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.

Managers Make the Difference

Four Common Mistakes Managers Make

Managers Make the Difference

GUEST POST from David Burkus

Senior leaders set strategy. But middle managers and front-line managers make the difference in whether that strategy gets executed…and in whether or not people are engaged and motivated in an organization. According to Gallup, 70% of an individual employee’s engagement is determined by the manager of her team. In turn, this means that managers have a significant impact on an organization’s success or failure.

In this article, we will discuss the four common mistakes managers make and how to avoid them.

1. Talking First

The first common mistake managers make is talking first. This one is really common. Presumably managers were promoted because they solved problems and generated ideas faster and better than their peers. And there are times when quick decisions need to be made. But not always. Most often, they should facilitate discussion and allow everyone to share their opinions. This encourages collaboration and creativity among team members. By doing this, managers can create an environment where everyone feels heard and valued. Getting everyone’s ideas out gives the team the best chance of finding the optimal solution.

In addition, managers should avoid talking first because often the first thing they say can easily be misconstrued as a command. The higher you go in a hierarchy, the more likely it is your casual suggestions will be misinterpreted as stern commands. And that not only tricks the team into taking a potentially wrong action, but it also robs them of their sense of autonomy and could degrade the quality of team culture.

2. Avoiding Conflict

The second common mistake managers make is avoiding conflict. No one wants to be the bad guy on the team—much less the manager who is also negative or confrontational. Somewhere in management training, conflict resolution workshops gave off the misconception that conflict is always to be avoided. But sometimes, in the service of avoiding conflict—managers actually avoid confronting the people and situations the team needs. Managers need to address underperformance and insubordination. And their team needs them to do it even more.

In addition, managers should encourage positive conflict over ideas, which can lead to better decision-making and innovation. When team members feel comfortable sharing their ideas, it can lead to new and innovative solutions. And when they know that their ideas will be improved by the discussion with the group—the ideas get even better. Addressing conflict in a positive way can help to create a culture of open communication and trust.

3. Reacting Urgently

The third common mistake managers make is reacting urgently. To be a manager is to deal with problems. Forces outside (or inside) of the team’s control can force the plan to change or be scrapped altogether. Unexpected roadblocks can appear randomly on the horizon. And what was supposed to be a smooth, easy project can turn into a big problem. When problems (or changes) occur, many managers react as quickly as possible—but don’t think about whether that first, default reaction was the right one. Perhaps if given some time and a little discussion, the team would have found a better solution.

In addition, reacting urgently can succumb the whole team to the tyranny of the urgent—where a small but unexpected problem now appears more urgent than more important projects simply because it’s the new fire to put out. But doing so steals time and attention away from those more important projects and harms the team’s productivity even more than the initial problem would have. Managers need to respond to problems, but to respond deliberately and not urgently.

4. Assuming Availability

The fourth common mistake managers make is assuming availability. Many managers just assume their team feels free to come to them. They’ll say, “ask me anything” or claim they have an “open door policy” (assuming they even work in the same office as their team). But in reality, the first time a team member approaches their “available” manager and finds their boss to busy or less than focused, they realize how available that manager truly is—or rather isn’t. Your door might be always open, but if you’re always on the phone it doesn’t matter.

Instead, managers would gain from being deliberate and intentional about their availability. They shouldn’t promise to be available all of the time. Instead, they should be available at specific times and block them off in their calendar. That way they can give the team members their sole focus. Even better, if working colocated, they can take specific times of the day to leave the office (should be pretty easy…the door should be open) and walk out to check-in on each team member individually. Doing so not only helps team members feel seen and heard, but it also helps the manager hear more too.

In fact, being deliberately available helps to avoid the other common manager mistakes as well. By being available and listening intently, managers talk less. They become more aware of conflicts that need to be instigated. And they’re able to access more information and react less urgently. By being deliberately available, managers help build a team where everyone can do their best work ever.

Image credit: Unsplash

Originally published on on April 24, 2023

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5 Ways to Create a Sense of Belonging at Work

5 Ways to Create a Sense of Belonging at Work

GUEST POST from David Burkus

A sense of belonging on a team is crucial for its success and productivity. Belonging is that sense of acceptance and inclusion when people feel they can bring their authentic self to work. When team members feel included and valued, they are more likely to be engaged, motivated, and contribute their best work. And on a diverse team, belonging determines how much the team taps into diverse perspectives, opinions, and ideas. As a leader, you encourage that sense of belonging through the habits, norms, and behaviors that you model and that get mimicked by the rest of the team.

In this article, we’ll outline how to create a sense of belonging at work through five actions leaders take that get emulated on the team and make everyone feel included.

1. Share Information Openly

The first way to create a sense of belonging at work is to share information openly. Open and transparent communication is the foundation of a cohesive and inclusive team. When team members have access to all relevant information, including financials and decisions, they feel trusted and respected. That transparency fosters a sense of belonging, as everyone is on the same page and can contribute effectively.

Sharing information that is not typically shared can also increase the sense of belonging. By going beyond the basics and providing insights into the organization’s goals, challenges, and strategies, team members feel more connected to the bigger picture. This understanding helps them see how their individual contributions fit into the overall team’s success.

2. Share Credit Widely

The second way to create a sense of belonging is to share credit widely. In a collaborative work environment, it’s essential to recognize and appreciate the contributions of every team member. Sharing credit widely means acknowledging and celebrating success as a collective effort, rather than attributing it solely to individual achievements. Avoid taking credit for yourself—even if senior leaders attribute the win to you—and instead attribute success to the team. By doing so, you create a culture of collaboration and unity, where everyone feels valued and recognized for their contributions.

Teach team members to share credit for their wins and acknowledge the contributions of others. Encourage a culture of gratitude and recognition, where team members actively appreciate and celebrate each other’s achievements. This not only strengthens the sense of belonging but also promotes a positive and supportive work environment.

3. Create Rituals

The third way to create a sense of belonging is to create rituals. Rituals play a significant role in creating a sense of belonging within a team. They provide a shared experience and a sense of identity, fostering a feeling of unity and camaraderie. Rituals can take various forms, from formal traditions to informal inside jokes, and they contribute to the team’s culture and cohesion.

Whether it’s a team chant, a recurring icebreaker game, or a team-specific acronym, rituals create a sense of meaning and belonging. They establish a sense of familiarity and shared history, making team members feel like they are part of something special. However, it’s crucial to ensure that rituals include everyone and do not create an “us versus them” dynamic. Exclusionary rituals can have the opposite effect, alienating certain team members and undermining the sense of belonging.

4. Ask for Advice

The fourth way to create a sense of belonging is to ask for advice. Asking for advice is a powerful way to show team members that their knowledge and perspective are valued. It demonstrates trust and respect for their expertise, fostering a sense of belonging and empowerment. When team members see that their input is genuinely sought and considered, they feel more invested in the decision-making process and the overall success of the team.

Regularly ask for advice before making decisions, especially those that directly impact the team. This not only allows you to gather diverse perspectives but also reinforces the sense of belonging by involving team members in the decision-making process. When decisions are made, make sure to show how their advice contributed to the final outcome, further reinforcing their value and impact.

5. Model Active Listening

The final way to create a sense of belonging is to model active listening. Active listening is a fundamental skill that leaders and team members should cultivate to create a sense of belonging. It involves giving your full attention when team members are speaking, showing genuine interest and respect for their ideas and opinions. Non-verbal cues, such as nodding or smiling, can also signal active listening and encourage team members to share more openly. Additionally, asking follow-up questions and seeking clarification demonstrates a genuine desire to understand and engage with the speaker’s thoughts.

Leaders who model active listening train the team to respond similarly when interacting with each other. And that creates a culture where everyone is engaged because everyone feels respected. That not only increases a sense of belonging but increases how much information is being shared between teammates—and how many different ideas are being generated when problem solving.

Creating a sense of belonging within a team is essential for its success and productivity. By taking the actions discussed in this article, such as sharing information openly, sharing credit widely, creating rituals, asking for advice, and modeling active listening, you can foster a positive work environment where team members feel included, valued, and motivated. Remember, creating a sense of belonging takes time and effort, but the benefits are worth it. When team members feel a strong sense of belonging, they are more likely to be engaged, committed, and willing to go the extra mile. In other words, they’ll be better able to do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pixabay

Originally published on on July 17, 2023

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Six Causes of Employee Burnout

GUEST POST from David Burkus

There’s this simple misconception when it comes to burnout. We tend to think that burnout comes from just working too hard—putting in too many hours per week, exerting too much energy, and tipping your work-life scale out of balance. As a result, leaders and companies have sought to combat burnout by offering “rest” as a generic cure-all for their drained and disengaged people.

They’ve added greater flexibility programs (even before the pandemic), brought self-care opportunities into the office, and some have even become more serious about vacation time. And these programs aren’t without benefit, but it became obvious fairly quickly that the returns on the rest investments were limited (again, even before the pandemic added new stress).

The reason is that burnout comes from many sources—and anti-burnout efforts need to address all of these sources to truly be effective. So in this article, we’ll review the six true causes of burnout and offer some practical tips for leaders to mitigate the damage from these causes.

1. Excessive Workload

The first cause of burnout at work is excessive workload—and at first glance excessive workload looks like too much work. But excessive workload refers to juggling multiple projects, not having clarity on which one to focus on, and not knowing what next steps are for some. It’s not about hours worked, but rather the feeling that no matter how many hours are worked, work isn’t getting completed.

Excessive workload often sneaks up on the best performing people, because as they do good work, more work gets assigned to them. To prevent this, leaders need to keep track of how many projects they’re asking their people to take on. And if adding more to the workload, leaders can make priorities clear—even going so far as to state which projects are no longer a priority can go a long way to reducing excessive workload.

2. Poor Relationships

The second cause of burnout at work is poor relationships. Even if the workload of employees isn’t overwhelming and the project requirements aren’t confusing, doing the work with toxic colleagues can quickly lead to burnout. Poor relationships not only trigger feelings of dread as people begin the workday, but during the workday toxic coworkers can trigger many of the other causes of burnout on this list by being too demanding, too critical, or too lazy and adding to the workload of their colleagues as a result.

That’s why smart leaders focus on the relationships and cohesion of a team even more than they focus on whether the team is stacked with talented members. They know that individual performance is a function of team dynamics and work to build bonds on those teams. Leaders can help repair some of the relationship damage by seeking to create shared understanding between the team around differences in personality, preferences, and other contextual factors of the team. In addition, creating shared identity among members reinforces the idea that they’re truly one team and need to put personal differences aside.

3. Lack of Control

The third cause of burnout at work is lack of control. Lack of control refers to how much (or rather how little) autonomy employees have over their work. When individuals get to have a say in what projects they take on, or at least how, when, and where they tackle those projects, they’re more motivated and produce better quality work. But when a micromanager is hovering over their shoulder (or virtually hovering via constant check-ins or monitoring software) then those same people become demotivated and burnt out.

Leaders can’t always decide what projects their teams work on, but there’s always creative ways to increase autonomy on the team. If the project itself is a must-do, then leaders can discuss with the team who does what to get it done. If the deadlines are nonnegotiable, teams can still decide what the checkpoints or smaller deadlines look like. It may not seem like much, but a little autonomy goes a long way toward soothing burnout.

4. Lack of Recognition

The fourth cause of burnout at work is a lack of recognition. When people feel like they’re good work isn’t noticed, it becomes harder and harder for them to motivate themselves to keep working. And when they’re juggling multiple projects through excessive workload or juggling multiple toxic coworkers because of poor relationships, a lack of recognition compounds the problem. It’s difficult to take the time each day or each week to recognize each person’s contribution, especially when the demands of the work keep rising.

But it’s essential that leaders find time to praise the people on their team and express gratitude for their contribution. Moreover, it’s vital that leaders connect that recognition to the work with as little delay as possible. Just keeping track of wins and sharing them later in the annual performance review may get those wins documented, but it won’t reduce burnout in the people performing the work unless those wins are praised in the moment as well.

5. Lack of Fairness

The fifth cause of burnout at work is a lack of fairness. Doing great work and having it noticed is important, but feeling like that work is not getting as much notice as mediocre work done by another person or team can quickly diminish any positive effect from recognition. Likewise, feeling like another person or team is cutting corners or breaking rules and not being sufficiently reprimanded can spike feelings of unfairness that lead to burnout.

Depending on their power or place in the organizational chart, leaders may not be able to do much about an overall lack of fairness in the company. However, that doesn’t mean they’re powerless. In situations of unfair recognition, leaders can fight for the team to get greater notice and make sure people notice the fight. But in situations of unethical behavior, sometimes the best thing is to lead their team to a more just organization.

6. Purpose Mismatch

The final cause of burnout at work is a mismatch between the company’s purpose and the personal purpose or values of the individual. We want to do work that matters, and we want to work for leaders who tell us that we matter. But often in the quest to define an organizational mission statement, grandiose visions about stakeholders and society can actually blur an individuals’ ability to see how their work contributors to something so big. Or, if they see it, they may not feel as inspired about it as the senior leaders who wrote it during a consultant-led offsite and the lavish retreat center.

Smart leaders know their people’s values and what aspect of the work resonates most with them, and they know how to reinforce how the day-to-day work meets that personal desire for purpose. Most often, this is best done by connecting the team’s tasks to the people who are directly served by the team. We often think of purpose as “why we do what we do” but for many people, purpose is better stated as “who we help through the work that we do.”


Looking at the full list, it becomes apparent why merely reducing hours worked or adding a few self-care programs falls short of banishing burnout. Leaders need to take care of more than just the physical when it comes to keeping people productive and healthy. They need to talk about purpose, and make sure that purpose is being served in fair way. They need to make sure people have a clear picture of expectations and are recognized when they meet those expectations. By addressing all of these causes, leaders can turn their culture from one that drains people to one that leaves them feeling more energized than when they started. And that will make a huge difference in whether or not people feel burnt out or whether they feel like they’re doing their best work ever.

If you prefer a video version of this article, you will find it here:

Image credit: Pexels

Originally published on LinkedIn on December 21, 2021

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Companies Are Not Families

Companies Are Not Families

GUEST POST from David Burkus

It’s unclear where the metaphor got started. In fact, it probably didn’t start as a metaphor (“we are a family”); it probably started as a simile (“we are like a family”). Some well-meaning executive somewhere described the company culture as feeling like a family. (That a high-powered CEO would feel like the paternalistic chief of anything is a dilemma for a different article).

Over time, more and more corporate leaders started using “like family” until logically one decided to take it to the next level and skip the “like” altogether boasting “we’re a family.”

But a company is not a family.

And further a company shouldn’t be a family.

When companies began to overuse the family analogy, results are rarely positive. Instead, pushing for family levels of commitment can actually do damage to the culture. And in this article, we’ll outline the ways that the “family” metaphor can lead to dysfunction. As well as the steps team leaders can take to transform their dysfunctional fake families back into the thriving work teams they were trying to build in the first place.

[Watch the Video Above or Keep Scrolling to Read]

What Happens When We’re “Family”

Misusing the “family” metaphor at work can lead to several ways employees get abused. Three in particular stand out.

1. Work/Life Boundaries Get Blurred

Many of the organizations that emphasize the family feel end up taking actions that blur the lines between work and life for most employees. This was seen much more often before the pandemic, when companies flouted free food, dry cleaning, endless parties, and all sorts of amenities designed to make life as easy as possible—as long as you never left work. But that became a problem unto itself. Employees never left work, opting to spend more and more time with their “work family” but never getting the downtime needed to be sustainably productive.

Committed Employees Get Taken Advantage Of

When companies or even team leaders overemphasize the family metaphor, the next logical step is asking for family-level committed from employees. This creates a lot of opportunities for leaders to take advantage of employees. One project after another gets taken on, without considering existing commitments and making it difficult for employees to say no. Beyond overload, over-committed employees can also be asked to commit more and more unethical actions. When the survival of the company—sorry, the family—is a stake, employees can feel pressured to use any means necessary. See Theranos or WeWork for two recent examples.

3. Departing Employees Get Labeled as Betrayers

If those employees decide the don’t like blurry boundaries (around work and life or around ethics) and choose to move on—that creates a whole new issue. In organizations that overemphasize family, it becomes easy to label to departures as a form of betrayal. It’s not uncommon for companies to cut off all communication with former employees and instruct their people to do the same. Beyond being just plain wrong, this mindset can actually limit a company—since research shows former colleagues that stay connected become potent sources new knowledge for each other and their new employers.

What’s Wrong With Team?

The intent behind labeling a company as a family might have been noble. We want a strong culture or people bonded to each other and pushing each other to new levels of performance. But if that’s what we want, what’s wrong with just calling that a team? Strong teams deliver exactly that. And whether you’re in a company that’s abusing the family metaphor or not, here’s a few actions you can take to build a stronger team.

1. Redefine Purpose

One of the reasons for choosing the family metaphor was a poorly executed attempt at bonding teams and organizations together. But just saying you’re a family doesn’t build bonds. Instead, research suggests that one of the most potent ways to bond a team is by pointing to super-ordinate goals—goals so big they require collaboration. And for organizations, the super-ordinate goal is most often the stated purpose or mission. But even here, there’s work to be done. Most organizations write lofty mission statements that are difficult for employees to connect with. It falls on team leaders to translate that lofty purpose into one that bonds and motivates. And the best way to do that is to redefine it from a big and bold “why” (why do we do what we do?) to a specific “who” (who is helped by the work that we do).

2. Encourage Boundaries

Despite what it may seem like at first, committed employees isn’t always a positive. The line between committed and over-committed people is incredibly thin. Many managers think they want people who will work until the project is done—arriving early and staying late if need be. But the truth is that in a modern economy, work is never done. So, the only way to stay sustainably productive is to make sure every employee enjoys down time as well. More and more companies are experimenting with ways to encourage boundaries such as forbidding after hours email, moving to four-day workweeks, and even paying people to take their vacation time. And results all suggest the same thing: time away from work makes work better.

3. Celebrate Departures

No matter how committed employees are some of them will move on. New opportunities present themselves. Life changes happen. And so do plenty of other reasons for an employee to look elsewhere. In the face of this inevitability, treating departures like betrayals never made sense. Instead, departures ought to be celebrated. Employees who leave on good terms ought to be seen as alumni representing the organization even in their new endeavors. In addition to information, departing employees become a powerful new source of referrals for new hires too. There is no better recruiter than a satisfied former employee now working in a new company talking with their potentially dissatisfied new colleagues. In addition, treating employees well as they’re departing has a motivating effect on the employees who stay, as they watch how positively their former colleagues were treated and trust that they’ll be treated the same one day too.

Calling your company a family, may have been a well-meaning metaphor, but it hasn’t been a very useful one. Most employees don’t want a dysfunctional family. They want a team that’s bonded through purpose and built on trust and respect. They don’t want to be seen as family one day and divorced family the next. They want to know their contribution was valuable even after they leave. They don’t want leaders who over-commit and abuse them.

They want leaders who help them do their best work ever.

Image credit: David Burkus

Originally published on LinkedIn on December 9, 2021

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Five Ways to Make People Feel Heard

Five Ways to Make People Feel Heard

GUEST POST from David Burkus

One of the most common complaints among disengaged employees is about not feeling heard, not being seen or recognized for what they do, who they are and what they are experiencing. As a leader, a lot of this frustration may stem from you. When people approach you with their problems and you jump right to give advice, you may feel you’re helping their problem…but you’re not helping them feel heard. And if they don’t feel heard, they’re not really hearing your advice anyway. Other times people speak up to share a new idea and get met with a quick retort about lack of budget or previous, similar ideas that didn’t work. You may think you’re helping move the conversation along, but you’re more likely causing team members to want to move along to find a new leader.

In this article, we’ll outline how to make people feel heard through five actions leaders can take to send the message that they are listening and respecting the contribution every member of their team is making.

1. Model Active Listening

The first way to make people feel heard is to model active listening. There’s no faster way to make someone feel ignored than to…ignore them. But in an era of constant distractions fighting for our attention, it can be difficult to focus in on someone sharing, and even more difficult to communicate that you are focused. That’s where active listening comes in. Make sure you’re truly centering your attention on them, receiving what they have to say. In addition, demonstrate your attention through non-verbals like nodding and gesturing. Before you take a turn responding, try to summarize what you heard and check for understanding. As you demonstrate active listening, you’ll find your team members feel more heard, but also that they hear each other better as well.

2. Praise The Contribution

The second way to make people feel heard is to praise their contribution, even if you disagree with their idea. Recognizing and appreciating their willingness to share their thoughts fosters a sense of validation and encourages continued participation. Highlighting the positive aspects of their contribution is crucial in creating an inclusive environment. By focusing on what they did well, you acknowledge their effort and encourage them to further develop their ideas. Moreover, praising contributions can also inspire others to share their thoughts and opinions. When individuals witness positive reinforcement, they are more likely to feel comfortable expressing their own ideas, leading to a more diverse and innovative team dynamic.

3. Challenge Assumptions, Not Ideas

The third way to make people feel heard is to challenge assumptions, not ideas. There may well be ideas shared in team meetings you want to push back on or challenge. But it’s important to maintain that feeling that you’re hearing and considering those ideas. So instead of criticizing the person or the idea directly, a more constructive approach is to question the assumptions behind their ideas. This allows for a deeper understanding of their thought process and encourages open-mindedness. Avoiding personal criticism is essential in maintaining a respectful and inclusive environment. By focusing on the assumptions, you shift the conversation towards exploring different perspectives and finding common ground. Asking questions to delve into the assumptions behind the idea not only demonstrates a genuine interest in understanding their viewpoint but also encourages critical thinking and fosters a culture of collaboration.

4. Questions Before Advice

The fourth way to make people feel heard is to ask questions before offering advice. Before providing advice, it is crucial to focus on understanding the problem at hand. By asking questions, you allow the person to feel heard and understood, creating a safe space for them to share their thoughts and concerns. Asking follow-up questions helps to delve deeper into the situation, uncovering underlying factors that may not be immediately apparent. This thorough understanding enables you to provide more relevant and effective advice. Show empathy throughout the conversation, acknowledging their emotions and experiences. By creating a safe and supportive environment, individuals are more likely to open up and engage in meaningful dialogue.

5. Addition Before Subtraction

The final way to make people feel heard is to add before you subtract, meaning build upon their existing idea or comments before challenging anything you heard. When offering feedback or criticism, it is essential to always start by highlighting the positive aspects of what was shared. By acknowledging the strengths and value of their contribution, you create a more receptive atmosphere. Even better, when you build upon the idea you demonstrate how much you value it. If you must offer constructive feedback and suggestions for improvement, focus on growth and development rather than solely pointing out flaws. This approach encourages individuals to embrace feedback as an opportunity for growth rather than feeling discouraged. Building on strengths and encouraging growth fosters a positive and supportive environment. By emphasizing the positive aspects, you inspire individuals to continue sharing their ideas and contribute to the team’s success.

Making people feel heard is a fundamental aspect of effective leadership. By modeling active listening, praising contributions, questioning assumptions, asking questions before offering advice, and focusing on addition before subtraction, leaders can create an inclusive and empowering environment. When individuals feel valued and understood, they are more motivated to contribute their ideas, leading to better outcomes and improved team culture. By implementing these tactics, leaders can foster a culture where everyone can do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pexels

Originally published at on July 10, 2023

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What Differentiates High Performing Teams

What Differentiates High Performing Teams

GUEST POST from David Burkus

How do you build a high performing team?

If you think like most people, you will start with acquisition. You will start by thinking about how you can convince higher performing people to join the team. But the truth is that the so called “War For Talent” this acquisition mindset kicked off wasn’t worth the cost. It’s not that there’s no such thing as high performing individuals, it’s that high performance is highly dependent on team dynamics. Research from Boris Groysberg and others found that most of individual performance was actually explained by the team dynamics, company resources, and a few other factors outside of the individual’s control.

In other words, talent doesn’t make the team. The team makes the talent.

And when you examine the inner workings of high performing teams, you start to see just how powerful team dynamics truly are. High performing teams do just about everything differently.

And in this article, we’ll outline four specific behaviors high performing teams do differently, as well as the research that supports these behaviors, in order to help you transform the dynamics of your team.

Watch the full video or keep scrolling to read.

Bursty Communication

The first behavior that high performing teams do differently is that they communicate in bursts. You may think that successful teams are in constant communication with each other, or you may tell yourself that as you find yet another meeting added to your calendar. But research from Anita Williams Wooley and Christoph Reidl suggests that high performing teams have calendars marked by long periods of alone time. That’s not to say they don’t communicate, but rather they’ve mastered how to come together quickly, communicate necessary information, and then break apart in order to execute.

If you want to communicate in bursts, consider copying the format of the daily standup or “scrum” from the Agile software development method. In a scrum, team members circle up quickly and give status updates (What did I just complete? What am I focused on next? What’s blocking my progress) before adjourning to focus on work. It doesn’t have to be daily, but a regular burst of status updates that allows teammates to know what’s going on and how they can help would likely achieve everything a 2-hour weekly all-hands does and leaves a lot more time for real work to get done.

Respectful Conflict

The second behavior that high performing teams do differently is that they harness respectful conflict. Successful teams have just as much conflict as lower performing teams, but that conflict feels different—because it is different. A lack of conflict on a team is more often a liability than a strength. Lack of conflict is either a signal that there’s not original thinking on the team, or that there is but those teammates don’t feel psychologically safe enough to express their original thinking.

Respectful conflict means that high performing teams embrace these differences of opinion and debate them in a way that ensures the best solutions are found. Research from Charlan Namath found that teams who used respectful conflict when generating ideas created 25 percent more ideas and generated higher quality ideas as well. Think about that the next time your team must solve a problem. Anytime people actually “think outside the box,” there is going to be conflict. The difference is how leaders, and the whole team, respond to that conflict. You can frame competing ideas as something to push against, or as something that pushes the team to better solutions.

Authentic Connection

The third behavior high performing teams do differently is that they build authentic connections. They work toward a collective understanding that goes beyond knowing each other’s roles and responsibilities, and even beyond knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Instead, successful teams build connection with each other around non-work topics as well. Researcher Jessica Methot calls these connections “multiplex ties” after the multitude of contexts built between different people.

Building multiplex ties means you build commonalities with teammates about multiple facets of their lives. And Methot’s research suggests that the result is higher performance, longer tenure, greater social support, and a host of other benefits. In addition, her research suggests that building authentic connections isn’t about elaborate team-building rituals, instead, it’s about small talk. Those unstructured moments before and after meetings, or the evening after conferences or company events, those are the moments when people self-disclose the multiple facets of their lives and, in doing so, build multiplex ties.

Generous Appreciation

The last behavior that high performing teams do differently is that they offer generous appreciation. There is a constant clement of praise and appreciation running through their discussions—bursty or not. Research from Ron Friedman and his team suggests that individuals on high-performing teams were 44 percent more likely to compliment or give praise to their colleagues and show appreciation for the work their colleagues do on any given day. This is more than just offering a quick round of praise at the monthly meeting or putting compliments on either end of constructive criticism. Instead, generous appreciation comes from a genuine place of appreciating that one’s ability to perform is dependent on others, and that means every individual success is a team-wide win.

How do you build a culture of generous appreciation on your team? You model the way. You praise people regularly and randomly. You catch them doing something right and you praise it publicly. And you even publicly praise when you catch them praising each other as well. The more you praise the right behavior, the more of it you get.

Leading by Example

In fact, modeling the way as a leader is a constant throughout these four behaviors. Because bursty communication requires a team leader who will model the way by structuring (and reducing) meetings to allow for it. Likewise, when conflict arises, teams are looking to the team leader to model the way in responding respectfully. And teams that build authentic connections have leaders who model the way by being authentically interested in the lives of their people. You could say that high performing teams do things differently, because they have leaders who do things differently. And in doing so, those leaders help the team do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pixabay

Originally published at on January 17, 2022

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Five Simple Things Great Leaders Do

Five Simple Things Great Leaders Do

GUEST POST from David Burkus

When you start out your career, you’re most often an individual contributor. And in that role your knowledge and skills are most important. But if you do that role well, you’ll likely be asked to consider becoming a leader. And in leadership, the methods you relied on to be a great employee don’t often help you become a great leader. Those skills will rarely help encourage and coach others to be great employees. Being a great leader requires a new toolkit.

As Marshall Goldsmith often says “What got you here, won’t get you there.”

In this article, we’ll discuss what will actually get you there. We’ll outline five ways to become a great leader —
whether it’s your first leadership role or your fiftieth.

1. Give Clear Expectations

The first way to become a great leader is to give clear expectations. In order to perform adequately (or higher), people need clarity. Teams need to know what’s expected of them, by when, and how they’re supposed to deliver it. And they need to know the priorities behind various tasks—what is most important, least important, and what’s in the middle. The challenge is that many leaders think that saying what they expect once is sufficient. And that might work in a static environment. But in a rapidly changing one, expectations and priorities can change quickly. So, leaders need to be clear about expectations and clear about when changes have happened and so expectations have also changed. And the same is true for priorities. It’s not enough for leaders to set expectations once, great leaders check-in constantly and revise their expectations accordingly.

2. Ask For Input

The second way to become a great leader is to ask for input. Often leaders can assume their primary job is solving problems and providing answers. They were promoted into a leadership role because of their outstanding knowledge and performance, and their team often comes to them with problems. So, their job must be to supply answers. Right? But great leaders don’t assume they have all the answers. Instead, they ask the team for input on nearly every decision of consequence. Great leaders know that doing so increases how much information will get captured and how many solutions will be generated. They also know that coming out of those requests for input will be team members who feel heard, and hence valued. And great leaders know that any suggestions they make can quickly be interpreted as orders—so they’re careful not to offer those suggestions until everyone has had a chance to be heard.

3. Share Your Reasoning

The third way to become a great leader is to share your reasoning. While great leaders seek out input from as many sources as possible, the final decision often rests on them. When that happens, great leaders know to share the reasoning behind their decision—not just the decision itself. Sharing the reasoning behind decisions is a way to reinforce the input that was considered before making the decision—which is especially helpful for those who may have desired a different decision. But sharing the reasoning also helps train the team on how their leader thinks—which is especially helpful when teams or team members bring their problems to the leader. Overtime, teaching team members to reason like their leader makes it more likely they’ll be able to solve the problem on their own next time. The more often leaders share their reasoning, the less often they’ll have to make a decision—because the team gets trained to reason the same way.

4. Stay Purpose Focused

The fourth way to become a great leader is to stay purpose focused. Great leaders keep the team focused on the mission, vision, and values of the organization but more importantly, how that specific team’s work helps serve that mission. It’s not enough for an organization to have a fancy vision or a compelling mission. Whether that mission actually motivates is determined at the team-level. That’s why great leaders know how to translate that larger mission into the day-to-day tasks of the team and bring meaning to the metrics the team is being assessed on. One of the most powerful ways leaders do this is by helping the team answer the question “Who is served by the work that we do?” and then build reminders to keep that answer top of mind. People want to do work that matters, and work for leaders who tell them they matter.

5. Care

The fifth way to become a great leader is to care. That’s the secret behind how great leaders tell their people they matter—those great leaders believe it. They genuinely care about the team they’re leading. They care enough to know about team members career desires and life goals, and they care enough to help each member fulfil those desires and goals in their work. Moreover, great leaders remind their people on a regular basis how much they care. The things leaders do to remind the team about its purpose are good, but the things they do to remind them they matter are great. And they can’t be faked. Great leaders genuinely care.

And even though it’s the fifth way, caring might be the most important one. You have to care for the people in your charge in order to put them first and serve them as a truly great leader. All the other ways will become easier if you start with caring. You’ll find you give clear expectation, ask for input, share your reasoning, and stay purpose focused. And over time you’ll find that caring, and employing all these methods, will help everyone on your team do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pixabay

Originally published at on April 17, 2023

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5 Secrets to Building Smarter Teams

5 Secrets to Building Smarter Teams

GUEST POST from David Burkus

One of the most fascinating concepts in the study of teamwork and collaboration is the concept of collective intelligence—the idea that when teams collaborate exceptionally well, they tap into a reservoir of knowledge and abilities that exceed the sum of each individual’s capability. Research led by Anita Williams Wooley helped solidified this theory with evidence that some teams truly did perform better than merely the average of the individual team member’s abilities.

Perhaps more surprisingly, teams who managed to achieve collective intelligence did so on a variety of tasks—even tasks for which some teams had individual members whose knowledge and abilities were uniquely suited. In other words, talent didn’t make the team. The team made the talent.

But taking a team from individually talented to collectively intelligent can be tricky. In this article, we’ll outline what makes a team smarter through five evidence-based actions.

1. Leverage Diversity

The first action that makes a team smarter is to leverage diversity. It’s undeniable at this point that diverse teams perform better than homogenous ones. However, many teams and organizations achieve a level of diversity but fail to experience the benefits. Simply put they’re not leveraging diversity. The reason is that diversity in its commonly used definition (racial, ethnic, gender, etc.) is intended to lead to an intellectual diversity on the team. But often it doesn’t. New members join the team and increase the surface level diversity but either don’t bring different perspectives or don’t feel safe and included enough to express their different perspectives. Great teams leverage diversity by creating the psychological safety that allows those differing ideas and opinions. And in doing so make the whole team smarter.

2. Build Empathy

The second action that makes a team smarter is to build empathy. And when seeking to leverage diversity, building empathy isn’t a suggested action but a requirement. Building empathy on work teams doesn’t mean the same as empathy in personal relationships—teams don’t have to get to the level of empathy where they feel each other’s pain. But they do need to understand the different perspectives, preferences, and contexts of their teammates. And more importantly, they have to recognize the validity of those perspectives and preferences even if they disagree. This type of empathy is built through exercises that draw out those differences—it could be personality testing and group discussion, but it could also be in holding team charter meetings or sharing “manuals of me.” These exercises not only draw out differences, but they create a set of team norms that help the team perform and make the whole team smarter.

3. Take Turns Sharing

The third action that makes a team smarter is to take turns sharing. While teams are building those norms, enforcing conversational turn taking will likely be one of the most effective ones. That’s because Wooley’s research suggests turn taking in conversation is one of the strongest correlated actions to the experience of collective intelligence. But most teams don’t do this. Instead, they defer to the “hippo” (highest paid person’s opinion), or they allow a few over-talkers to dominate every meeting. High-performing, collectively intelligent teams do the opposite. They have rules and rhythms in place to ensure that everyone on the team is given an equal chance to share their input. And their leaders don’t make decisions without knowing they’ve heard from everyone. Doing so makes the leader’s decision better because it makes the whole team smarter.

4. Listen Actively

The fourth action that makes a team smarter is to listen actively. It’s great to take turns and make sure everyone has a chance to speak, but unless they’re truly heard the team doesn’t get any smarter. And unless they feel truly heard, they likely won’t feel comfortable sharing much longer. That means making sure each member of the team is committed to actively listening and responding with respect when others share. On teams, leaders model the way on active listening. When leaders make consistent eye contact and use nonverbals to demonstrate connection, they train others on the team to do so. And when leaders resist the urge to jump in and share immediately, and instead ask follow-up questions that draw more information out, their behavior often gets copied on the team. That helps everyone feel their perspective is valued and makes the whole team smarter.

5. Equalize Status

The fifth action that makes a team smarter is to equalize status. As we’ve discussed above, often what shuts down a conversation and keeps a team from being collectively intelligent is defaulting to the highest status person in the room—whether it’s the leader or an over-talker. That person speaking too early or too forcefully in the conversation sets a tone that everyone else is responding too and can often trigger self-censoring behaviors in teammates. That’s why high-performing, collectively intelligent teams create methods to equalize status and reinforce the idea that—as long as we’re in discussion—all ideas are of equal value. Some teams even use symbols or gestures (like removing titles or status markers) to reinforce equality. When teams create a feeling of equal status on a team, the discussion gets better and the whole team gets smarter.

And as a team leader, the actions taken to equalize status are likely the best place to start. Equal teams are better able to leverage diversity and build empathy. Equal teams are more likely to take turns sharing and demonstrate active listening. Focusing on equalizing status first makes it more likely the team is able to tap into collective knowledge—to truly be smarter. And when teams get smarter they make it more likely everyone on the team can do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pexels

Originally published at on May 30, 2023

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5 Simple Steps to Team Alignment

5 Simple Steps to Team Alignment

GUEST POST from David Burkus

So much of the struggle of working on teams comes down to one key task: getting a team aligned. Aligned teams lead to better engagement, performance, and retention. Getting and keeping a team aligned is a key task for leaders at all levels. But recognizing the importance of alignment is a lot easier than actually getting everyone on the same page.

Team alignment means everyone contributes toward a shared goal, understands their assigned tasks, and sees how their work fits into the team’s work. But teams are composed of people and people bring their own individual goals, desired tasks, and sense of contribution that may or may not fit well with others.

In this article, we will explore how to get a team aligned across five steps of creating, and then keeping alignment.

Step 1: Start from Purpose

The first step in how to get a team aligned is starting from purpose. Before setting a plan of action, goals, and key performance indicators, teams need to focus on the reason they’re working on that project. This begins with the organizational mission, as it sets the tone for the team’s purpose and helps everyone understand the bigger picture. Once the mission is defined, it can be translated into a team-wide purpose—a clearly defined statement of why that team’s work is important and how it fits into the organizational mission.

Starting from purpose is key to keeping the team motivated and providing them with task significance that helps them stay focused when the day-to-day tasks get tedious or strenuous. But starting from purpose also helps teams deal with change. Changes are going to happen to the team—internal and external changes are going to force the team to pivot. But if everyone on the team has a clear picture of the team-wide purpose, then they can pivot quickly and still trust they’re making progress on their purpose.

Step 2: Establish Priorities

The second step in how to get a team aligned is establishing priorities. Once the end goal is defined, the team can turn its attention to getting there. Any project carries with it dozens of tasks and subtasks that have to be arranged in a specific order—and that bring with them a certain level of importance. That’s what establishing priorities is all about. Once the tasks are identified, they should be ranked in order of importance. This ranking should be communicated to the team, so everyone understands what tasks are most important and what they should be working on.

Just like starting from purpose, establishing priorities helps keep the team focused and updated on changes. When those inevitable changes happen, they may or may not affect the ranking of priorities. So, in the face of changes, leaders need to be clear on what tasks stay critical, what new tasks are important, and what tasks were lowered. In this way, keeping priorities clear is vital to keeping a team aligned.

Step 3: Set Team Goals

The third step in how to get a team aligned is setting team goals. With purpose in focus and priorities set, it’s time to map out how the team will act on their plan. Some teams use complex metrics like KPIs and OKRs. But if you don’t know what either acronym stands for that’s okay. Fundamentally, setting team goals involves working backwards from completion and creating milestones that will be used to monitor progress, provide feedback, and create moments of celebration.

Whatever system is used, leaders need to ensure people know what the most important goals are, as well as how they’re being measured. And leaders need to ensure people know what is expected of them and by when, and how it fits into the series of cascading goals. This makes holding teammates accountable for performance easier—but it also makes it easier for everyone to celebrate their own wins and the wins of their teammates.

Step 4: Hold Regular Huddles

The fourth step in how to get a team aligned is holding regular huddles. Huddles are the quick meetings team members have on a regular basis to “work out loud” and keep everyone updated on progress and potential roadblocks. It helps keep everyone on the same page and ensures that everyone is aware of what is happening. How often these huddles happen depends on the team and the project.

Regardless of frequency, one easy format for leaders to adopt in their huddles centers around three questions: what did I just complete?, what am I focused on next?, and what is blocking my progress? When each person on the team provides an answer to each question, then everyone on the team gets a status update, gets to know how their work fits into the work of others, and gets to ask for and offer help across the team.

Step 5: Check-in Often

The final step in how to get a team aligned is checking in often—and this happens on the individual level from leaders to individual teammates. Check-ins help leaders keep tabs on progress, give coaching, and align individual goals with team and organizational goals. And Check-Ins keep team members motivated and ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals.

In addition to team-wide huddles, regular one-on-one meetings should be held with team members to discuss progress, challenges, and individual goals. Leaders should encourage transparency and honesty during these meetings. This helps them understand what is happening and how they can help. This is also a great time to have more forward-looking conversations about the individual’s career goals and ambitions and how the current projects can help serve as development opportunities for them. The information gathered during Check-In meetings can be used to get team members more meaningful work and keep them motivated.

Team alignment is crucial for the success of any team. By starting from purpose, establishing priorities, setting team goals, holding regular huddles, and checking in often at the individual level, leaders can keep their team aligned and performing at their best. An aligned team is a team that helps everyone do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pixabay

Originally published at on June 19, 2023

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Building Teams with a Culture Of Trust

Building Teams with a Culture Of Trust

GUEST POST from David Burkus

Trust is the foundation of any successful team. Without trust, team members will not feel comfortable sharing their ideas, taking risks, or admitting their mistakes. Building a culture of trust on a team is crucial for achieving better results, higher levels of engagement, and less stress.

But first, we need to confront a brutal truth up front: trust alone is not enough. What teams need is a culture of psychological safety. When team members feel safe to express their opinions and ideas without fear of judgment or retribution, they are more likely to take risks and share their failures.

And the process of building psychological safety on a team has three stages: trust, risk, and respect. In this article, we will explore the three stages of and offer some advice on how leaders can guide their team through each one.

Stage 1: Trust

The first stage of building a culture of psychological safety on a team is trust. Team members need to trust each other before anyone takes any interpersonal risk like speaking up or disagreeing. And while many leaders go to elaborate lengths like trust falls, team-building activities, and personality tests, for most teams, trust is built by building relationships. People trust people they know and like. And for teams, that means finding uncommon commonalities between members of the team. When team members share their interests, hobbies, and personal stories, they can find common ground and build rapport. This can lead to more open and honest communication, which is essential for building trust.

The most common way leaders can help team members find uncommon commonalities is by creating unstructured moments for conversation. This could be through shared meals, shared activities, or even just small moments before or after meetings when the conversation drifts away from work. When team members have the opportunity to connect on a personal level, they can build relationships beyond their work roles and that builds trust in their work roles.

Stage 2: Risk

The second stage of building a culture of psychological safety on a team is risk. Once team members trust each other, they’re more willing to take risks. Risk-taking involves being vulnerable and sharing failures. It also involves airing disagreements. And can even mean sharing a “crazy” idea that’s outside the norm. All of those moments are forms of interpersonal risk—and teams need those risks. When team members take risks, they are more likely to come up with innovative ideas and solutions. However, taking risks can be scary, especially if team members do not feel safe to share their failures.

The most common way leaders can help team members take more risks is by modeling the way as a leader and being vulnerable first. When leaders share their own failures, or at a minimum admit when their weakness or doubts, they demonstrate that they are trusting the team. And when people feel trusted, they’re more likely to respond with trustworthy behavior and to trust the person being vulnerable more—which makes it more likely they’ll take interpersonal risks in the future too.

Stage 3: Respect

The final stage of building a culture of psychological safety on a team is respect. Respect happens after the risk—and is all about how people respond to one another’s risk-taking. It’s great to build small amounts of trust on a team, and great when people start to take interpersonal risks. But when someone speaks up, airs a disagreement, or admits a failure and they don’t feel heard, respected, and cared for—their trust is immediately diminished. And the trust levels of anyone watching the exchange go down as well. That’s the reason trust on a team is not enough. Trust needs to lead to risk taking which leads to respectful responses—otherwise the level of trust stays low.

The most common way leaders can help team members respond respectful is by practicing active listening. When vulnerable moments occur, leaders need to be focused on the person sharing, offer non-verbals that encourage more sharing, and ask clarifying questions to draw out even more. If leaders are focused elsewhere or snapping back with quick responses or criticisms, then not only does the person sharing feel slighted, but the team also begins to believe that is how to respond to divergent ideas. In contrast, active listening signals respect, which increases trust and encourages more sharing in the future, which offers more opportunities to signal respect.

In that way, the cycle of trust, risk, and respect operates like a flywheel and needs to be consistently maintained to keep the culture of trust high. By finding uncommon commonalities that build trust, encouraging interpersonal risk-taking, and responding to risk-taking with respect, teams can continue to increase their level of psychological safety—and provide a climate where everyone can do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pixabay

Originally published at on June 12, 2023

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