping each team member feel comfortable and appreciated enough to spread their wings. It also helps managers understand how to pair up team members for better results. Pairing a Doer with a Thinker, for instance.

workflow resources

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a set of skills that leaders and team members can use to effectively develop and apply their “people skills.” These skills including the following:

  • Adaptability
  • Communication
  • Commitment
  • Conflict management
  • Conscientiousness
  • Innovativeness
  • Optimism
  • Self-confidence
  • Self-control
  • Understanding others

These skills provide staff members with invaluable assistance in excelling at their jobs, thus becoming star performers. Team members with the most effective emotional intelligence also understand how to best channel their efforts to achieve more productive results. Identifying gaps in emotional intelligence and then addressing them with team members can improve the professionalism of the team in general and foster better collaboration.

For instance, recognizing team members who lack optimism and finding ways to get them excited about their work (or finding them work they CAN get excited about) will elevate the mood of team meetings and give the team a sense of momentum. It also provides a safer environment for innovative ideas because team members are less afraid of being shot down my pessimistic thinking.


All organizations need to attract and retain talented workers with exceptional skills. This goal is often challenging for many organizations, largely due to the competition for these workers. In fact, the job market is very much in favor of job seekers currently, an issue we run into when hiring her in our Chicago headquarters. Finding the right people goes beyond simply matching needed skills with past experience. It also includes identifying candidates who you can easily imagine working as part of the team. Once you've had a chance to get to know them through the interview process:

  • Can you positively picture their interactions with other team members? 
  • Do they fill a missing piece of the team, for instance, Doer, Carer, Thinker, Achiever (or whatever "personality type" model you use)?
  • Do they understand any differences in this environment compared to their past environments? For instance, in interviews, I always ensure candidates are comfortable with the size and pace of our company, especially if they're coming from a very large, corporate-style organization. Other changes to consider: non-profit vs. profit, B2B vs. B2C, high-growth vs. stable growth, structured vs. unstructured.
  • Do they seem coachable, either by you or other team members with more experience?

Having the skills to perform the job is critical, but it should only be part of your requirements for long-term retention.

Another area that often gets missed with hiring is the employee onboarding process. We've written a lot about the topic of automating employee onboarding, and it can make or break the first few months of an employee's tenure. Getting a new employee ramped up and working confidently should be a significant focus.

Developing the untapped potential of the employees provides a competitive advantage that offers a high return on investment (ROI) for a manager’s time. Developing their skills through training and coaching also helps improve their job satisfaction, which is a key factor in retention. Employees with the most potential will typically prefer new challenges rather than continually performing the same tasks over and over. Find ways to automate rote, manual tasks so they can focus on adding value in new, creative ways.


Leaders must be able to communicate with their staff effectively about the best way to complete a project. This technique generally involves asking staff members for their suggestions on how to perform required tasks as part of coaching efforts. Some companies rely on six-month or quarterly review cycles to provide employees with feedback. I've found that these meetings can be helpful but nowhere near as helpful as providing continuous feedback and asking for the same.

A mentor of mine had a habit of randomly asking "How would you rate your job satisfaction on a scale of 1-10?" My answer would spur further discussion. If I said "7," he'd say, "Interesting, how can we get that close to 9 or 10?" This forced me to think about what was driving my feelings. Was it a temporary issue or a systemic one? I have always found this to be a valuable way of garnering good feedback from my teams.

The same mentor was a fervent believer in the need to communicate your expectations and give clear direction to team members on what they need to do to meet those expectations. Without expectations, employees can end up going in the wrong direction (or no direction at all) and end up surprised later when you react poorly. There should be no surprises about what you expected. When your team members consistently understand and meet your expectations, they can begin moving on to bigger responsibilities.


Empowerment is the process of allowing employees to make decisions and take responsibility for them. It increases team members’ engagement with their work in addition to boosting their self-confidence and providing them with a sense of accomplishment that can propel them forward. Effective empowerment requires managers to recognize the difference between someone who is ready but reluctant and someone who is reluctant because they're not ready. This means reviewing the employee's work and understanding what's causing them to miss the mark. Is it a lack of focus, a lack of training, a lack of context, ineffective tools?

If you think someone is ready but reluctant, there are ways to build their confidence and help them envision themselves taking on new responsibilities.

  • Set up scenarios related to potential new responsibilities and ask questions about how they'd handle them.
  • Ask them to come up with ideas about how to do things differently.
  • Give them a new low-impact, less visible project that's out of their comfort zone and discuss the results.

Ultimately empowerment is about trust and every interaction with your team can either increase or diminish their ability to trust you and themselves. You need to push them out onto the tightrope but you also need to help them stay balanced and be the net when they fall.


Leaders should recognize the accomplishments of their staff members by praising them and providing positive feedback regularly. Again, there is certainly a benefit to providing positive feedback on a set, quarterly or 6-month schedule but that's a lot of time between praise. It takes no time for managers to observe when their team members are doing well and let them know. "Nice job on the contract review, you caught some potentially serious mistakes!" or "Great email to Acme Co. Very clear and actionable! That should help things move forward." Genuine appreciation for good performance is one of the most effective techniques for increasing an employee’s motivation in the workplace and giving them the confidence to do more.

Did I miss anything? What techniques have worked for you? Let me know in the comments.


Mike Raia

Marketing the world's best workflow automation software and drinking way too much coffee. Connect with me on LinkedIn at


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