haruki zaemon


High-performing teams: An evidence review: Scientific summary

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. Jun 9, 2023
  3. 3 mins

I can’t recall how I came across this paper from the “Center for Evidence-Based Management (CEBMa).”

I found it engrossing, even though it was quite long, especially for something itself described as a summary.

Naturally, there’s a whole lot of nuance and context I haven’t captured, so I highly recommend reading the original:

Most researchers summarise a team’s basic defining characteristics as: a group of employees who are:

  1. formally established
  2. assigned (some) autonomy
  3. interdependent


Most studies included consider team effectiveness as synonymous with team performance. As such, team effectiveness is broadly defined as task performance, contextual performance, and/or adaptive performance (eg learning, creativity, decision-making).


This review identified a large number of high-quality studies that indicate that effective teams are not so much determined by their composition, but rather by the emergence of socio-affective (in particular trust, psychological safety and social cohesion) and cognitive states (in particular cognitive consensus, information-sharing and the transactive memory system).

Some thoroughly unsurprising findings:

  • Intra-team trust is positively related to performance.
  • Group-level psychological safety has a moderate to large positive impact on team performance.
  • Team cohesion has a moderate to large impact on team performance.
  • The emergence of intra-team trust and social cohesion is critical for virtual teams.
  • Team cohesion is strongly associated with team inclusion.
  • Team identification has a positive effect on social cohesion and consequently team performance.
  • Turnover has a negative effect on social cohesion and consequently on team performance.
  • Team cognition – in particular information-sharing, transactive memory systems and cognitive consensus – has a large positive impact on team performance.
  • Team learning does not automatically lead to team performance improvement.
  • Team reflexivity moderates the effect of team cognition on team performance.
  • Teamwork training has a large positive effect on team performance.
  • Debriefing sessions and guided team reflexivity have a moderate to large positive effect on team performance.
  • Setting group goals that are challenging (in terms of difficulty) and specific (rather than non-specific ‘do your best’ goals) has a moderate to large positive effect on team performance.

Some moderately surprising findings:

  • The link between team effectiveness and team diversity dimensions such as age, gender, ethnicity, religion, functional background, educational background, organisational tenure and experience is small and sometimes negative.
  • Of the Big Five personality traits, only agreeableness and conscientiousness are (somewhat) positively related to team performance. Other personality traits, such as emotional stability, extraversion and openness to experience, were not related with team performance.

One hard-to-swallow finding was around team building. I’ve never felt team building exercises were of much value, but the science is against me:

A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies shows that, in general, teambuilding interventions have a moderate positive indirect effect on team performance, and a moderate to large positive direct effect on trust, social cohesion and internal communication.

Turns out, I’ve never really experienced the necessary conditions:

Results indicate that the effect of teambuilding is larger when:

  • the initiator is external (rather than internal) to the team
  • the rationale is corrective (rather than preventive)
  • team members are not involved in the planning
  • the focus is on both the team’s goals and interpersonal relations
  • team building is planned together with other interventions
  • team building is led by both internal and external consultants
  • the focus is on the group (rather than on individuals)
  • team building is supported by (higher) management

Has Cynicism Infected Your Organization?

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 28, 2023
  3. 3 mins

(via Warren)

Don’t presume that someone we perceive as cynical is inherently so:

Workplace cynicism isn’t due to some sort of character flaw or being a “glass-half-empty” person. It originates from the workplace environment, not the individual. Many experts, in fact, see workplace cynicism and depersonalization as a form of defensive coping: Becoming distant and withdrawn is a self-protective measure that places a buffer between an employee and the emotional exhaustion and energy depletion their job is causing. Even relentless optimists’ protective measures can be broken down when they’re exposed to high degrees of stress, especially when that stress continues unabated.

Along with “energy depletion or exhaustion,” and “the feeling that you’re no longer able to perform at your best,” cynicism towards your job is considered one of the three core attributes of burnout:

Workplace cynicism, may be the least-understood aspect of burnout in part because of its complexity. In contrast to exhaustion and diminished efficacy, whose causes and effects are relatively straightforward, cynicism can be caused by a number of workplace factors, and it can be expressed in a broad range of emotional states and behaviors.

Even though cynicism can spread quickly between people and teams, there are things we can do to prevent it infecting the organisation:

  • Have the self-awareness to monitor [your] own emotions and behaviors, and the self-regulation to project the positive emotions and behaviors [you]’d like to see in others.
  • Explore what’s driving this behavior [in others] — deep, empathetic listening can often assuage cynical feelings.
  • Create an environment of empathy at work by getting to know your employees, welcoming their perspectives, and listening to their input. Don’t ignore or put off their concerns — act on them.
  • Promote an environment of psychological safety where employees feel free to speak honestly about their feelings and ideas and to make mistakes without fear of shame or repercussion.
  • No one likes to feel left in the dark, especially when it comes to decisions that affect them, so share impactful decisions with employees and maintain open lines of communication.
  • Where possible, offer flexible work schedules and arrangements. Encourage employees to contribute ideas and help set direction, and give them ownership over their deliverables.
  • Make sure your mission as well as your team and individual mandates are clear and achievable, and let employees know what they can expect from you, too.

We can even use the idea that cynicism is an “emotional contagion” against it:

One of the best things about emotional contagion is that it works both ways, so it’s just as easy to spread feelings of empathy, trust, appreciation, and genuine idealism.

As an aside, I think we can fall into the trap of labelling worry, anxiety, and the act of tackling reality head on as cynicism, when sometimes it might be poor communication skills. The Oxford Dictionary of English defines cynicism as:

cynicism | ˈsɪnɪsɪz(ə)m | noun [mass noun]

  • an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest; scepticism.
  • an inclination to question whether something will happen or whether it is worthwhile; pessimism.

Motivating change

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 20, 2023
  3. 3 mins

As managers and leaders, driving and supporting change is a critical part of the role. When we go about making change, we can inadvertently subvert the process and slow things down. Worse, we run the risk of losing the trust and confidence of the very people we need to enact not just the current, but future change as well.

The hard work is rarely the change itself. The hard work is developing the trust and understanding to make the change in the first place.

When most of us experience what we perceive as resistance to change, our initial response will be to lean into what Adam Grant calls Preacher mode–“they don’t understood how right I am!” If that fails, we’ll become a Prosector–“I’ll show them how wrong they are!” If things get out of hand, and we realise that we’re “losing” the “argument”, we might turn into a Politician–“maybe I need them to like me more?!” If none of that works, we become frustrated, judgemental, angry, and start to blame, at which point we might withdraw and find someone else who is more “willing” to help.

I know this because it was exactly how the majority of my interactions used to go.

What many people perceive as resistance to change is actually discord: between the therapist and the client; between the coach and the player; between the manager and the report; between the executive and the company. When you’re trying to evoke change in someone and you feel they aren’t responding, stop pushing for change and get back to strengthening the relationship before trying again.

Research also shows that self-efficacy is a significant predictor of change success, and that what we perceive as resistance, may actually be ambivalence. People who have been a part of failed change in the past have mixed feelings about their ability to enact change in the future. This experience of failure leads to a lack of confidence in the themselves and the system. When planning change, ensure people feel empowered, have agency, know what good looks like, and understand what might be holding them back from playing a part in their own journey.

Relying on a few “willing” people to drive change and “tell others what to do” may seem like a fast track, but it can be frustrating, exhausting, risky, and unlikely to generate long term improvement.

Scaling change through others requires effort to empower and give people agency. It requires engaging and listening and taking into consideration that you might be “wrong,” and that even when you’re “right,” that you took the action you did after considering their perspectives.

Most people want to improve, know that improvement requires change, and want to take an active part in it. Engage with them early and often, be explicit about what is known, and what is still to be worked through, and help them understand for themselves how to use their own skills to drive the change you want to see.

UPDATE: Catching up on my reading and unsurprisingly, Ray Grasso recently posted on a similar topic. Go check it out.

How to Motivate Employees When Their Priorities Have Changed

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 12, 2023
  3. 2 mins

The article centres on the push to get people back into an office, but I think the general themes are more broadly applicable:

Get into a conversation with a company leader these days, and you’ll likely hear some version of “no one wants to work hard anymore.” I see my C-suite clients grasping for more control to get back to “normal” by pushing for longer hours in the office, tightening metrics, and hoping that economic headwinds will return their power.


Inspired people make inspired workers make inspired companies. Is it better to have a productive worker who leaves early to train for a marathon or a burned-out worker who’s strapped to their desk? How do you judge the person who declines a promotion because they love their job exactly as it is? Let’s not punish people who have an updated model of success that works for them.


For most of us coming up, there was a predictable cadence to professional work. You grind it out early, give up large parts of your life, and eventually gain some control over your time. Yes, you had to do it, but was it really the best way to get the best work? I know when I was working seven days a week until 11 P.M., I was not a fount of creativity. Every new shift in work necessitates an end to an existing norm. Instead of bringing people down to your experience, consider how you can bring everyone up to a new one.


People wasted a lot of time in the office right under your nose, and if they want to waste time, they’ll do it anywhere. You’re far better off measuring performance and losing the fixation with time. The more latitude managers can give in creating the right working environment for the individual, the less guilty everyone will feel and, thus, the more they can focus on doing good work.


When we sense control slipping, we tend to want to micromanage people and processes. Recessionary pressures exacerbate this effect. Fear has never been an effective motivator over the long term. Worrying about job preservation causes people to hunker down, not take risks toward excellence.

Employees Are Losing Patience with Change Initiatives

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 10, 2023
  3. 1 min

This is something I’ve been hearing more from folks across multiple companies:

Relentless sprinting means many employees are running on fumes.

The most common mistake when it comes to change management today is trying to build momentum for transformation by hitting the accelerator. A 2022 Gartner survey found that 75% of organizations are adopting a top-down approach to change, where leaders set the change strategy, create detailed implementation roadmaps, and deploy a high volume of change communications. Their goal is for workers to buy into the new path and for managers to lead the charge as champions and role models for their teams.


Prioritized change means leaders show employees where to invest their energy by communicating their backlog of priorities, including change initiatives. Without such guidance, employees are likely to give 110% for each change, resulting in a blowout.


Many leadership teams already rank the most important organizational projects and initiatives, but that knowledge often isn’t shared beyond leadership team discussions. Communicating this more broadly can help teams more effectively manage their energy and efforts.

Schelling traps

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 7, 2023
  3. 2 mins

I had not heard of the term until today—which seems extraordinary given a large part of my career has been dealing with the kinds of problems caused by exactly this. It’s incentives; always incentives!

The FLUX Review, Ep. 96:

Schelling points are the default solutions that people arrive at if they can’t communicate. The prisoner’s dilemma is an example of a Schelling trap, where the lack of communication means that individuals are incentivized to betray each other even though they’d be better off if they both stayed silent.

Breaking free requires a mutual and simultaneous deviation from the status quo. If we break out but others do not, then we’ll be less effective than they are.

As the size of an organization grows and its structure becomes more complicated, the complexity of communication, coordination, and incentives increases. This leads to the emergence of whatever default is expedient.

a company that maintains redundant, uncommunicative, and siloed departments working on similar projects. Each department thinks their work is unique and vital. They are unaware of the duplicative or misaligned work from the other departments.

Breaking free from this Schelling trap requires a coordinated effort from higher-level management. However, higher-level management may itself be caught in its own Schelling traps, leaving the organization unresponsive to the inefficiency.

It’s tempting to believe that at a sufficiently senior level of management these problems can be easily solved.

4 Types of Employee Complaints — and How to Respond

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 4, 2023
  3. 1 min

It’s important to develop a strategy to listen to and act on complaints, harness their benefits, and mitigate their destructive potential. When employees believe their manager doesn’t care about, minimizes, or ignores valid concerns, it can increase stress, decrease engagement, and ignite turnover.

“Telling employees to ‘put a lid’ on [their] feelings is both ineffective and destructive; the emotions will just come out later in counterproductive ways.”

Start with interest and curiosity, consider the intention.

Encourage and help facilitate constructive complaints.

Evo AU #98 – Scaling A Development Team

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 2, 2023
  3. 1 min

It was lovely to meet and chat with such a great bunch of open, curious, and pragmatic leaders:

We discussed challenges, approaches, mistakes, and lessons we’ve learnt scaling teams.

Mostly though, I just enjoyed the conversation. It didn’t necessarily always stay on topic, in a good way.