Author Archives: David Burkus

About David Burkus

Dr. David Burkus is an organizational psychologist and best-selling author. Recognized as one of the world’s leading business thinkers, his forward-thinking ideas and books are helping leaders and teams do their best work ever. David is the author of five books about business and leadership and he's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, CNN, the BBC, NPR, and more. A former business school professor turned sought-after international speaker, he’s worked with organizations of all sizes and across all industries.

Measuring Employee Engagement Accurately

Measuring Employee Engagement Accurately

GUEST POST from David Burkus

Employee engagement has been a hot topic for several decades. And for good reason. Business teams with highly engaged employees have a 59 percent lower turnover rate than those with less engaged staff. Highly engaged teams are 17 percent more productive. Engaged teams receive 10 percent higher customer reviews. And yes, businesses with engaged employees have higher profit margins than non-engaged competitors.

But getting employees to feel engaged is no small feat. Even how to measure employee engagement can be a difficult question to answer for many leaders. But there are good reasons to try. Measuring employee engagement helps identify cultural strengths for the organization. Done well measuring employee engagement builds trust through the company. And measuring employee engagement helps understand and respond to potential trends, both in the organization and across the industry.

In this article, we’ll outline how to measure employee engagement through the most commonly used method and offer the strengths and weaknesses of each method.


The first method used to measure employee engagement is surveys. And this is also the most commonly used method as well—mostly for commercial reasons. After the Gallup Organization launched their original Q12 survey of engagement, dozens of competing companies with competing surveys sprung up all promising a different and better way to measure employee engagement. Most of these surveys present a series of statements and ask participants to rate how much they agree or disagree on a 5- or 7-point “Likert” scale. Some include a few open-ended questions as well.

The biggest strength of the survey method is that it scales easily. For an organization with hundreds or thousands of employees, emailing out a survey invitation and letting the system do the rest of the work saves a lot of time. In addition, surveys allow for objective comparisons between teams and divisions, or between the company and an industry benchmark. But while the comparisons may be objective, the data itself may not be. That’s the biggest weakness of surveys, they most often rely on self-reported data. And as a result, those taking the survey may not be completely honest, either because they want to feel more engaged or because they don’t trust the survey to be truly anonymous.


The second method used to measure employee engagement is proxies—meaning other metrics that serve as a proxy for engagement. Because we know that employee engagement correlates to other measurements, we can assume a certain level of engagement based off those measurements. For example, productivity has a strong correlation to employee engagement when looking at teams or entire organizations. So, if productivity is high, it’s safe to assume employee engagement isn’t low. Likewise, absenteeism and turnover tend to rise as employee engagement falls, so changes over time on those metrics point to changes over time in engagement. (And comparisons between engagement in departments/teams can sometimes be made based on these proxies.)

The big strength of proxies is that they’re usually measurements that are already being captured. Larger organizations are already tracking productivity, turnover, and more and so the data are already there. The weaknesses of proxy measurements, however, are that they’re not a perfect correlation. It’s possible to be productive but not engaged, and there are often other reasons certain roles have higher turnover than others beyond employee engagement. In addition, some of these proxies are lagging indicators—if turnover is increasing than engagement has already fallen—and so they don’t provide leaders a chance to respond as fast.


The third method used to measure employee engagement is interviews. And this method is the least common one but it’s growing in usage. Sometimes these are called “stay” interviews, in contrast to the exit interviews that are common practice in organizations. The idea is to regularly interview employees who are staying about how the company (and leaders) are doing and how things could be improved. While the questions used should provide some structure, the open-ended nature allows leaders to discover potentially unknown areas for improvement.

The biggest strength of stay interviews is that they’re a useful method for team leaders who may not have senior leader support for measuring engagement. Conducting stay interviews with ones’ team doesn’t require senior leadership approval or data from Human Resources. So, it’s available to leaders at all levels. And while that’s true, the weakness of stay interviews is that they’re hard to scale. Training thousands of managers on conducting a stay interview isn’t as easy as emailing out a survey. Moreover, because different managers would conduct these interviews differently, cross-comparison would be subject to bias. Stay interviews are a powerful way to measure engagement on a team, but they’re most potent when they’re used by managers who truly want the feedback their team provides (and not merely because they were told to conduct interviews).


While all three methods are a way to measure employee engagement, it’s not enough to merely measure. We measure things so we can improve them. So once the measurement is done, leaders need to have a plan in place make progress. That plan should include sharing out the results of the measurement and sharing the lessons learned from analyzing those results. In addition, leaders should share what changes are planned based on those lessons. And while it doesn’t need to be shared, it’s worth thinking ahead of time how the effects of those changes will be themselves be measured.

Done well, these measurements and the resulting plans will create an environment where everyone can do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pixabay

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Building a Psychologically Safe Team

Building a Psychologically Safe Team

GUEST POST from David Burkus

One of the most consistent findings in organizational behavior over the last decade has been just how significantly team performance is affected by psychological safety. A psychologically safe team is one where team members feel comfortable being themselves, expressing their ideas and opinions, and taking risks without fear of being punished or ostracized. Teams with high psychological safety learn faster, communicate better, and hence collaborate more effectively.

At its core, psychological safety is marked by a sense of mutual trust and respect. And these are two different things. Trust is how much teammates feel they can share their authentic selves with others. Respect is how much teammates feel the team will accept that self. If I trust you, then I will share honestly with you. If you respect me, then you will value what I’ve shared.

In this article, we’ll cover four ways to create a more psychologically safe team—with the first two focusing on trust and the second two on respect.

Be Vulnerable First

The first way to build a psychologically safe team is to be vulnerable first. This is a powerful way to build trust because trust on a team grows reciprocally. When someone makes themselves vulnerable, they signal to the team that they’re trusting the team. And teammates feel trusted and respond in a trustworthy manner (most of the time). This cycle repeats itself over time and trust grows alongside it. As a leader, that means it falls upon you to demonstrate trust first by being vulnerable first. You don’t need to share embarrassing secrets or your deepest fears, but a simple “I don’t know” when discussing a problem or a simple sharing of a few weaknesses can be an important moment in the development of trust on your team. Don’t make people earn your trust. Trust them and let them respond with trustworthiness.

Accept (but learn from) Failures

The second way to build a psychologically safe team is to accept (but learn from) the team’s failures. Failures on a team can’t be avoided—and they can’t be ignored. You’ll have to deal with repeated failures or performance issues, but often unexpected failures get overlooked (or worse). Projects sometimes run over budget, clients change their mind, global pandemics threaten the supply chain and force everyone to work at home in their pajamas. When failures happen, the human reaction is to deflect or excuse away failures. So, when teams face failures, they often fight over who is to blame. But psychologically safe teams recognize failure is a learning opportunity and see honest conversations about what happened and what can be changed in the future to prevent failures. As a leader, take your team through an after-action review when failures happen and celebrate any moments of honesty or responsibility you see. Doing so sends the message that failure is feedback—not something to be deflected.

Model Active Listening

The third way to build a psychologically safe team is to model active listening. This helps teammates feel respected, the other side of psychological safety. Leaders don’t have to accept every idea their team shares to build respect, but they do have to ensue every teammate feels listened to. And modelling active listening not only ensures you’re listening to the team—it also teaches the team by example how to listen better to each other. Make sure you’re actively focused on the person speaking, not looking at a phone or laptop. Nod your head and utter small “hmms” and “ahhs” to show you’re responding and processing what you hear. Follow up with questions based on what you heard that signal listening and encourage them to expound on their ideas. And before you offer your thoughts, summarize what you heard them say to confirm that you understand. Doing so will ensure the other person feels listened to—because you were actually listening.

Treat Conflict As Collaboration

The fourth way to build a psychologically safe team is to treat conflict as collaboration. It’s difficult to model active listening when the person speaking is sharing an idea or action in conflict with something you’ve previously said. It’s hard to actively listen when in conflict because you’re wanting to jump in and defend your original idea. But for building respect, it’s crucial to remember that task-focused conflict is a form of collaboration. People who disagree with their teammates aren’t (usually) saying their teammates are dumb, they’re saying they see the situation differently and care enough to share. Resist the urge to shoot down the conflicting idea, and use the questioning time during active listening to ask questions about the assumptions made or information that leads this person to a different conclusion. Meet conflict with curiosity about how they concluded something different than you. You’ll not only maintain respect, you’ll often find out that their way is a better solution anyway.

Looking at these actions collectively, it’s easier to notice the interplay between trust and respect that leads to a psychologically safe team. Trusting moments need to be met with respect, otherwise they might trigger distrust. But when teams develop both simultaneously, they start to share diverse perspectives and generate better ideas—and they gradually become a team where everyone can do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pixabay

Originally published at on February 25, 2023.

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3 Secrets To Good Teamwork

3 Secrets To Good Teamwork

GUEST POST from David Burkus

Teams are how work gets done most of the time. In a knowledge work economy, up to 85% of an average employee’s time is spent in collaboration with other people—on one team or on multiple teams. And that makes effective collaboration and good teamwork a top tier skill. Whether you’re currently a leader or looking to become a leader, focusing on developing your teamwork skills—and the level of teamwork on your team—is one of the highest returns on effort you can experience.

In this article, we’ll outline three keys to good teamwork and offer a few practical ways to improve on each one.

1. Clarity

The first key to good teamwork is clarity. Teammates need a clear set of tasks and objectives, and also to be clear on the tasks others are focused on. They need to be able to depend on the team to deliver on commitments and be clear about how their deliverables fit into the larger whole. In addition, teams need clarity on each others knowledge, skills, abilities, strengths and weaknesses. They need to know who the subject matter expert is for any given task and who is still developing that skill in order to properly assign tasks…and to ask the right person for help from time to time.

There are a number of ways to establish clarity when beginning a project, but teams also need to be deliberate about maintaining clarity as the project rolls out and the fog of work sets in. One effective way to do that is through a “huddle”—a regular, and fast paced meeting where teammates gather and report on what they’ve completed, where their focus is now, and where they might need help. Overtime, this routine will help everyone know what’s happening, but also who is excelling at what tasks and how they can help each other.

2. Empathy

The second key to good teamwork is empathy. If clarity is about understanding the tasks, empathy is about understanding the people on the team. Teammates need to know about each other’s different work preferences, personalities, and routines. Without empathy, we tend to assume our teammates will think and act like us—and when they don’t it can create conflict and confusion. And the more diverse a team, the more important empathy becomes on the team.

There are a variety of ways to build empathy but one of the most effective is through crafting and revising a team charter—or ways of working, group norms, rules of the road, and a host of other names. The idea behind a team charter is to facilitate a conversation about all the taken-for-granted assumptions about collaboration the team may have—like proper email response time, reasons to call meetings, ways to make decisions, etc. As they discuss, the team arrives at a set of norms they can agree to and then they abide by those norms for a few months before revisiting and revising based on what was learned. Empathy isn’t created by having the document, but rather in the process of having all those discussions.

3. Safety

The third key to good teamwork is safety—as in psychological safety. The level of mutual trust and respect felt on a team has a massive effect on the team’s ability to perform. If teammates feel safe to speak up, share ideas, or admit failures than the quality of their conversations and collaboration improves dramatically. Without psychological safety teams struggle to achieve a growth mindset and to learn and grow—and that puts a ceiling on the performance they’ll experience.

One fast way to start building psychological safety on a team is to signal vulnerability by asking for feedback. This is especially effective for leaders who can send individual emails out to each teammate asking just two simple questions:

  1. What’s something I do well I should do more of?
  2. What’s something you wish I would stop doing?

Because every teammate will have different answers, leaders will need to synthesize all the answers before they can apply anything learned. But the very action of asking for such honest feedback will signal to the team that their leader wants transparency. Over time that transparency will grow the feeling of psychological safety—especially once the team sees their feedback being applied.

And once psychological safety on the team grows, it will be easier to grow empathy as well. And when safety and empathy are high, teammates give more honest status updates in their huddles and clarity grows as well. As all three of these keys to good teamwork grow, the team’s performance will grow, because the team will become a place where everyone feels like they can do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pexels

Originally published at on April 3, 2023.

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Four Characteristics of High Performing Teams

Four Characteristics of High Performing Teams

GUEST POST from David Burkus

What makes some teams more successful than others?

What leads teams to consistently deliver great performance while other teams fail to live up to expectations?

Why do some groups of talented and seemingly compatible people fall short against lesser teams with less suitable members?

Years ago, a team of researchers and organizational development professionals at Google sought to answer those questions in a research study they labelled “Project Aristotle.” And in collecting data, Google and the team looked at a variety of different factors around teams.

They looked at the levels of introversion and extroversion on the team.

They looked at the academic backgrounds and of course the work history.

They looked at workload size and how much work they were asking them to do.

They looked at whether new teams, or senior teams, or sort of mix of seniority performed better. They looked at just about every aspect of what makes up a team to try to figure out what could explain how the best teams worked.

But it turned out the answers weren’t any of that. It turned out it wasn’t about how a team was composed and who was on it. It was about how they behaved. It was about the norms, behavior, and culture when the team was working together that really made the difference as to whether or not the team succeeded or failed. And that study kicked off a wave of research on what behaviors and norms high performing teams exhibited.

And in this article, we’ll summarize that research by presenting the top four characteristics of high-performing teams.

1. Defined Roles And Responsibilities

The first characteristic of high performing teams is that they have defined roles and responsibilities. Everyone on the team knows what is expected of them, and everyone knows what to expect from everyone else. This level of clarity provides the team with a couple advantages. If everyone knows what’s expected of them, then they’re more likely to turn those expectations into reality. But the real advantage develops when this role clarity is done on a constant basis. When teams are checking-in regularly and updating each other on their progress—and making appropriate changes as needed—it keeps projects from falling apart. One of the biggest project derailers is when one individual on the team needs to make a pivot in their work but fails to update the team. In those situations, when the team finally comes together to merge their individual responsibilities into the team-wide deliverable the pieces don’t fit together. Defining roles and responsibilities, and continuing to update them, prevents this error and keeps projects on track more often.

2. Know Strengths And Weaknesses

The second characteristic of high performing teams is that they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. If clear roles and responsibilities is the “hard stuff” of keeping a team at optimal performance, then knowing strengths and weaknesses is the “soft stuff” that’s equally important. Because in order to properly assign roles and responsibilities, teams have to know who would perform best in each role. High performing teams are typically composed of members with diverse backgrounds, trainings, and strengths and weaknesses, and they work in such a way that some members’ strengths offset other members’ weaknesses. In addition, this level of shared understanding about each other makes it easier for team members to provide feedback and step in and help. They’re more aware of when the demands of a task might veer outside of a specific teammate’s expertise, and so they know when to step in and assist. In addition, if one teammate decides they need help, then they know who else on the team is their best source of aid.

3. Trust And Respect

The third characteristic of high performing teams is that they trust and respect each other. In other words, there is a high degree of psychological safety on the team. This means that teammates feel safe to express themselves and to take risks. They feel safe to speak up when they disagree and safe to provide feedback. They even feel safe to fail because they trust the team will still respect them and draw lessons from that failure. And in the end that constant learning is what makes them high performing. Real candor on a team only happens when the teammates trust their voice will be considered and respect the voices of others on the team. That level of candor means a team is free to explore more possibilities when solving problems and makes it more likely they’ll find innovate new ways of accomplishing their objectives. In addition, the trust and respect of psychological safety means teammates are more engaged in their work and more committed to the team, which makes it less likely their performance will slow down any time soon.

4. Know The Mission

The final characteristic of high performing teams is that they know how their work fits the mission. High performing teams know how the work they are assigned fits into the bigger picture of what the organization is trying to accomplish and the impact that it will make when achieved. Sometimes, this level of task significance is about the outside stakeholders in the organization and how they’re served by the work the company does. Other times, it’s about the internal colleagues and other teams who are served by the teams’ work. But every time, it’s less about some grandiose mission statement and more about being able to see a clear and causal connection between the day-to-day work and a specific person or group who is served by that work. Without that connection, it’s easy to get lost, bored, and stagnant as a team. But with a clear and compelling “who” at the center of their work, it’s easy to be focused, inspired, and high performing.

When looking at all four characteristics, it’s surprising to note what’s not on the list.

Talent isn’t on the list. Talented individuals joining a team may help, but only if the team maintains these norms of behavior. Talented people who don’t coordinate their work with others are detractors, not performers.

Diversity isn’t on the list. Diversity is hugely important to a team’s success but diversity without trust and respect often leads to dysfunction.

In fact, it’s not about the elements or traits of any individuals. It’s about their habits. It’s about their norms and behaviors and whether or not the culture of the team contains these characteristics—characteristics that help everyone (regardless of skill or past performance) do their best work ever.

Image credit: Unsplash

Originally published at on December 14, 2021.

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The Surprising Benefits of Conflict in the Workplace

The Surprising Benefits of Conflict in the Workplace

GUEST POST from David Burkus

Conflict in the workplace is often seen as negative, but it can be productive if managed well. In fact, lack of conflict on a team is the real negative. When teams lack conflict, it means that either everyone on the team thinks alike or those who think differently are too afraid to speak their mind. Healthy conflict increases communication, trust, teamwork, and innovation.

In this article, we will explore four surprising benefits of conflict in the workplace. And we’ll discuss how leaders can create a safe space for sharing diverse perspectives and model respectful debate to leverage the benefits of conflict.

1. Understanding Different Perspectives

The first surprising benefit of conflict in the workplace is that conflict helps team members understand different perspectives. This leads to empathy and diverse problem-solving skills. When team members have different opinions and ideas, it can be challenging to find common ground. However, when conflict is managed well, it can lead to a deeper understanding of each person’s point of view. This understanding can lead to empathy and greater understanding of the unique work preferences and personality of other team members. Empathy is an essential skill in the workplace because it allows team members to connect with each other and work together more effectively.

Moreover, conflict can lead to diverse problem-solving skills. When team members have different perspectives, they can bring unique ideas to the table. By considering multiple viewpoints, teams can come up with creative solutions to complex problems. This diversity of thought can lead to innovation and better outcomes for the organization.

2. Making Better Decisions

The second surprising benefit of conflict in the workplace is that conflict leads to better decisions by allowing more information to be shared openly. When team members feel comfortable sharing their opinions, it can lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the issue at hand. By considering multiple viewpoints, teams can make more informed decisions that take into account all relevant factors.

Leaders play a crucial role in creating a safe space for sharing diverse perspectives. They should model respectful debate and encourage team members to express their opinions openly. By doing so, leaders can leverage the benefits of conflict and ensure that all voices are heard.

3. Increasing Trust

The third surprising benefit of conflict in the workplace is that conflict increases trust. That may sound counterintuitive, but when task-focused conflict is handled respectfully, that shows respect for all ideas. When team members feel that their opinions are valued and respected, it can lead to a sense of trust among team members. This trust can lead to stronger relationships and better collaboration.

Building trust on a team is also important for leveraging the benefits of conflict. When team members trust each other, they are more likely to share their opinions openly and work together to find solutions. Leaders can build trust by creating a culture of respect and encouraging open communication.

4. Building Commitment

The fourth surprising benefit of conflict in the workplace is that conflict builds commitment. That sounds counterintuitive as well, but when every idea is considered, and the best idea wins, leading to a sense of being heard and understood. When team members feel that their opinions are valued and respected, they are more likely to be committed to the team’s goals. By considering every idea and choosing the best one, teams can build a sense of ownership and commitment among team members.

Leaders can build commitment by creating a culture of inclusivity and encouraging team members to share their ideas openly. By doing so, leaders can leverage the benefits of conflict and ensure that all team members are committed to the team’s goals.

Conflict in the workplace can be productive if managed well. Healthy conflict increases communication, trust, teamwork, and innovation. Leaders should create a safe space for sharing diverse perspectives and model respectful debate to leverage the benefits of conflict. Building trust on a team is also important for leveraging the benefits of conflict. By considering every idea and choosing the best one, teams can build a sense of ownership and commitment among team members. By leveraging the benefits of conflict, leaders can build teams where everyone can truly do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pixabay

Originally published at on June 6, 2023.

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Four Keys to Effective Team Communication

Four Keys to Effective Team Communication

GUEST POST from David Burkus

Communication is what makes a team a team. Otherwise, it’s just a group of individuals working away at their desks, handing work up to some unnamed boss. In reality, people don’t work in a vacuum. And much of one individual’s work requires coordinating with one or more teams. Effective team communication makes individuals and teams dramatically more productive.

But unfortunately, a majority of employees say poor communication is the reason they’re falling behind and missing deadlines. That means, as a leader, one of your primary responsibilities is helping the team communicate and collaborate effectively.

In this article, we’ll outline four keys to effective team communication.

1. Match the Tool to the Goal

The first key to effective team communication is to match the tool to the goal. There are so many different collaboration tools available to teams today. From “old school” methods like in-person meetings, memos, and email to modern methods like video conferencing, Slack, and maybe even the metaverse. But every tool chosen comes with certain strengths and certain weaknesses. And as a result, different tools are more appropriate for different tasks. For instance, if the goal of the communication is to generate ideas, then face-to-face meetings are likely still the best method. But if you’re just presenting information to the team, video conference should suffice—or even better, just record yourself talking over the slide deck, send it out as a video, and save everyone from one more meeting.

Smart leaders consider the goal of the communication they are asking their team to engage in, and then select the appropriate medium of communication accordingly. More importantly, they don’t just choose the medium they prefer—but they consider the entire team and chose what is best for everyone.

2. Amplify Unheard Voices

The second key to effective team communication is to amplify unheard voices. On any team, there are certain voices that are louder and more frequent, and others that go unheard. Sometimes this is because of existing gender, racial, or ethnic biases that leave certain voices unnoticed or quickly dismissed. But often even the medium of communication chosen favors some team members and leaves others less likely to contribute. The setting of in-person meetings can favor loud, extroverted participants and signal introverted, more contemplative participants to contribute less often. The technology required for video conferences often favors more tech-savvy participants than those with great ideas who can’t figure out how to get off mute fast enough to share them. Even email communication can favor those with better written communication skills or those who utilize long-form writing as a tool for thinking.

Smart leaders understand their team and know who is favored or un-favored by the chosen tool for communication. Armed with that knowledge, they make a plan to pay attention to the oft-unheard voices and amplify those comments to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard, and everyone’s opinion considered.

3. Create A Safe Environment

The third key to effective team communication is to create a safe environment. This doesn’t mean a “safe space” where team members will never encounter an idea they disagree with. Rather it refers to a team environment of psychological safety, where team members feel safe to express their disagreements, and also their “crazy” ideas, suggestions, and perspectives. Psychologically safe teams are marked by a mutual sense of trust and respect—and those are two different qualities. When team members trust each other, they express themselves fully. But only if they feel their expression is respected by the team will they continue to trust them.

Smart leaders build trust by signaling their own vulnerability and admit when they don’t know the answer (which not only shows their trusting the team but also gives the team a chance to express different ideas). They also build respect by modeling active listening when others are sharing and showing a willingness to consider all ideas—not just defend their own.

4. Don’t Be Always On

The fourth key to effective team communication is to avoid being in constant communication—don’t be always on. While it may seem like high-performing teams are constantly communicating, it turns out many are marked by long periods without any real-time messaging. They definitely communicate—but they do it in quick bursts where everyone shares updates, problems, and the team solves in problems or roadblocks mentioned. Then they go their separate ways and trust each other to performing independently—which also allows each person enough time to focus and do the deep work that “always on” environments prevent.

Smart leaders teach their team to communicate in bursts, running meetings efficiently and infrequently. But some leaders inherit teams already in constant communication, so rather than flipping immediately to bursty communication they develop “no meeting Mondays” or certain small periods of time for team members to block out communication and focus—then gradually expand that time until the team is communicating less but better.

When you take these four together, and communicate in bursts in a safe environment, amplifying unheard voices and using the appropriate tools, you’ll find that your team’s communication improves. You’ll find the quality of their work improves. And you might just feel like your team is doing its best work ever.

Image credit: Pexels

Originally published at on March 13, 2023.

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Making Employees Happy At Work

GUEST POST from David Burkus

As long as people remain the center of organizations, attracting, retaining, and motivating those people—keeping them happy at work—will be one of the most important elements of a leader’s job. Work is central to our lives. For most adults, work occupies the majority of waking hours. And being happy at work can make a big difference in whether those hours are a drain or not. And, by extension, whether those hours are productive or not.

But that job as become more and more difficult over time.

In recent years some of the circumstances around job satisfaction and happiness at work have been outside of leaders’ control—global pandemics and being always on the verge of a recession come to mind. But there are a few adjustments inside of leaders’ control that can dramatically effect happiness. In particular, research from Mark Mortensen and Amy Edmondson suggests four specific components effect the “employee value proposition” and hence their happiness at work.

In this article, we’ll review those four elements of employee happiness and offer suggestions on how to leverage each to make employees happy at work.

Material Offerings

The first element that makes employees happy at work is material offerings. Material offerings include compensation, bonuses, and perks, the office and individual workspace, location, and even schedule and flexibility. This is what most leaders think about when they think about satisfaction and happiness at work. But unless you’re a senior leader or business owner, there’s not a lot you can change—and even if you are, some of those changes will take a lot of time. If you’re a front-line leader or middle manager, then your options are even more limited.

However, there’s always some room inside the organizational/industry constraints you might be able to find. You may not be able to move offices, but you could give the team more autonomy over the design of their workspace. You might not be able to set the working hours, but you can work with the team to find a little more flexibility inside of those hours. And it’s worth considering any area you do have control over. Even if you can’t make big changes, your team will appreciate that you’re making the effort.

Opportunity to Grow

The second element that makes employees happy at work is opportunity to grow. This refers to an organization’s opportunities to develop and grow employees, which include assigning new roles, implementing job rotations, and offering training aimed at helping them acquire new skills. Humans are intrinsically motivated by progress—they want to know they’re growing in their knowledge, skills, and abilities. In addition, they want to know they work in an organization that has room for them to grow into new roles and take on new challenges.

And leaders at all levels can help create (or increase awareness) of opportunities to grow. So long as the organization isn’t shrinking, there will be opportunities for individuals to get promoted or take on new challenges. But often those opportunities don’t present themselves fast enough to be salient. So as a leader, it’s vital to get to know the people on your team—their career goals and their development needs—and create opportunities to learn for them. You may not be able to promote them immediately. But you can help them feel growth by assigning them new tasks or projects that will help them prepare for that desired promotion.

Connection and Community

The third element that makes employees happy at work is connection and community. This refers to an employee’s sense of being appreciated and valued for their identity, experiencing mutual accountability, building social relationships, and being supported by an energizing culture that encourages candid expression and fosters a sense of belonging. Humans are social creatures. And as social creatures, the people we work with have a significant effect on our satisfaction and happiness. People want to feel they belong and that they’re appreciated.

And connection and community is where middle managers and front-line leaders make the most difference in employees being happy at work. Because most people’s experience of work—and connection and community—is actually a reflection of the team they work with or the location the work at. If you take time to connect with each of your people and hold space for group conversations and experiences unrelated to work, that will help amplify your team’s feelings of connection. If you take the time to celebrate small wins, and encourage others to do the same, you’ll help increase everyone’s feeling of appreciation and belonging.

Meaning and Purpose

The fourth element that makes employees happy at work is meaning and purpose. This refers to the organization’s aspirational reasons for existing and employees desire to see their contribution to work that makes the world better. Many organizations attempt create a sense of meaning and purpose through mission statements or vision statements. But just like connection and community, meaning and purpose is felt more strongly on the individual and team level. Which means leaders at all levels need to create a direct connection between the larger mission and the individual purpose of their specific team.

People want to do work that matters, and to work for leaders who tell them they matter. And as a leader, one of the most powerful ways you can do that is by helping people answer the question “who is served by the work that we do?” And then reminding them of that answer on a regular basis. This not only creates a more motivated team, but it also creates a team that feels more meaning and purpose as well.

It’s important to look at these elements both individually and collaboratively. Individually, you may have noticed a specific element which your team lacks. But these elements work together to create an overall experience. Material offerings are great, but there is a diminishing return on their increase in happiness. It takes all four to create an environment where employees feel happy at work and hence feel like they can do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pixabay

Originally published at on May 15, 2022.

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Why Great Teams Embrace Failure

And How to Do Failure Properly

Why Great Teams Embrace Failure

GUEST POST from David Burkus

Failure is feedback. And that maxim is nowhere more true than on teams. When individual team members or the whole team experiences a failure, how they respond can be the difference between a team that continuously improves and enhances performance, and a team that falls apart.

And research backs this up. One of the first studies of psychological safety focused on how teams responded to failure. Amy Edmondson examined the teams of nurses on various wards of a hospital and found that the teams with the highest rated leaders had a higher than average rate of reported medical errors. It wasn’t until looking further that she found the medical error rates were actually the same as other wards…but lower rated leaders who punished failures scared nurses away from reporting them. In other words, the great teams with great leaders embraced failure. And in doing so, they made it easier for everyone on the team to learn from mistakes and get better.

In this article, we’ll review three ways many teams embrace failure on individual, team, and system-wide levels in order to learn, grow, and better perform.

Learning Moments

The first way great teams embrace failure is through learning moments. A learning moment is a positive or negative outcome of any situation that is openly and freely shared to benefit all. And learning moments aren’t strictly a euphemism for failures. A learning moment happens whenever a team member experiences a personal failure and shares that failure with the team along with what they’re learned as a result. The idea is to grant amnesty over the occasional screw-up so long as the person brings a lesson as well. Over time, learning moments become opportunities to discuss how to change one’s approach or put systems in place to reduce failures in the future. But most importantly, learning moments destigmatize failures and move them from being something to be denied at all costs to something that increases performance. Failure is a great teacher—and when team member’s share learning moments they’re reducing the tuition for everyone else on the team by saving them from their own failures.


The second way great teams embrace failure is through post-mortems. A post-mortem is exactly what it sounds like…it’s a meeting to discuss a project after it has died. It’s meant to diagnosis teamwide failures (though many high performing teams also conduct post-mortems after the completion of successful projects as well). The purpose of the meeting is not to find someone to blame, or someone to give all the credit. The goal is to extract lessons from the project about where the team is strong and where they need improvement. When people are open and honest about their weaknesses and contributions to failure, teams celebrate the vulnerability that was just signaled.

Many teams can conduct an effective post-mortem with just five simple questions:

  1. What was our intended result?
  2. What was the actual result?
  3. Why were they different?
  4. What will we do the same next time?
  5. What will we do differently next time?

These five answers help identify the parts of the project that teams need to improve, while keeping them focused on the future and not on blaming people for actions in the past.

Failure Funerals

The third way great teams embrace failure is through failure funerals. As if a post-mortem didn’t sound morbid enough, failure funerals are useful rituals to reflect on failures that happened due to situations outside of the team’s control. Sometimes failures just happen. The environment changes, unforeseen regulations are created, or clients inexplicably decide to part ways. When that happens, it’s important to create moments for teams mourn the loss—but also extract some learning. This can be a short as a 15- or 30-minute meeting where team members share their feelings about the project that failed—and pivot toward what they appreciated about serving on the project and what they learned. Some teams even observe a moment of silence or a toast to the project gone wrong. These types of celebrations not only focus the team on lessons learned, but they encourage future risk-taking and keep teams motivated even when those chances of failure are high. Failure is inevitable—learning is a choice. And the purpose of a failure funeral is to make the deliberate choice to learn.

In fact, each of these three rituals represent a deliberate choice toward learning. Great teams embrace failure because doing so embraces learning. Those extra lessons help them improve over time—and trust each other more over time—and eventually become a team where everyone feels they can do their best work ever.

Image credit: David Burkus

Originally published at on May 1, 2023.

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Building A Positive Team Culture

Building A Positive Team Culture

GUEST POST from David Burkus

Teams are a central part of our work experience. Jobs that could have been solitary at one time or another happen more efficiently and at higher quality because we work in teams. The number of teams we form, along with the size of those teams, has increased dramatically in recent decades.

And much of a team’s performance comes down to its culture. Yes, the talents and skills of individuals matter. But without a positive team culture, those same individuals will fail to achieve the level of performance they’re capable of. The common set of norms and behaviors on a team are what guide their collaboration and determine their performance.

In this article, we’ll outline 5 practical ways to build a positive team culture that will help your team thrive and succeed.

Clarify Objectives

The first way to build a positive team culture is to clarify objectives to the whole team. This might seem like a very basic way to start, but so much of what triggers conflict and disengagement on a team stems from the team working to complete vague tasks in the service of unclear goals. Clarifying the team’s goals, it’s plan of action, and its deadlines and deliverables provides the foundation on which a positive team culture can be built. It brings a sense of contribution and importance to each member of the team to know how their work fits in with the team’s purpose and how that fits into the larger organizational mission. And it provides an accountability to the team that’s difficult to enforce without that level of clarity.

Outline Expectations

The second way to build a positive team culture is to outline expectations to the team. People need to know what is expected of them, that’s what is meant by clarify objectives. Expectations takes it a step further and outlines that a completed objective looks like, so the team knows how to tell that they’ve achieved it. But outlining expectations also means outlining the expectations of behavior on a team—especially interpersonal communication and collaboration expectations. Many times, the relationships between teammates get strained because of taken for granted assumptions or assumed responses that don’t match reality. So, clarifying how we’re going to interact (even going so far as clarifying what medium of communication will be used for which topic) can go a long way toward eliminating assumptions and improving communication.

Include All

The third way to build a positive team culture is to include all. One of the more consistent findings in organizational psychology is that high-performing teams, and teams with great cultures, are marked by conversational turn taking—ensuring everyone on the team is heard. Inclusion is a vital part of a positive team culture for obvious and nonobvious reasons. It’s obvious because who wants to be part of a team that ignores them? But less obvious is the way that being deliberate about hearing and including all opens up a diversity of ideas and possible solutions and makes it more likely new and better ways of achieving objectives are found—without that diversity teams can get stale and performance can start to slide.

Recognize Good

The fourth way to build a positive team culture is to recognize the good behaviors you see. As a leader, one rule of thumb you can count on is that you’ll get more of the behaviors that you celebrate. So, when teammates demonstrate civility in dialogue or inclusion in discussion, celebrate their positive interactions. When teammates go above and beyond, praise it. Teams with great cultures (and great performance) praise and appreciate each other more than standard teams. It’s a habit for them. And that habit of praise starts with leaders who are deliberate and consistent about praising good behavior and good results any time they see it.

Reinforce Purpose

The fifth way to build a positive team culture is to reinforce purpose. Positive team cultures are cultures where teammates feel a sense of purpose, and meetings are imbued with a sense of collective purpose. Specifically, positive team cultures are ones where everyone on the team knows who is served by their doing a good job—and so they work harder and support each other to do a better job. This can be difficult for individual teams. Organizations have mission statement or vision statements—but it’s hard to see how a specific team fulfills that mission. Positive team cultures are ones where leaders (typically) have taken the time to discuss how the day-to-day work of the team serves that mission and then who benefits from that mission being accomplished. It’s not about reciting the mission statement; it’s about recalling why the task at hand matters.

If you’re starting from a negative team culture, it may take some time before these actions start turning around the culture of your team. That’s okay. Stay deliberate and stay consistent on each one of them and overtime as expectations get clearer and purpose gets reinforced, teammates behaviors will change for the better. Culture is a habit, and habit aren’t built overnight. But habits (and hence culture) are the difference between teams that drain us and teams that allow us to do our best work ever.

Image credit: Pixabay

Originally published at on March 27, 2023.

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The 6 Building Blocks of Great Teams

The 6 Building Blocks of Great Teams

GUEST POST from David Burkus

Work is teamwork. And it’s no secret that some teams truly are greater than others.

A recent meta-analysis combined research conducted on over 200,000 teams in a variety of industries in order to answer that question. Across 274 dimensions of performance and over half a million individual team members, the researchers found that, in most fields, performance differences of teams followed a power-law—with a small number of high-performing teams achieving most of the results. In other others, high performing teams didn’t just perform a little better, they performed up to ten times better than normal teams.

With results like that, it’s worth looking at what makes a team great. Fortunately, there are a few elements of team culture that are found consistently in consistently great teams.

In this article, we’ll outline six building blocks that make a great team.

1. Clarity

The first building block of a great team is clarity. Teams need to be clear on what’s expected of them, what tasks they’re assigned—what tasks others are assigned—and how all of that fits together. Clarity is key to getting anything done. Without clarity, the ambiguity of assignments can make it feel as if others aren’t pulling their weight. One teammate will be working diligently on a project not knowing that a different teammate is waiting on her to complete a different task. But it’s not just clarity of tasks that makes a team great; it’s also clarity of people. How well teammates know the different work styles, personality differences, and strengths and weaknesses of a team can dramatically affect how well they collaborate. And that affects how well they perform.

2. Communication

The second building block of a great team is communication. Great teams have a synergy, where the eventual performance is greater than the sum of what the individuals could have done on their own. Achieving that synergy requires communication. Teammates need to be aware of what others are working on, and they need to be able to call for help (or offer) help easily. But surprisingly, this doesn’t mean that great teams are in constant communication all of the time. When it comes to knowledge work teams, it turns out that great teams communicate in bursts—spending long periods of time working uninterrupted and then short bursts of communication to solve problems and keep everyone in sync. They’re not in constant communication—because if they were they wouldn’t be able to focus on the deep work that really creates value on the team.

3. Diversity

The third building block of a great team is diversity. Diversity on a team matters because teams are often tasked with solving problems on their own—and the greater the differences in perspectives and experience, the greater the possible solutions will be generated. This “intellectual” diversity is what powers great teams. Mediocre teams may have surface level diversity—diversity in racial, ethnic, or gender characteristics—but their experiences, preferences, strengths, and weaknesses are more similar than they are different. Because of this, great teams often don’t stay together for long (because they would start thinking alike more often), or they find ways to continuously refresh the diversity of experiences and ideas on their team to keep it diverse—and hence keep it great.

4. Empathy

The fourth building block of a great team is empathy. Empathy goes alongside diversity and is really what unlocks the potential inside of a team’s diversity. Empathy here refers to how well team members understand and accept each other’s differences. Empathy on a team matters because diversity brings friction. When ideas differ, those ideas will fight for dominance. But empathy keeps the level of respect on the team high and ensures that teams are fighting to find the dominant idea and not just fighting their own personal battles or for personal dominance. Empathy teaches us how to harness idea friction into something truly powerful—and ensures that even those whose ideas don’t win out are committed to the team and the final decisions that are made.

5. Trust

The fifth building block of a great team is trust. Trust appears on great teams in two different but equally important ways. The first is task-based or cognition-based trust, which refers to how much the team trusts the knowledge, skills, abilities, and productivity of their teammates. Cognition-based trust matters because teammates need to know they’re not the only ones pulling the weight of the team. The second is person-based or affect-based trust, which refers to how much the team members genuinely likes their teammates and trust that they could be vulnerable in front of them. This matters because, on a team, all learning comes from vulnerability—the vulnerability to share new ideas or to admit mistakes and hence draw lessons from them. Both types of trust matter when building a great team.

6. Purpose

The final building block of a great team is purpose. And purpose here doesn’t mean how well the team memorized the company mission statement. Instead, it’s how well they’re internalized it. Purpose on a team refers to how well the team believes their work matters because it makes a meaningful contribution to the mission (good) and serves other people in a positive way (great). This purpose becomes a superordinate goal that has been shown in research to bond teams together better and faster than just about any other building block—and they build the other blocks faster as well. When teams have a great understanding of a great purpose—they almost can’t help but become great.

For that reason, purpose is often the best place to start when trying to take a normal team and make it great. Purpose provides the motivation for the team to work on the other building blocks and it reinforces the importance of continuing to work on them. Purpose is the foundation to build the team into one where everyone can do their best work ever.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Originally published at on February 20, 2023.

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