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.

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 https://davidburkus.com 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 https://davidburkus.com 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 https://davidburkus.com 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 https://davidburkus.com 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 https://davidburkus.com on June 12, 2023

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Six Leadership Myths Sabotaging Your Team

Six Leadership Myths Sabotaging Your Team

GUEST POST from David Burkus

We all arrive at leadership with certain preconceptions about what makes a successful leader.

Sometimes we form an idea of what great leaders do based on historical leaders or modern-day leaders who are always getting media attention. Other times we form a picture of great leadership based on our own past experiences—both leaders we’ve worked under and even what attributes got us promoted into leadership. But those are often anecdotes.

And the plural of anecdote is not data. When you look at the data on effective leaders, pretty quickly you notice that some of these notions are misconceptions or outright leadership myths.

In this article, we’ll outline six leadership myths that are holding you back as a leader and may even be ruining your team—if you believe them of course.

Myth 1: Your Title Is Your Power

The first leadership myth is that your title is your power. It’s great that you’ve been promoted into a leadership role, but the mere title of leader doesn’t actually give you a lot of power over the team. Sure, your name is one box higher than your team members on the organizational chart. But if you work for a large organization, you may not actually have much ability to fire or punish people without getting approval from your boss or from human resources. Instead of trying to gain “legitimate power,” new leaders are better served by gaining rapport or respect from their team (what’s often called referent power and expert power respectively). When your team feels connected to you and respects your expertise, they’re much more likely to be influenced by you than if you’re merely trying to command them.

Myth 2: You Need To Have The Answers

The second leadership myth is that you need to have all the answers. This myth is most common in new leaders. Often, it’s the individual contributors who are hugely productive and who often have all the answers that get promoted into leadership roles. You were promoted for your expertise, so you protect your expertise at all costs. But the longer you stay in a leadership role, the more likely it is that your people know how to do the work better than you do. Pretending you know better may actually trigger their disrespect. In addition, leaders gain a lot of trust among their team when they’re willing to say, “I don’t know” and then look to the team for answers or commit to finding the answers and bringing them back. You don’t need to have all the answers, you just need to be committed to helping your find them.

Myth 3: Your Style Works For Everyone

The third leadership myth is that your style works for everyone. This myth is most common with middle managers. In the first leadership role, you often develop your preferred leadership style. And it often works because you’re leading a team of people who do a lot of the same work. But as you move up in an organization, and as your “team” starts to be a collection of different roles with different preferences, your preferred style becomes less important. It stops being about how you want to lead and starts being about how they want to be led—and led on an individual level. The best leaders understand the motivations and skillsets of each of their people individually and adjust their leadership style accordingly.

Myth 4: Disagreement Equals Disrespect

The fourth leadership myth is that disagreement equals disrespect. When someone on a team speaks up and disagrees with your idea, it can be easy to become defensive and see their disagreement as an act of defiance. And while some people can be downright belligerent, most disagreement on a team is healthy. The best teams are marked by a sense of psychological safety where everyone feels free to speak up, to express themselves, and even admit failure. And when team members disagree respectfully with you, how you respond affects how much psychological safety the team feels. Treat conflict as collaboration and remember that task-focused disagreement not only helps improve your idea, it helps everyone on the team know their opinions are valued.

Myth 5: Silence Signals Consent

The fifth leadership myth is that silence signals consent. This myth is the reverse of the previous one. Disagreement does not equal disrespect but at the same time, no one saying anything doesn’t mean everyone agrees with you. It could be that they have disagreements, but don’t yet feel safe to share them. (Or it could mean that everyone agrees…which means your team might not get much independent thinking.) When you feel your team reaching consensus early, or when no one is pushing back on your ideas, you’ll have to look harder for disagreements and encourage more candor on the team. Be willing to wait in silence for someone to speak up. Then treat that conflict as collaboration and over time your team will be less and less silent.

Myth 6: Performance Is Personal

The sixth leadership myth is that performance is personal. This final myth is less of a leadership myth and more of an organizational one. For most organizations, performance is measured individually and performance reviews conducted individually. But great leaders know it takes a team effort, and a growing body of research suggests that most of individual performance is better explained by the resources and collaboration of the team as a whole—whether high performance or low. So, when coaching members of your team, remember to take into consideration that much of their performance isn’t something they can fix, but rather something in the system or on the team that they need you to fix.

As you review this list, one myth in particular probably stood out to you—depending on your style and your leadership journey. That reaction is a good signal that the particular myth is one to focus your attention on and work on improving. But keep a lookout for the other myths as well. You may not believe them, but you may need to defend your team from other leaders who do. And as you move from myth to reality, your team will move toward greater performance until eventually they, and you, are doing their best work ever.

Image credit: Pixabay

Originally published at https://davidburkus.com on January 30, 2023

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Five Secrets to Being a Great Team Player

Five Secrets to Being a Great Team Player

GUEST POST from David Burkus

Our world requires collaboration. Just about every job now requires collaborating on teams and every employee’s calendar is full of evidence of collaboration. In one study, up to 85% of participants’ work weeks were spent working in direct collaboration or a result of collaboration with a team.

But it can be difficult to collaborate with people whose perspectives, preferences, and personalities are different from our own. Still, getting what you want from your work and career requires being a great team player. And if you want to be a leader, you’ll need to be a great team player first. (And really…that will never stop…even leaders often lead in teams.)

In this article, we’ll outline the five (5) essential qualities needed to become a great team player—and offer a few ways to develop those qualities and get them noticed.

1. Capable

The first quality is that great team players are capable. This is a fundamental quality of anyone working, really. You must have the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to do the tasks being asked of you. But on teams, it’s just as important to be seen as capable by the other members of your team. The team needs to know they can rely on you—and that when you say you’ll have something completed it will be completed on time and as you said.

Working with teams, the way you demonstrate your capability is two-fold: Do what you say you’re going to do, and don’t say something you don’t know to be true. Over time, keeping these two commitments will demonstrate that you can be relied on—because you are capable.

2. Humble

The second quality is that great team players are humble. While great team players are capable, they also don’t think too highly of the skills and knowledge they have. Great team players don’t think little of themselves, they just understand that the needs of the team come before their own. Humble teammates aren’t fighting for their ideas to be heard all the time or seeking to dominate in debates. Instead, they use their voice to amplify others and contribute the bigger, team-wide wins.

Working with teams, humility is often inferred based on behavior in meetings, whether in-person or virtual. Humble teammates aren’t trying to be the lead role in the meeting, instead they’re often acting as a facilitator ensuring every teammate has a chance to speak. And when they do speak, it’s often to build upon others’ ideas instead of constantly insisting on their own.

3. Helpful

The third quality is that great team players are helpful. The best way to put capabilities and humility into practice is by helping others on the team—not constantly trying to convince others to help you. Great team players are the ones in meetings thinking about what they can contribute and how they can help others get unstuck. At the same time, it’s important to be careful not to over-help and lose the needed time to complete your own commitments.

Working with teams, the easiest way to assess your helpfulness is to audit your calendar. Look at everything scheduled on your calendar last week and compared the appointments that furthered your personal goals versus the appointments that helped others hit their goals. You don’t want helpful appointments to dominate, or even be half and half. But if 25 percent of your calendar is spent helping others, then it’s a safe assumption that they see you as helpful.

4. Flexible

The fourth quality is that great team players are flexible. As teams work to complete projects, changes will happen—pivots are required. All work requires flexibility. But often in the face of change many people respond by becoming more stubborn and insisting even more on their original ideas or plan of action. Great team players serve the team by reading the changes in the environment and helping the plan pivot quickly.

Working with teams, the most common changes that require flexibility often happen around priorities. New tasks get added to the team’s list, or environmental changes reshuffle what is urgent. When that happens, taking the lead to check-in with the team and discuss how changes affect priorities can keep the team more productive and keep you seen as a flexible, but high performer.

5. Purposeful

The fifth quality is that great team players are purposeful. All great teams have a sense of purpose behind their work—they know why their work matters and that keeps them bonded together and motivated to achieve more. Great team players amplify this purpose by becoming a source of supporting stories and constant reminders about that purpose. This includes not just talking about why the work that team does matters, but also how it fits into the larger mission or vision of the organization and why that matters.

Working with teams, the easiest way to reinforce purpose is to share gratitude on a regular basis. But not just any old thank you note. Purposeful gratitude expresses appreciation for the effort someone else put in, but also includes a reminder of how that effort helped serve the purpose of the team. Regularly done, it not only builds camaraderie amongst the team, but it also enhances motivation.

As you review this list, one or two qualities probably stood out as ones you already embodied—but one or two probably stood out as ones you need to work on. That’s true for nearly everyone, and it creates a great plan of action. Get started improving where you need to—and get started getting noticed where you already shine. That will help you not only raise your own performance, but help support everyone else on the team as they do their best work ever.

Image credit: Unsplash

Originally published at https://davidburkus.com on April 10, 2023

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Four Ways to Build Inclusive Teams

Four Ways to Build Inclusive Teams

GUEST POST from David Burkus

At the core of teamwork is the need to solve problems. And when generating solutions, the more diverse a team you have, the more ideas you can generate. Sort of. The rationale behind diversity being a strength on teams is solid. When you’ve built a team of various perspectives, experiences, skills, and abilities, each person brings that variety into discussions and more diverse ideas get generated. More ideas mean a better chance of finding the perfect solution.

But that’s not always what happens.

It turns out that diversity alone is not enough to turn a team of very different individuals into a very effective one. In fact, research suggests diversity alone on a team can actually diminish performance. It’s diversity, paired with a feeling of that diversity being valued that matters. In other words, its diversity plus inclusion.

In this, article, we’ll outline four ways to build inclusive teams to turn diversity into the strength we know it can be.

1. Share Information

The first way to build inclusive teams is to share information. There is no easier way to make people feel excluded than to give them the impression that others on the team or in the organization are getting access to more information and opportunities than they are. Saying that a certain bit of intel is on a “need to know” basis immediately makes people question why they “don’t need to know.” But the opposite is also true, when people receive what they perceive to be privileged intel, they feel like they matter and that they’re included.

For leaders, this means the goal should be to share information as liberally as possible. It means the default reaction to receiving new information should be to share it with your team. Obviously, there will always be information you receive and aren’t permitted to share. But unless it’s expressly stated that something is off limits, seek to share it on your team. Likewise, encourage others to share, and even over-share, information they receive. This not only helps the team feel more inclusive, but it also helps everyone make better decisions as well.

2. Build Trust

The second way to build inclusive teams is to build trust. Without trust, a team isn’t really a team. It’s just a bunch of strangers who work alongside each other. And without trust, there’s no way to foster inclusivity because there’s no one willing to be vulnerable, share differing opinions, or admit mistakes. Inclusive teams bring out the best ideas because people feel that they can be themselves—and that requires some level of prior trust built up before the act of expression.

For leaders, building trust often requires you to go first in being vulnerable. When you’re willing to admit mistakes (or even just that you don’t know) and when you share unknown qualities about you, the people on your team recognize that you are trusting them with that information. And some of them will respond in kind—and then when they’re vulnerable, others will respond in kind as well. Eventually, through this cycle of vulnerability and acceptance—you’ll take the trust on your team to a whole new level.

3. Train Respect

The third way to build inclusive teams is to train respect. It’s not enough just to be vulnerable and step out in trust. That act of vulnerability needs to be met with acceptance. In other words, people need to feel their trusting moment was respect. They need to feel that their opinions are respected, that their ideas aren’t quickly judged, and that their self-expressions aren’t being ridiculed. Some on the team may unconsciously signal respect already, but some may unconsciously signal disrespect, judgment or worse. Many times, people don’t know the response they make is perceive as disrespectful to the person who was vulnerable.

For leaders, this means modeling the way by demonstrating what respectful responses look like. Research suggests the number one reason for incivility in the workplace is leaders NOT being enough of a positive role model to train others. When teammates are sharing opinions—model active listening. When people share differing ideas—ask them questions inside of making judgements. Recognize when someone is stepping out in trust and meet that trust with respect in a way that all can see. Because when they can see you respecting others, they learn how to respond themselves.

4. Create Safety

The fourth way to build inclusive teams is to create safety. Safety here doesn’t refer to creating a “safe space.” There are no safe spaces—only safe people. Safety refers to psychological safety—a climate where team members feel safe to express themselves and take risks. (You could almost say that inclusion and psychological safety are synonymous—almost.) And while trust and respect make up a lot of psychological safety—how teams and individuals respond to setbacks, mistakes, and failures is a third crucial element. For people to feel accepted and included, they must know that you include their occasional failures and mistakes. And more importantly, creating psychological safety helps teams adopt a growth mindset and share in lessons from those mistakes as well.

For leaders, responding to failures happens in two different ways. The first is how you admit mistakes to your team. Do you seek to blame someone on the team, organization, or environment? Or do you take ownership and also share what you learned? The second is how you respond to mistakes on your team. Do you ask questions to find the learning moments, or do you focus solely on how the team can “make up for it”? Creating safety requires re-framing failure as a learning moment—your failures and also the team’s failures.

Speaking of failures, there will be some failures along the way toward building a more inclusive team. It’s going to take time. But as these four methods become habits, the team will rise in trust and respect and so will the feeling of inclusion. And when they’re feeling included, the whole team will be able to do their best work ever.

Image credit: Unsplash

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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.

Surveys

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.

Proxies

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.

Interviews

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).

Conclusion

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 https://davidburkus.com on February 25, 2023.

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