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Unleashed E58: David Burkus - The Surprising Science of High Performing Teams

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Recruiting the best talent doesn’t drive performance. Only 40% of a team’s performance is linked to the skills and knowledge of the individuals. The rest comes from how the team functions.

Today on Unleashed, Jeff speaks to David Burkus, a global expert on team dynamics and performance. David shares his three-part model for ensuring your teams are operating at the highest level.

Actions You Can Take Right Now

  1. Recognize that team function drives team performance, not the individual skills and knowledge of its members. Teams work best when they have Common Understanding, Psychological Safety, and Pro Social Purpose.
  2. Leaders must model the way! Employees report they don’t feel safe because most leaders don’t demonstrate respect and civility.
  3. Express your core purpose in a way that includes the who, not just the why. It turns out that knowing who we serve with our work is far more motivating than why we are doing it. 
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View or listen to this and other past episodes on the Unleashed Podcast Library

Episode Highlights and Excerpts

  • David is one of the world's leading thinkers in high-performance teams. His mission is “trying to make work not suck”. We all spend significant time and energy working, and it should be something fulfilling.
  • His research spans four decades of studies and data. The hardest part was synthesizing all that data.
  • The traits of high performing teams, according to David’s research, fall into three categories:
    • Common Understanding - team members have a commonly held view of the team’s expertise, tasks and projects, deliverables, the environment, and member preferences.
    • Psychological Safety – everyone feels safe to express themselves and take risks. Conflict is task focused not person focused.
    • Pro Social Purpose – every team member knows what their unique contribution is to the team and what the team contributes to others.
  • A great tool that teams can use to establish common understanding is a team working agreement or charter. This establishes team norms like how decisions will be made, how different communication modes are used (email, meetings, etc.), expectations of each member, etc.
  • Psychological safety and trust are not the same thing. Trust is a prerequisite to speaking out in a group, while safety has more to do with the respect and responses.
  • Most employees report that their leaders don’t model civility and respect, and that is why they don’t feel safe to express themselves. Leaders must model the way!
  • People are more motivated by who they serve than why they serve. Purpose statements should always clarify specifically who are the people being served by the work.
  • To enhance serving “the who”, managers should regularly express gratitude across departments. Support departments are motivated by seeing how they contribute to the whole of the organization.
  • It turns out that only 40% of team performance is attributed to the talents and skills of the individuals. A whopping 60% is team synergy and functionality. Yet managers spend more time acquiring great talent than focusing on improving team function.
  • There is a two-way link between engagement and performance. High performance leads to higher engagement and higher engagement drives improved performance.
  • Mediocre managers confuse presence with performance. They assume if people are “at work” long hours, they are performing better than those who aren’t. This is getting more relevant as work and life blend and we move to more hybrid work environments.
  • David predicts we might be moving towards organizational structures that Charles Handy called Shamrock Organizationsa structure “based around a core of essential executives and workers supported by outside contractors and part-time help”

Take Your Business to the Next Level

At Results we care about your success, we understand how overwhelming it can feel to run a business, and we’re here to help. Reach out to Nicole through our contact form for ways to unleash the potential of your business. 

Visit the Unleashed Podcast Library where you’ll find exclusive conversations with world-class thought leaders, authors, and leadership experts. 

Each episode of Unleashed is hosted by Results’ CEO Jeff Tetz who spends most of his day exploring what makes high performers tick and helping build a community of leaders who want to learn and grow together. Follow Jeff (Twitter; LinkedIn; Instagram) for more great leadership insights.

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David Burkus

David Burkus Headshot

When he's not speaking or writing, David is in the classroom. At Oral Roberts University, he teaches courses on organizational behavior, creativity and innovation, and strategic leadership. He serves on the advisory board of Fuse Corps, a nonprofit dedicated to making transformative and replicable change in local government. 
Burkus is a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review and Inc. magazine. His work has been featured in Fast Company, the Financial Times, Bloomberg BusinessWeek and "CBS This Morning." He's also the host of the award-winning podcast Radio Free Leader. 
You can learn more at David’s website