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Ryan Behrman

Every organization, every leader, and every employee has an identifiable strength: something they can do or create or contribute that separates them from all others in their field. Businesses and organizations that embrace this concept are more likely to create harmonious, happy, and productive teams that complement each other and thrive. And, as we’ll hear today, they can have some fun in the process.

We sit down with Ryan Behrman, owner of Systemic Agility, a training and consulting organization, and owner, facilitator, and trainer with StrongSuits, a systemic team and organizational strengths development tool based on insights from modern psychology.

Learn more about Ryan and StrongSuits here: 

Key Points

  • Why is it important to understand your strengths at work
  • How can I play to my strengths?
  • What is StrongSuits and how can we use it

Have you ever pondered the following questions?

  • How do we give people and their happiness the attention they deserve in our organizations and transformations?
  • How do we enable change for people and not push change on people?
  • How do we create the culture and environment we need for people to express themselves?

Of course, you have! That’s why you listen to our podcast. But while podcasts are a one-way street, our Forward Summits are all about interactions.

Anna Löw will present a case study on their move to a 32 hours work week, the pitfalls, and their successes.

So come and join the conversation at our upcoming summit: HAPPINESS AS THE ‘WHY’ IN AGILE TRANSFORMATION, held in Berlin, Germany, and Online from 30 November – 2 December 2022,

You’ll get to hear from our kick-ass keynote speakers Sunny Grosso; Svenja Hofert; Debra Corey; and Fransisco Mahfuz. Take part in our practice, case study, open, and global networking sessions in Berlin and online!

Go to our designated Forward Summit Website for more info and tickets.


*Please note that the transcript has been automatically generated and proofread for mistakes. But remains in spoken English, and some syntax and grammar mistakes might remain.

Ryan Behrman 

Elisa Tuijnder: [00:00:00] Every organization, every leader and every employee has an identifiable strength. Something they can do or create or contribute that separates them from all others in their field. Businesses and organizations that embrace this concept are more likely to create harmonious, happy, and productive teams that complement each other and thrive, and as we’ll hear today. They can have some fun in the process. Our guest is a coach, facilitator, and trainer who has worked with hundreds of managers, coaches, and teams to collaborate, innovate, and work more effectively and joyfully together. And his newest venture takes the phrase, play to your strengths to a whole new level.[00:01:00] 

Before we dive in, you are listening to a limited series by the Happiness at Work podcast by Management 3.0 where we are getting serious about happiness.

We are currently in the run up to our forward flagship summit, which will be held from 30 November 02 December live in Berlin and from your computer screens. This year is all about happiness as th why in agile transformations, in this limited series, we’ll be speaking to partners, conference speakers, and those with ultimate knowhow about happiness in agile transformations.

We’ll be publishing regular in the run up to the summit, so make sure to subscribe so you won’t miss a beat. And do keep listening for a special promo code for our podcast enthusiasts, thinking about joining our summit.[00:02:00] 

Our guest today is Ryan Behrman, a systemic agility coach who helps managers, coaches, and teams transform themselves and their organizations to be more adaptable in today’s complex and non-linear world. He’s the owner of Systemic Agility, a training and consulting organization in the areas of enterprise agility transformation, team agility coaching, and agile product development and innovation. He’s also the owner and facilitator trainer with StrongSuits, a systemic team and organizational strengths development tool based on insights from modern psychology, which uses creative methods to help teams communicate and work more effectively together. And last but very much not least, he’s also speaker at our upcoming forward Flagship Summit.

Thank you so much for joining us Ryan. 

Ryan Behrman: Thanks, Elisa. Great to be here. Yeah, that 

Elisa Tuijnder: was a very long introduction, , 

Ryan Behrman: I [00:03:00] didn’t expect it, but it’s always good 

Elisa Tuijnder: to hear. Yeah. No, all these things that you do, just gotta keep, they keep on coming. Hey, so we’ll get into all of those all the things that just summed up in a minute, but like always we start here on the podcast at the same question, and that is what does happiness mean to you?

Ryan Behrman: So I see happiness as our natural state, so it’s not actually something to attain or reach. In fact, trying to get happy usually causes more stress and anxiety anyway. The way I often look at it is whatever’s in the way is in the way of our happiness. By seeing through the things that are in the way of our happiness.

Eventually, once those are out the way, then we’re next left in our natural state, and that’s happiness. Yeah. Cool. 

Elisa Tuijnder: Hey, so strength finding, or how did you get into that? So what got you interested in it? Is it like the [00:04:00] power of identifying and leveraging workplace strengths? Was that something that you saw that people were doing wrong or, yeah.

How did you fall into this? 

Ryan Behrman: It was serendipity. So as you know I’ve been a Management 3.0 facilitator for almost nine years now. So I totally was in the world of, engaged, happy workers. And I happened to be at a it wasn’t even a conference, it was Like an exhibition. And I saw this stand there and it was a card game.

I thought this fits really well with Management 3.0, but I didn’t have much time and I was whizzing around the exhibition and out. And then weeks and months later, I was on a hike with a group of people. And one of the people on the hike was telling me about this card game that they developed.

And I, I couldn’t remember the name, but it was, sounded really interesting to me. Anyway, week, weeks, and months after that, I was then talking to a friend of mine and he pulled out a pack of cards and he told me that it was this guy on the hikes cards, , and I [00:05:00] then matched it up with the cards that I’d seen at this conference.

So it just seems weird. And then I invited him to our Management 3.0 meetup to speak. And the guy’s name’s Dave Corbyn and he’s the founder and creator of StrongSuits. And so it was just a natural fit for me right from the beginning. , I knew about the world of strengths, but it just seemed to all come alive for me when I really found out about it. So it was more serendipity than going out and trying to find something. And I think coming as a, I was also trained in professional coaching and so on, and it also fits strengths fits very well with that because we’re always looking for what who is this person?

What are they naturally good at? What are they natural strengths? What are the natural gifts that they bring, and how can we coax that out? So that they can be, the best person they can be in their life and in their work. Yeah. It’s 

Elisa Tuijnder: almost like the cards found you . Yes. They kept following 

Ryan Behrman: you. I really do see it like that.


Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah. We can almost, it’s almost have a tarot kind of thing with it.They kept [00:06:00] on coming to you. 

Ryan Behrman: Totally. 

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah. So we touched upon this really briefly, but why is it so important for organizations, managers, and employees to play to their strengths? What, why is that so important and why is it so important today in this climate.

Ryan Behrman: Sure. From a science all kind of has shown it now. The Gallup studies have shown that people are more productive when they play to their strengths. Also people who have managers who identify and work with their strengths are more engaged in their workplace. And yet still we have things like performance appraisals where we have a list of competencies.

And competencies are very different to strengths. Competency is a skill that you can, anyone can learn, but it doesn’t mean that they would necessarily excel at it or be good at it if it doesn’t fit with their natural abilities, their natural strengths and what they love to do themselves. And [00:07:00] the sciences unfortunately, are still ahead of where most organizations are.

Elisa Tuijnder: Is it, am I not mistaken that it’s Gallup as well who started this whole strength finding mission? Yeah. And yeah, and that’s actually quite a while ago. And that he was annoyed that we’re always talking about problems and how did they, and not about our strengths. 

Ryan Behrman: Instead of, yeah.

Yeah. So if you look at the most performance appraisals, it’s a matrix of skills that we should have or competencies. And it’s like you’re good at that, you suck at that. You’re good at that. You’re not so good at that. You need to get better at that. And really what we should be looking at is firstly, what are we naturally good at and how can we make that even better?

For example, there have also been studies, and this is a separate one, where they took people and taught them the skill of speed reading. And it turns out that those who were already naturally fast at reading increased their speed nine times. So it was a 900% increase on their speed. Whereas those who were not already [00:08:00] good at reading only increase very slightly in their speed.

And so what this proves is that people who are naturally good at something can really excel. And the science of excellence shows this too. And so we would have far better and more productive organizations if we all play to our strenghts. Yeah, 

Elisa Tuijnder: absolutely. Yeah. But it’s so baked in, from an early age.

We, we work with curricula and we don’t actually look for the things that are we really good at. It’s this framework that we have to walk into. We mentioned that you’re the owner and facilitator and coach with StrongSuits, and that takes a unique approach to team and organizational strength development.

So before we can get into your work on that, I’m curious, so why did you think that this new perspective, what was new and fresh about this perspective? From StrongSuits? Yeah. 

Ryan Behrman: So StrongSuits, as the name implies, focuses a lot on strengths. But it does a lot more than that in the sense that, It’s a set, set pack [00:09:00] of cards that is 52 strengths as a standard pack of cards, has 52 cards.

But those cards also divided up into opposite cards. So for example, if we take the strength of optimism, so it’s a good strength to have to be optimistic to see the good in things. But if that strength is overplayed, we could say, You could result in perhaps reckless behavior.

We over overly optimistic and so on. And so that is that’s actually not opposite, that’s overplayed strengths. So we have this concept of overplayed strengths. And then we also have the concept of opposites, which is the opposite of optimism. Often people would say is pessimism. But actually the opposite of optimism we could say is caution.

So the opposite of a strength is not a negative, it’s also another strength. And so if we were the manager of, say, a nuclear power [00:10:00] station, I would want that manager to have the strength of caution rather than the strength of optimism. Yeah. So we often label certain strengths as good strengths, and usually that’s based on our own personal biases and other strengths.

Bad strengths, but actually if we look at the opposite of a strength, it’s usually another strength. And it’s important in teams to iden identify that we actually need a mix of these strengths and to identify that other people have strengths that perhaps we don’t have. And also that we have biases as to which strengths are more important than other strengths.

So it looks at opposites, it looks at overplayed strengths. The opposites also includes diversity. So it’s important to have diverse teams, and we know that the science all points to that as well, that more diverse our teams are generally the more effective they are. And then it also looks at Communication styles.

So if we take those 52 cards, we could also divide them up into three, four groups of 13, 13 times voice, 52 and [00:11:00] 13 of those strengths relate to one communication style, 13 to another, 13 to another, 13 to another. And so we can map these communication styles and then understand that when people are communicating in a certain way, it’s usually because their strength is in that particular area.

So some people are more influential in their way of talking. Some people are more detail oriented in their way of talking. Some people have more drive in the way that they’re talking and they wanna get things done and other people are more, much more softly spoken, more people oriented in the way that they’re talking.

And so we can also map our strengths, the way that we communicate. So it’s a sort of a whole system and draws on the sort of science of modern and positive psychology. 

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah. Can you give us another example of you know how you said optimism and caution? I’d love to hear another one.

Cause I was like thinking like, how does, yeah. Give me another one. 

Ryan Behrman: Another one. You mean using optimism and caution or another one? Another one. Another two opposites. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. So take [00:12:00] the one of objectivity and appreciation. So people might not immediately think of that. But if you look at so take me and my wife for example.

When it’s my wife’s turn to cook, I’m often looking at what she’s cooked and pointing out the good things. And then perhaps the not so good things about what she’s cooked. And I see that as me just being objective. Yeah. So I’m just saying, this is, I like this and perhaps this I don’t like so much.

And I see that as being very helpful for our future cooking relationship. Sometimes she cooks and sometimes I cook. And I think that will help. But if you had to ask her, she would say, oh you’re so unappreciative. Yeah. And that is another skill to have is appreciation. Now, that is a skill that I could learn from as well because, perhaps I’m being too objective in some cases, and that’s a benefit in certain contexts, but in other contexts, perhaps I could we often talk of dialing up strengths and dialing down [00:13:00] strengths, so they’re all strengths, but in some context we might want to, and I think my wife would probably appreciate if I was more appreciative as so that, that would be another example.

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah, that one really resonated with me. So how does, StrongSuits approach this work and employ what we’ve learned from modern psychology? Because we’ve got cards and opposites and how do, how does it really work? 

Ryan Behrman: So there’s a number of games and the kind of flagship game that we usually start with is called “Your winning hand.” 

And so what you’ll do is you’ll deal out the cards and each people will start to swap their cards with other cards that are in the middle of the table and say I think that this strength is more a strength of mine than this is. And because it’s a game and we’re all doing this together, other people in our.

People in our team or people that we know well, but not necessarily because we could play this on our own as well. But, or often helps if we are with other [00:14:00] people, Because they can reflect back to us and say, so I see you’ve swapped the card of plain speaking for the card of diplomacy. I’m not so sure that’s exactly the right card for you.

So often we, what we think is a strength of ours is perhaps not a strength. And then the opposite also applies, is what we think we don’t have as a strength. Other people will say you, you’d really have this as a strength. So there’s the be there’s, that’s the beauty of the sort of flagship game of your winninghand.

And then of course, we can recognize when we have the opposites of another person in the team, and then we can have a good conversation about in what context is this strength, more appropriate, the strength of optimism and when is caution perhaps more appropriate in the work that we do as this team. Yeah.

And then we can also map our strengths, as I said before, into communication styles, and then we can talk about how we can communicate better with each other. It’s a whole system that sort of leads you through a number of [00:15:00] different exercises that all relates to communicating better, understanding each other’s strengths our limitations our limited beliefs as well where we believe something about ourselves that perhaps isn’t true.

Elisa Tuijnder: Does that mean that we always have to play this with people that know us or within the context of a team? Or is it also possible like what we’re gonna do at the Forward Flagship Summit? There might be people there that know each other, but the idea is also that we’re gonna have a look at this game and that we’re gonna play this.

And not necessarily everybody will know each other. 

Ryan Behrman: So how does that work exactly? Yeah. No so your winning hand, you’ll ultimately end up with five cards that are your strengths. The beauty of having a team is that they will identify strengths or people that know you. They’ll identify strengths that perhaps you didn’t know you had, or they’ll point out where you think that something’s a strength and they’re like, I’m not so sure about that.

I’m not so sure. You, there’s, you have the strength of diplomacy as an example I gave. So it. Certainly can we [00:16:00] play on your own? In fact, we have a single player game that you could play. You can play the winning hand on your own and come up with your top five strengths. But the beauty really comes in teams.

And I think that’s the other thing that StrongSuits has really brought to the strengths world is a lot of personality profiling systems are very individual. Whereas this is specifically built around teams. 


Elisa Tuijnder: I like it. Yeah. I’ve recently actually done the Gallup one so I’m gonna, I’m gonna be intrigued to see the the strength finding and how I can amplify that as well.

But you during the 

Ryan Behrman: conference Yeah. And you can, whatever strength system you use, you can then bring that to people that know you and say which ones would you? Is this correct? And then, yeah. And then there’s also a whole lot of other systems we can, things we can do with it. How do we give people appreciations based on their strengths?

And then feedback, because it’s always best to give feedback once we’ve, once we first said, what we really appreciate about that [00:17:00] person. And then we can say well also on top of that, it would be even better if, and it’s important, the language that we use, even better if you also showed this strength that would be useful to me or to us.

And so you can reflect strengths back to people and give them feedback of where additional strengths might be helpful as well.

Elisa Tuijnder: Have you ever wondered about one of the following questions? How do we give people and their happiness, the attention they deserve in our organizations and transformations? How do we enable change for people and not push change on people? How do we create the culture and environment we need for people to express themselves?

Of course you have, that’s why you listen to our podcast. But while podcasts are a one-way street, our summits [00:18:00] are all about interactions, so why don’t you come and join the conversation with our kick ass keynote speakers, Sunny Grosso, Svenja Hofert, Debra Corey, and Francisco Mahfuz. Take part in our practice sessions, case study sessions, open sessions and global networking, both in Berlin and Online.

Go to That is For more info and tickets and as a podcast listener, use the code forwardpod at checkout. That is ForwardPod to let us know you are a friend of the pod and receive some special Martie, the management Monster goodies.

So you’ve obviously been working as a coach and [00:19:00] you’ve been doing strength finding and other ways of facilitation and coaching for a long time. But what have you seen in organizations when you’ve brought this in and what kind of, results did this bring the lots of aha moments and all of a sudden it was kumbaya after that that or, no, that’s obviously a bit, yeah.

A bit silly, but yeah. What happened when you started playing these games with teams. 

Ryan Behrman: No, it is quite a lot like that actually. That’s the amazing thing is that when people start to appreciate each other’s strengths, they really do open up. I work, we work with a insurance company, big insurance company, and we work with their HR team and showing this helping them to see that for example, one of the members of the team was a lot more people focused and the other, and another one was a lot more task focused.

And just from doing the workshop and allowing this to actually surface the [00:20:00] people focused person actually ended up in tears saying that she didn’t, she thought that there was so much problems, so many problems in the team, but actually what she thought was a problem was that people weren’t emotional enough or expressing themselves enough or appreciating each other enough.

Whereas the person who was more detail and task oriented, he just said he was just getting on with the job. He didn’t see any problems. That’s just, he was just doing what he, he does. And which was even more interesting because then her then tears were actually tears of relief that she could see, and then and then it carried on from there because then he saw the tears as being a problem because, tears equal sadness. And so this meant there was now some discord in the team. And but then again, seeing it through that lens of that he was seeing things as more in [00:21:00] more detailed task oriented way, and her, in a more people focused way, allowed him to then appreciate the tears that she was bringing in that context and see that that wasn’t a problem too.

So it really helps to, I think where people understand each other and their strengths and their communication styles, it just helps every area of work. 

Elisa Tuijnder: I really, so I just said a little bit earlier that obviously you’re coming to the four flagship summit and we’re gonna play the game there.

Could you give us a little tip on what we’ll be doing what game we’ll be playing? If it is this, the one with the hand your best hand. And I also know that obviously, we’re doing this virtually. So for those people who won’t be able to join us in Berlin, we’re also you’re also doing a talk on the virtual side of things.

Unfortunately that won’t be the actual game because they don’t have enough time for that. But you’re also gonna do a talk there. [00:22:00] So could you give us a little tip of the, lift the veil a little bit. Not too much. So people still wanna come, but yeah. What are you gonna talk about?

What we 

Ryan Behrman: gonna do? Yeah, so the in person one, I’ll be doing a workshop, as you said. We’ll play your winning hand. We’ll look at opposites, we’ll look at overplayed strengths, and we’ll also look at communication styles. So it’s not, as you said before, that it’s, we don’t need to know the people that we’re working with.

We can just see that, hey, I have this communication style and another person at my table has this communication style. How could we best, if we were a team, how would we best work with each other? And that really helps people to understand each other and then take that back to their real teams and have more of an understanding of A, their strengths, and B, their communication styles.

And where there can be a help or a hindrance. The virtual summit, it’ll be a lot like what we’re talking about here, a lot about the science of strengths [00:23:00] around the value of bringing a strengths based approach into organizations. So I think this is a taster for that. Really a taster for 

Elisa Tuijnder: that.

Good. While we’re on the topic of the forward summit, so the theme of the summit is happiness as the why in agile transformations. You’re no stranger to the concept of agility. You’re the owner of systemic agility training and consultancy organization. So can you tell us a little bit about the work that you do there and how, happiness fits into that as well.

Ryan Behrman: Sure. Yeah. So I chose the name Systemic Agility because I think I formed it fairly recently as a name, as a rebranding because what I was seeing in the world of Agile is a lot of systems, processes, tools, a lot of focus on that. And then on the other hand, there was also a lot of, there’s also been a lot of focus on personal coaching.

So as an agile coach, I’ve seen a lot, which is a [00:24:00] positive thing over the last sort of five or so years, a lot of agile coaches becoming professional coaches as well. There’s a good movement, but it seems like it’s like the sort of polarizations almost. And the word systemic really means holistic.

It means taking everything into account. And so we look at enterprise agile transformations, enterprise agility, and then also team coaching, team agility and then also product development and innovation. So those are the three spheres. More or less covers the kind of length and breadth.

Obviously the devil is in the detail within those, but that kind of more or less covers the length and breadth that particularly agile coaches are working with. Yeah. 

Elisa Tuijnder: What and what can, what kind of things can organizations and by extension business leaders and managers do to promote systemic agility and try to be more adaptable as well in today’s rapidly changing world?

Ryan Behrman: I think there’s quite a [00:25:00] lot as I said in the sort of systems, processes, tools, frameworks, area of things, and maybe not so much in sort of the area that we’ve been talking about in terms of kind of personal development and what we might call the kind of vertical dimension where the horizontal dimension is looking at all the different systems, processes, tools, et cetera.

And then the vertical dimension is maybe going a bit deeper, like what’s really in the way here and what’s really our, what are our real strategic challenges in this organization? And being able to inspect and adapt those quite rapidly because in the world that we are living today, it’s just the changes is getting faster and faster.

. And with so much happening, especially recently with, the pandemic, wars, financial crashes and so on. Turmoil, let’s call it and so on. We’re it’s not enough just to do this kind [00:26:00] of continuous improvement approach, which is really important thing that Agile has added to the world is this whole kaizen continuous improvement approach.

But we really also need to take a step real, really up and look at the really big questions, the big picture, and be able to really. Inspect and adapt that, and really talk about our strategic direction. And I think that’s yeah, the one of the areas 

Elisa Tuijnder: that’s the meta level, the

Yeah. And it’s completely the opposite of what I was gonna ask from my next question because, on the podcast we’re really big fans of tangible practices. Things are, listeners can start implementing tomorrow and not have to have the whole buy-in of the senior management team for it.

Aside from what we’ve just already discussed and, being able to play the game and knowing your own strengths, what advice could you. Could you give an offer, leaders and managers who wants to embrace strength finding at an organizational level. 

Ryan Behrman: I think some of [00:27:00] the stuff we talked about, so for example, just start to acknowledge each other’s strengths.

Even you don’t need necessarily the cards. You can start just by sending an email around saying, what do you see as my top three strengths? And, what, what would help to bring or materialize those strengths even more in the workplace. Start to get the kind of feedback from people.

I think you’ll be quite surprised if you just send it to three or four colleagues. You can already get some quite really useful feedback. And then if you wanted to take that further, you can then start to actually use a tool such as StrongSuits of course, and actually start to mention certain games and start to play them and start to get more real.

Feedback about how we work together and how we can perform better and how we can communicate better. 

Elisa Tuijnder: Is that how you work with your clients as well? Like just trying to envision it. So do they have to look for their own individual strengths at first through a different tool before they get to [00:28:00] StrongSuits?

Or do they come to StrongSuits with, maybe zero knowledge about their strengths? Obviously some, they haven’t done a tool before that or how 

Ryan Behrman: does that work? No. Yeah, that can start straight away with StrongSuits. Yeah. Most of the research shows that most people know about 50% of their strengths.

There’s a whole world left open for what they don’t know about their strengths which they can then find out from their peers. But it really, yeah, they can do them both at the same time. That’s cool. 

Elisa Tuijnder: So finally, Where can people find strengths? StrongSuits and

Where can people find you? Except for at our summit, obviously. And if they wanna come and have a taster, they should definitely come there. But outside of that where else can they find you and all of the other things that you do, 

Ryan Behrman: Ryan? So StrongSuits,, and systemic agility, systemic

Super simple. Yeah I’m, yeah I’m quite busy on LinkedIn or getting a little bit busier on [00:29:00] LinkedIn, so that’s the best place to find me personally. Yeah. And then, we’re still growing on our social media and StrongSuits and systemic agility, so watch the space. Cool. 

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah.

Honestly, I can’t wait to play with my strengths. , I hope I have time. It’s a lot of fun. I hope I have time, but that time I should just be able to sit down and play this 

Ryan Behrman: game with you. Brilliant. Yeah. You just reminded me. That’s one of the, one of the main things really that StrongSuits brings.

It’s also different is that it’s a, it’s fun. Yeah. People have a lot of fun. Yeah. I look forward to it. The end. Yeah. So end off with some, 

Elisa Tuijnder: Exactly. And with some fun. Not that we wanna have fun in the other days, 

Ryan Behrman: but So we can go from the workshop into party mode. 

Elisa Tuijnder: Exactly. And straight into Berlin after that.

Yeah. All right. Thank you so much for joining me, Ryan. This is this is great fun and I honestly can’t wait to to see you face to face and play the game with 

Ryan Behrman: you. Likewise. Thanks, Elisa.[00:30:00] 

Elisa Tuijnder: You’ve been listening to The Happiness At Work podcast by Management 3.0 where we are getting serious about happiness. Be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and if you enjoy our shows, don’t be shy. Write us a review. Share the happiness with your colleagues, family, your friends. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn under Management 3.0.

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