Insights- Best Team Ever- The Surprising Science of High Performing Teams.

18th September 2023

Posted in: Insights

Although I know that Alto already has the best team ever, I wanted to read this book to understand the science behind high performing teams.

David Burkus breaks it down to explain why some teams perform better than others and how common understanding, prosocial purpose and psychological safety together will create the best team.

Summary of my takeaways from the book:


Talent doesn’t make the team, the team makes the talent


Team culture,  the collective values,  beliefs, behaviours and way of working a members share has an outsized effect on the results a team achieves


Common understanding

– happens when the team members understand the expertise, assigned task context and preferences

  • The team works best when I understand how each individual works best
  • Collective intelligence is more important than individual IQ once a team has developed norms of behaviour and understanding of what each team member can offer
  • Pals Sudden Service-  a small fast food business build great team through.
    • communication only ever face to face to avoid miscommunication
    • every team member received 800 hours training in every process at every station
    • all leaders must spend 10% of their time helping other employees develop
    • team assigned different state stations each day to provide novelty in allow people to see how their task fits into the larger process of customer service
    • Caught doing good program where individuals can nominate teammate who is performing well that day



Collaboration improves when individual roles are clearly defined –  where not clearly defined team members are likely to waste energy negotiating roles or protecting turf rather than focusing on the task

Huddles or daily Scrums

  • What did I just complete? Allows the team to report on deliverables and figure out the progress they made
  • What am I focused on next? Ensures no critical tasks are being accidentally left undone
  • What is blocking my progress? Allows teams to regularly signal where they need help and let others volunteers before a small obstacle turns into a big problem

Communicate in bursts  –   don’t need to have meetings every day find a rhythm that works

Draft Team Charters

  • working agreements or social contracts include ways that we best work together
  • Might include
    • What is a reasonable amount of time to wait for an email response before following up?
    • How should we keep each other updated on our progress-  huddles emails or some other software?
    • How should we ask each other for help?
    • What’s the best way to make decisions? Is it voting,  consensus, yelling loudly until the last person loses their voice.

Make priorities clear –     commanders intent is a clear description of how the commander of the operation to find a successful mission

Set “if then” plans

  • If x, then y
  • Provides less room for conflicting interpretations about who is doing what
  • Coordinate team actions faster in foster accountability



The Godfather was wrong- There’s no such thing as it’s not personal it’s just business

  • Team members are able to understand the emotions of others to an extent that they almost experience the same emotions
  • They understand the strengths and weaknesses, the struggles and opinions of others of the team
  • Social sensitivity is how sensitive the team is to the differences of others

Enhancing Empathy

  • Write teammate manuals- A short document telling teammates more about themselves and how they prefer to work. Might include why am at my best when I am at my worst when you can count on me, what I need from you is.
  • Find free time- Bonding activities that allow people to find uncommon commonalities. This helps build bonds and friendships- consider organising a paid coffee chat between co-workers to allow particular team members to get to know each other-
  • Break the ice-
    • Triple H – ask each team member to share hero, a highlight and a hardship
    • Energy check – ask each team ever to rate their energy level from 1 (dragging) to 5 (jumping) then ask what the team could do to help build that up
    • Defining moment have each member of the team share a single story of their life that helped shape who they are today
    • Three snaps-  ask a different team about to choose three photos from their phone camera roll to share with the group and explain why they chose those three snaps
  • Share gratitude- taking the time to say thank you increase as well being and brain function and reduces impatience and other stresses


Psychological safety

builds as a team learns to feel safe to express themselves,  take risks and disagree respectfully

  • Norms behaviours unwritten rules that govern how to function
  • Psychological safety allowed to use to feel safe to express themselves and take risks where we can be vulnerable and authentic they ask questions and offer ideas
  • Where the team feel safe there more likely to ask for help, to admit a mistake to try new tasks knowing their team has their back and be open to learning
  • Without psychological safety diversity will be a liability not an asset as they will experience more conflict communication and collaboration
  • Trust is how much we feel we can share our authentic selves with others if I trust you I will share honestly with you
  • Respect is how much we feel others accept that self- if you respect me you will value what I have shared



Trust is a social lubricant when we trust each other frictions are reduced it’s easier to collaborate and share true perspectives meaning others won’t hold back

  • Trust begets trust-  trust is not given by itself, it is reciprocated
  • Social Vulnerability – need to share when we make mistakes to show that it’s okay
  • Celebrating failures – Sharing mistakes and what you learnt from them can be worthwhile as encourages future risk taking.
  • This could include
    • Failure resume – include every job or project that didn’t turn out as you hoped
    • A failure wall pictures of quotes and projects that blew up or client you didn’t win
  • Share privileged Intel- people feel like they’re on the inner circle and start to see how they work fits into the large organisational whole
  • Create rituals- creates a sense of belonging and film already to trust others inside the group
  • Hold after action reviews- allows the team to extract the lessons from the project if they review the result, what their weaknesses were, and identified improvements for the next project. Questions might be as basic as what worked well what would be even better?



  • Respect starts at the top- Teams without a mutual sense of respect shut down because they’re less likely to seek feedback and much less likely to receive it. They don’t try new things or discuss mistakes or problems.
  • Respectful ensures great performance because they’re willing to go above and beyond to help teammates when it’s not required and offer feedback that gets heard. More likely to listen to what others say and consider different opinions instead of fighting for their own- creates innovation and creativity
  • Model active listening-“ tell me more” – receive more ideas as paying attention and appreciating what they are saying by noting or giving feedback. Summarise what the other person has said when they finished then ask questions to explore their ideas further
  • Recognise and share credit- share credit with the team can be as simple as taking the time to appreciate each team members strengths or shouting their praises throughout the company. Find small wins to celebrate more often
  • Treat conflict as collaboration. Ensure disagreements remain task focused, disagree respectfully in deb not criticise understand the assumptions others are working on
  • Call for candor-  finish your meeting by saying ” it sounds like we’re in agreement but is there anything we are missing because I feel like I’m not seeing something?”
  • Amplify unheard voices- give the less confident members of the opportunity to speak out without being spoken over.


Pro social purpose

motivates teams by showing in the meaningful contribution they make towards work that impacts others


  • when team members know they making a meaningful contribution towards work that impact others
  • when the team understands how they work serves specific people and they are making a meaningful contribution


Meaning is knowing that your contribution counts

  • Contribution is the core of meaningul work
  • Sisyphus- Great story of Sisyphus it was condemned to roll a boulder up the hill only to have it rolled down over and over for all eternity
  • Task significance is knowing how your work enables others to work, that your work contributes to the abilities of others to work
  • When people are showing their task significance the quality of their work increases and so does their willingness to help others do quality work ie be a good teammate
  • Knowing how our actions help produce a complete result and how that result fits into the larger teams work makes us more motivated and better teammates
  • Make metrics meaningful- share results
  • It’s a wonderful life test- ask how was the organisation of different if you didn’t exist within it
  • Create team symbols-
  • Create a rally and cry-
  • Share a win every day-


Impact is knowing who is counting on you

  • Savannah Bananas the team played for the fans
  • The motivation came from impact the team made on specific people
  • Collect impact stories- testimonials or case studies and how they’ve helped somebody
  • Pause for purpose- share the importance of the role before meeting or a project
  • Outsource inspiration- get feedback directly from customers
  • Become the Beneficiary – put employees in the role of customers to understand impact and how to improve-


Wd40. We don’t make mistakes – we have learning moments.

A positive or negative outcome of any situation that is openly and freely shared to benefit all

Encourage any of the team to email him their learning moments directly at every month he would award a prize for the best one


Each of the three characteristics to build the best team is interdependent everyone changes it affects the others.

  • When you build common understanding and prosocial purpose you start to attract more people to join the team and more talented people
  • When you build common understanding and psychological safety they say people start to generate their best ideas you can solve more complicated problems and create value
  • When you build psychological safety and prosocial purpose you start getting best effort from your team because they can experiment and take risks and no they work makes an impact



Author: Donna Bruce