#46 Guru David Burkus: 3 concepts to build your best team EVER
February 8, 2022
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Why do some teams outperform others? Why are some teams more innovative than others? Or more collaborative? We know that high-performing teams deliver higher-value results more consistently, but how exactly do you build that winning team?

David Burkus, one of the world’s leading business thinkers, says that talent doesn’t make the team, it’s the team that creates the talent. We had it backward. Drawing on over a decade of research and case studies, Burkus reveals how you can start fostering the same team culture that you’d find on the world’s most effective teams.  

Great teams don’t become great because they recruit top talent or pay the top salary dollar. Rather, building the best team ever is about shaping the habits and culture that bring out the best in each team member. 


Why does team-building build weaker teams?

A lot of us carry old habits and fall victim to common misconceptions when it comes to fostering a great team. There are many misconceptions and old habits when it comes to how to create and how to foster the perfect team. 

Talent isn’t portable and it isn’t always an option for a lot of industry leaders. Not all hiring managers can go out and pay top dollar for the cream of the crop talent, but they still need to create a team that performs. 

When we don’t have talent to rely on, we tend to turn to team-building activities to foster strong teams. While these activities can feel good, they don’t always positively affect the functioning of the team. In fact, unless the team-building exercise directly affects the habits and norms of on-site activities, they’re often a waste of time. 

David Burkus says that with a slight change of management style, you can create a high-performing team without hiring top talent and without planning and organizing off-site team-building trips. 


How to create a high-performing team

The highest performing teams have cultures marked by three elements; common understanding, psychological safety, and pro-social purpose. These three elements can really unlock a team’s potential. 

Common understanding is the extent to which team members have a commonly held perspective on the team’s expertise, assigned tasks, context, and preferences. You can build a common understanding by doing something as simple as having a team huddle and talking about progress, successes, and even failures. 

High-performing teams also need to have a sense of psychological safety so they can feel safe to express themselves, to take risks, to disagree with each other, and to speak up. When people feel free to speak up they can actually save the whole team. 

How can you build that sense of safety? David Burkus says you should actively encourage dissent and create situations where people can speak up. Instead of waiting until the end of long meetings to ask if there are questions, it’s more effective to stop at regular points and ask, “What questions do you have for me?” 

The last element is prosocial purpose. This isn’t just a corporate purpose or a mission statement, this means exactly WHO benefits from the work the team does. It can be easy to make work engaging for people but it can be difficult to make work feel purposeful. 

KPMG, the accounting firm, increased employee prosocial purpose through its ‘We Shape History’ campaign. It was a marketing campaign that highlighted the memorable and historic events that KPMG has been involved with over the years. They also went so far as to ask employees to write their own campaign posters so that everyone in the company could understand the vast impact that workers at KPMG had every single day. 

When you start to build prosocial purpose, in tandem with common understanding and psychological safety, great things happen. When you foster common understanding and prosocial purpose, you can start to attract the best people to your organization. When you build common understanding and psychological safety, those talented people you’ve hired feel comfortable enough to speak up and you get their best ideas. And when you build psychological safety and prosocial purpose you get your people’s best efforts.


Common understanding, psychological safety, and prosocial purpose – the three ingredients you need to build your best team EVER.