Over 154 Years of Service to the Furniture Industry
 Furniture World Logo

How to Create Engaged & Functional Teams

Furniture World Magazine


One of the defining qualities of a good leader is an ability to actively and consistently work to understand who your retail team members really are.

Most leaders of successful businesses seek to build and manage strong, highly functioning teams. Leaders in the home furnishings industry are no different. One of the most effective strategies to ensure that you are able to reap the benefits of employing more fully engaged employees is to actively and consistently work to understand who your team members really are.

Getting to know them as individuals is incredibly valuable but takes time. You can begin by understanding some behavioral basics—communication styles, motivation, as well as traits that are often attributed to generational differences. A big part of this process is to understand that the individuals that make up your teams possess varying perspectives based on culture, background, life experiences as well as varying strengths and challenges. The more information you have, the better equipped you are to lead them. This includes matching their skills with specific roles within the workplace, leading them to greater fulfillment and higher engagement.

Below are just a few of the many benefits of getting to know your team members that will lead them to that greater sense of fulfillment and higher levels of engagement.

  1. Better Coaching:

    If you know who your team members are, you can tailor your coaching style to be more effective. Ideally, you will be able to offer a more individualized approach to each team member. This is especially useful for sales managers whose primary responsibility should be ongoing coaching, allowing them to expeditiously recognize areas for improvement. Regardless of your leadership role (from sales to warehouse and operations or administration), tailoring you coaching style will allow you to connect, build rapport and encourage them to be more tuned into what skill-building resources are available.

  2. More Frequent Feedback:

    This approach will provide you with more frequent occasions to gather important information, receive regular feedback and provide you with opportunities for reinforcement. This can be incredibly useful in multiple aspects of a retail furniture operation. Metrics are key. Measure, share, discuss, reward and strategize opportunities for improvement.

  3. A Healthier Workplace:

    Knowing your team members will allow you to be able to tell sooner rather than later if a team member is happy and a good fit. Knowing this will prevent resentments from building up and possibly creating toxicity in your work environment. Most teams that work together in a home furnishings environment form relationships that are incredibly powerful and influential. Factor in a commissioned, or incentivized, environment and it is easy to understand why it is critical that leadership closely monitor team members. Only by monitoring the working environment can managers ensure that everything possible is being done to build and maintain a healthy dynamic. Tuning into this dynamic may even alert you to any possible safety concerns.

  4. Career Development:

    If you are not plugged into people's lives opportunities are sacrificed to help them develop their careers by working with their strengths. Once you know them better, you can be more proactive in moving them around your organization or possibly out. As an industry consultant, I regularly see engaged leaders who move people, for example, from a warehouse position to the sales floor, or remove them altogether to improve the company's organizational culture.

Beyond one-to-one engagement, self and peer evaluations, and team building activities, there are personality profiles and other assessment tools available that can help retail managers gain the insight need to understand team members' strengths and the challenges they face.

Brief descriptions of several commonly utilized assessment tools are included below.


According to Myer’s & Briggs Foundation (myersbriggs.org), “The purpose of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) personality inventory is to make the theory of psychological types described by C. G. Jung understandable and useful in people's lives. The essence of the theory is that much seemingly random variation in behavior is actually quite orderly and consistent, being due to basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgment.”

MBTI reports have been used to help companies measure employee preferences for Extroversion or Introversion, Sensing or Intuition, Thinking or Feeling, Judging or Perceiving. The four preferences together make up 16 possible personality types. Results have been used to understand how individuals are likely to relate and interact with others of the same or different personality types as measured by MBTI.


Based on the ancient symbol, the Enneagram is a powerful tool for understanding ourselves and others. The test is divided into nine personality types: the reformer, the helper, the individualist, the achiever, the investigator, the enthusiast, the challenger, and the peacemaker.

Most all of the major Enneagram authors agree that we are born with a dominant type, and that we learn to adapt to our early childhood environment.

"By the time children are four or five years old, their consciousness has developed sufficiently to have a separate sense of self," the Enneagram Institute explains on its website.

"Although their identity is still very fluid, at this age, children begin to establish themselves and find ways to fit into the world on their own."


It should probably go without saying that strategies for getting to know your team are intended to be utilized within professional boundaries. Many leaders and coaches worry about blurring those lines.

The DiSC personality test is a personal assessment tool based on the ideas of psychologists William Marston and Walter Clarke to evaluate behavior.

It is designed with a common language to help people better understand themselves and to adapt their behaviors with others. It also helps employers to better understand their employees.

By giving each employee an understanding of four different personality traits, (dominance, influence, submission, and compliance) the DiSC test helps employees work more productively, understand and communicate with others and cooperate as a team. Some companies use the test to gauge an employee’s suitability for a job, while others use it as a hiring tool.


Hosted by Gallup, CliftonStrengths (formerly "StrengthsFinder") is an online personal assessment test that outlines the user's strengths.

It is a popular tool that companies use because, in its most basic form, the test is designed to reveal employees' talents and highlight their strengths at work. Therefore, it can help reduce turnover, improve employee morale and improve the organization’s overall performance.

Brief descriptions of two other popular assessment tools can be found on www.learning-mind.com and Kolbe.com.


With Kolbe, the focus is about understanding a person’s “intrinsic knack for how they get things done,” according to creator Kathy Kolbe. Her mission is to show people what drives their success. This assessment measures a person's cognitive strengths by using four key attributes to help a person discover the key to achieving. The four factors are: Fact finder, follow through, improvise, and implementor. There are no good or bad outcomes. The test points to ways employees may tackle challenges and be driven by instincts. The result is called an MO (method of operation).

Using Personality Testing

Tools like these provide retailers with a great deal of information about team members. Thoroughly research any assessment tool to discover if it is likely to provide you with the information you want to know.

Keep in mind that a single assessment tool is not a substitute for simply paying attention and being present. Ideally, participation in assessments like those listed above not only allows leaders to learn more about team members, uncover valuable information, and begin a conversation, but also allows team members to learn about themselves, promoting increased self-awareness. Another benefit is that it promotes understanding among team members.

When working on-site with retailers, one of the simplest and most effective assessments I deliver is a brief communication style profile. This particular tool (you can find a variety of them online) takes about forty-five minutes and uses a short series of questions that determine which of four patterns each participant utilizes most often. Essentially, their default style. Determining a team member’s communication style provides a wealth of information regarding how to best approach them and how to most effectively deliver a message. It also encourages team members to become more self-aware and tune into the nuances of their co-workers, communication preferences.

Assessments, like any instrument must be used properly. Be sure that you utilize your human resources department or a training and development expert to fully vet your selection and learn how to deliver it appropriately.

Personal Boundaries

It should probably go without saying that strategies for getting to know your team are intended to be utilized within professional boundaries. Many leaders and coaches worry about blurring those lines. Knowing who your team members are and investing time into understanding their strengths and challenges does not mean you have to become friends. It simply means you are investing in useful resources, actively paying attention and establishing yourself as an engaged, accessible leader. In the workplace, most team members are looking for a role model and a strong leader more than another pal to “hang out” with.


Getting to know team members is an investment of time and resources that will ultimately make your job as a coach and a leader easier. It will enable you to better engage them and keep them engaged. Fully engaged team members are more productive, satisfied and are much more likely to become long-term employees. A key ingredient in the recipe for retail success.


About René Johnston-Gingrich: René Johnston-Gingrich is Vice President of Training Development for the Profitability Consulting Group, delivering programs such as Design Trac: Design Skills for Retail Sales People and Sales Trac III: In Home Selling. René has owned and operated an interior design firm for 17 years and now works with organizations to ensure they have the best possible team environment.


René served as a regular columnist for The Lewiston Tribune Business Profile and is an adjunct faculty member of Lewis-Clark State College’s Business Division. René has a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Interior Planning and Design and a Master’s Degree in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. She can be contacted at reneg@profitabilityconsulting.com.