177: How to Build the Best Team Ever? with David Burkus

The Business of Meetings – Episode 177 – How to Build the Best Team Ever? with David Burkus

We are honored to have the distinguished David Burkus returning to the podcast today!

David recently set the literary world ablaze with his groundbreaking new book, Best Team Ever: The Surprising Science of High-Performing Teams. He is a true thought leader, an exceptional entrepreneur, and an inspiring speaker.

In our riveting discussion, we dive into David’s remarkable journey, the art of building exceptional teams, and the invaluable role of people in the ever-evolving landscape of business.

Today’s conversation promises to enlighten, motivate, and transform your perspective on the power of collaboration and leadership! Join us as we delve into the depths of the fascinating world of high-performance teams with the brilliant mind behind it all, David Burkus! You will be inspired and amazed by David’s captivating stories and the profound insights he has to share!

Bio David Burkus

One of the world’s leading business thinkers, Dr. David Burkus’ forward-thinking ideas and bestselling books are helping leaders build their best teams ever.

He is the bestselling author of four books about business and leadership. His books have won multiple awards and have been translated into dozens of languages. Since 2017, Burkus has been ranked multiple times as one of the world’s top business thought leaders. His insights on leadership and teamwork have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, USAToday, Fast Company, Financial Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, CNN, the BBC, NPR, and CBS This Morning. A former business school professor, Burkus now works with leaders from organizations across all industries, including PepsiCo, Fidelity, Adobe, and NASA.

David’s Journey

At 17, David aspired to be a writer focusing on fiction and literature. However, in college, he was exposed to classes that piqued his interest in long-form journalism, true stories, and blending storytelling with insights from social science. That fascination led him to pursue a master’s degree and eventually a doctoral program. His primary goal remained writing, but his expertise and captivating speaking abilities gradually attracted requests for speaking engagements. That transition naturally evolved his role from a traditional business school professor to a speaker, with his books and ideas at the core of his business model.

Transitioning from Teaching to Speaking and Consulting

In 2016, David released his second book, which explored practices, policies, and the future of work in the business world. That endeavor kept him remarkably occupied, leading him to gradually scale down his teaching commitments and shift his focus toward speaking engagements and consulting work.

A Significant Change

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated a significant change in David’s career trajectory. While teaching during the pandemic, the financial constraints faced by private institutions prompted him to reassess his priorities. Recognizing the growing demand for his expertise outside of academia, he transitioned away from teaching and immersed himself fully in speaking engagements and consulting opportunities.

The Origin of Best Team Ever

The idea for David’s latest book, Best Team Ever, took shape as he worked with organizations, especially when discussing the concept of leading from anywhere. During those interactions and team collaborations, he realized that one’s work experience is often influenced more by team culture than organizational culture. That revelation gained further significance during the pandemic, as remote and hybrid work models reshaped the landscape of teamwork.

The Key to Building High-performing Teams

David emphasizes that the key to building high-performing teams lies in cultivating a strong team culture and equipping every manager, regardless of their level, to serve as Chief Culture Officer for their respective teams. This shift in focus from macro-level company culture to micro-level team culture became the central theme of his book, emphasizing the profound impact of team dynamics and how they shape performance in the modern work environment.

Common Understanding

Common understanding consists of two essential components: clarity and empathy. Clarity focuses on how well team members understand their tasks, expectations, and their trust in one another to fulfill those expectations. Empathy is about understanding individual differences, work preferences, communication styles, and the context in which team members operate. It is essential to understand those nuances, as they enable effective collaboration and remove assumptions, ultimately fostering a stronger sense of understanding within the team.

Creating a Safe Environment 

High-performing teams require a safe space for individuals to express their differing opinions, engage in difficult conversations, and take interpersonal risks. David explains that psychological safety is not about avoiding disagreements or divergent ideas. It is about cultivating a team environment where individuals respond respectfully when faced with risk or disagreement.


Leaders play a pivotal role in modeling that behavior, fostering a culture of respectful communication, and ensuring that people feel heard, acknowledged, and supported after taking risks.

Psychological Safety

Building psychological safety involves teaching individuals how to respond respectfully to differing opinions. By recognizing that logical conclusions stem from unique perspectives and assumptions of individuals, teams can approach disagreements by exploring underlying assumptions and finding common ground. That approach enhances the decision-making process, encourages personal growth, and fosters an environment of open communication and trust.

Two Surprises in Best Team Ever

Two surprises are to be found within Best Team Ever. The first is that talent alone does not make a successful team. Instead, the team’s culture should bring out the best in individuals. The second is that despite the unique aspects of dysfunctional teams, high-performing teams consistently exhibit the same three elements: common understanding, psychological safety, and a pro-social purpose. Those insights challenge conventional beliefs and shed light on the unexpected factors that drive team success.

Leaders Being Vulnerable and Admitting Uncertainty

When the leadership in large organizations believes it always has to have the answers and be invincible, it can lead to clueless leaders unwilling to admit their lack of knowledge or understanding. By being open about not having all the answers and seeking help, leaders can create a safe space where others feel comfortable contributing their knowledge and expertise.

Prosocial Purpose with Meaning and Impact

The emphasis in organizations should be on understanding who the work serves and how it impacts specific individuals. Instead of crafting mission statements that mention shareholder value and other generic terms, leaders should tell stories about the people directly affected by the work. That shift in perspective motivates and engages employees, fosters a sense of meaning and contribution among team members, and promotes a stronger commitment to the organization’s goals.

Vulnerability, Openness, and Honesty

Today’s conversation highlights the importance of leaders starting with their own vulnerability to set the tone for psychological safety within the organization. By creating an environment where honesty and openness are valued, leaders can inspire their teams to be authentic and collaborative. That approach, coupled with a clear pro-social purpose, can drive employee engagement, foster innovation, and lead to long-term success for the organization.

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Eric Rozenberg

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