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Blueprint for High Performing Teams from Adam Grant's Work

Building Top Teams with Adam Grant's Principles Ahead of His 2024 Australian Tour

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“Being a team player is not about singing ‘Kumbaya.’ It’s not about getting along all the time…” – Adam Grant


Have you ever stopped to consider the hidden potential of your team at work? High-performing teams can drive innovation, productivity, and profitability. But what makes a team truly exceptional?


As Adam Grant’s research reveals in his book ‘Hidden Potential’ some teams outperform others because they do a better job of tapping into the collective intelligence of their team members.


We’ll look at how they do this in a moment. But before we do, take a look at what is gained:

·       37% of employees say working with a great team “is the most effective way to retain strong employees.” (1)

·       Team members of open and honest teams were 80% more likely to report higher emotional well-being. (2)

·       Engaged team members recorded a positive difference of 81% in reducing absenteeism, 23% in profitability, and 14% to 18% in productivity when comparing the most and least engaged teams. (3)


Ahead of Adam Grant’s first ever Australian tour in February 2024 (book Early Bird tickets now), let’s see what he says about hidden potential in teams so we can all enjoy these successes.


Adam Grant's Background


Firstly, it’s important to understand who Adam Grant is, and why his work is so influential. Adam Grant was recently awarded the #2 ranking in Thinkers50, often dubbed “The Oscars of Management Thinking.”


He’s a renowned organisational psychologist and multi-award-winning professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.


His bestsellers "Give and Take,” "Originals," and “Think Again,” are widely quoted, and his new book is “Hidden Potential” which pulls fascinating insights from the science of teamwork, success, motivation, and innovation.


On his top-ranking TED podcasts WorkLife and ReThinking he explores various aspects of teamwork and collaboration, leading to groundbreaking insights that can help organisations create and sustain high-performing teams.


Here are the key components of a high-performing team framework based on his work:


Prosocial skills


Grant’s research for ‘Hidden Potential’ unearthed prosocial skills as the “glue” that transforms groups into teams.


What are prosocial skills, you ask? Grant says “prosocial” literally means for the benefit of others or with the intention of helping others (Oxford English Dictionary, 2009).


He says prosocial motivation (the desire to help others) more strongly predicts persistence, performance, and productivity when it is intrinsic, that is, when the employees’ thoughts, feelings, and actions are driven by a concern for benefitting others.


With prosocial skills, team members will bring out the best in each other.

“Instead of operating as lone wolves, people become part of a cohesive pack,” says Grant.


He says research demonstrates that the best teams have the most team players, people who excel at collaborating with others.


To get more prosocial skills in your team:

·       Hire team players. According to Patrick Lencioni, ideal team player virtues are Humble, Hungry, and Smart.

·       Remove the bad apples. Grant says when even one individual fails to act prosocially, it’s enough to make the team dumb and dumber.

·       Give teams opportunities to share their knowledge and coach one another.


Better leadership


Adam Grant says leadership has an important role in establishing team cohesion. Yet, all too often, we don’t promote the person with the strongest leadership skills.


“We frequently choose the person who talks the most. It’s called the babble effect,” he says.

This is mistaking confidence for competence, he says, and rewards those who dominate discussions, not those who elevate them.


To improve leadership on your team:

·       Promote those with prosocial skills, so they put team cohesion above personal glory.

·       Instead of a weak leader who silences voice and shoots the messenger, choose a great leader who builds systems to amplify voice and elevate the messenger.

·       Choose the leader who listens best and discovers the smarts the rest of the room has to offer.      

·       Invest in leadership development and encourage lifelong learning. 




A Culture of Accountability


Amongst our favourite Adam Grant quotes is this important one about teams: “Putting people in a group doesn’t automatically make them a team.”


What does make them a team, says Grant, is figuring out what the group needs and enlisting everyone’s contribution.


As he says at the top, it’s not about singing “Kumbaya” and getting along always.

In fact, Grant says that the work culture “sin” of mediocrity arises when relationships take precedence over results.


If no-one creates a culture of accountability, results dwindle as individuals focus more on getting along than on achieving excellence. The fear of rocking the boat leads to the forfeit of quality work.


To improve accountability on your team:

·       Maintain high standards; foster an improving work culture that values both people and results.

·       Reward the right behaviours, and have leaders model the behaviours you want to reward.

·       Create a culture of accountability by hiring the right people, disciplined planning, and clarity in communication.

 

Psychological Safety


Psychological safety is the foundation of any high-performing team.


On Adam Grant’s WorkLife podcast, Harvard professor and expert Amy Edmondson described psychological safety as “a climate in which one feels one can be candid.”


“It's a place where interpersonal risks feel doable, interpersonal risks, like speaking up with questions and concerns and half-baked ideas and even mistakes.”


When team members know they're in a psychologically safe workplace, and won't face negative consequences for speaking up, they are more likely to share diverse perspectives and contribute their best ideas.


Grant says that what you’re aiming for on a team is a commitment to high standards (a culture of accountability) and the psychological safety to be candid with each other as you try to achieve them.


To create psychological safety in your team:

·       Encourage open and honest communication.

·       Create a climate for voice and safety (Adam Grant says there’s evidence that just being looked at by the leader is enough to encourage people who lack status to speak up).

·       Reward vulnerability and constructive feedback.

·       Model inclusive behaviour as a leader.


Brainwriting and Cognitive Diversity


According to Adam Grant, team brainstorming isn’t the way to maximise collective intelligence.


That’s because people bite their tongues due to ego threat (“I don’t want to look stupid”), noise (we can’t all talk at once), and conformity pressure (jumping on the boss’s bandwagon!).


It’s a case of “Goodbye diversity of thought, hello groupthink,” says Grant. He says evidence shows that individuals produce a greater volume and variety of novel ideas when they work alone.


Instead of brainstorming in a meeting setting, Grant suggests we get the best ideas of the team on the table by “brainwriting” alone.


To get the best ideas from your team:

·       Start by asking everyone to generate ideas separately.

·       Pool the ideas and share them anonymously among the group. Have each member evaluate the suggestions on their own.

·       Bring the team together to select and refine the most promising options. 



happy-team-members


Gratitude


Adam Grant doesn't just think gratitude helps people to perform, he's co-penned a study proving it.


“A Little Thanks Goes a Long Way: Explaining Why Gratitude Expressions Motivate Prosocial Behaviour” is a study published in the American Psychological Association in 2010 by Adam Grant and Francesca Gino. (4)


It shows that when helpers are thanked for their efforts, they experience stronger feelings of self-efficacy and social worth, which motivate them to engage in prosocial behaviour (helping others).


In one experiment, a manager expressing gratitude had the effect of increasing the number of calls made by university fundraisers.


Grant and Gino also cite a study showing gratitude provided concrete evidence to the helper that their actions mattered, and this satisfied their basic motives to feel valued.


To show more gratitude to your team:

·       Look for small wins. It motivates people to move onto the next win.

·       Express gratitude often. As the authors of ‘Leading with Gratitude’ say: “Like ripe bananas, gratitude does not keep. Don’t stockpile praise. Surveys show the most engaged teams get acknowledged once every 7 days (Gallup).”

·       Start today. One of Brené Brown's best quotes says, “It’s not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful.”

 

Purpose and Meaning


Finally, we come to the most important driver of team performance.

As Adam Grant says in a 2019 tweet:


“A rewarding career is more about doing what you care about than doing what you love. People who look for purpose are more successful in pursuing their passion—and less likely to quit their job—than those who look for joy. Enjoyment fades. Meaning lasts.”


Grant talks extensively about meaning, purpose, and reimagining work-life. When team members believe that their work contributes to a larger, meaningful goal, they are more motivated and engaged.


Purpose-driven teams are also better at overcoming challenges and staying committed to their objectives.


To instill purpose and meaning in your team:

·       Spend time discovering your organisational and individual purpose. What are your values? What does the world need that you can offer?

·       Over-communicate the team's mission and its alignment with the organisation's goals.

·       Connect individual purpose and tasks to the larger purpose.

·       Celebrate achievements and milestones that reinforce the team's impact.


See Adam Grant in person in 2024

 

If you're interested in seeing one of the world's leading authorities on work culture, psychological safety, and work-life, don’t miss Adam Grant’s highly-anticipated Australian tour in 2024 ADAM GRANT – LIVE: Unlock Hidden Potential & Transform WorkLife. Tickets are selling fast (Some categories SOLD OUT). 

 

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References:

1.     Gusto’s Community at Work Report (PDF) cited in SurfOffice.com

2.     University of Warwick, England, research, cited in Tracy Middleton’s 2023 Atlassian article ‘The Importance of Teamwork.’

3.     Gallup 2020 Q12 Meta-Analysis

A.Grant and F.Gino, 2010, ‘A Little Thanks Goes a Long Way: Explaining Why Gratitude 


First photo by Husna Miskandar on Unsplash

Second photo by Tiago Rosado on Unsplash

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