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Josh Bersin

The Josh Bersin Company

Industry analyst and CEO

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Book excerpt: ‘Irresistible’ by Josh Bersin

Bersin reveals the seven secrets behind the world’s most enduring, employee-focused organisations in his compelling new book – out now.

The seven principles detailed in Josh Bersin’s new book, Irresistible, are designed for remote and hybrid work, and reflect the need for diversity, purpose, and belonging, all with the goal of higher performance at work: 

Principle 1: Teams, not hierarchies. The old top-down org charts must go

Principle 2: Work, not jobs. Stop focusing on credentials and degrees. Start fitting work to your people

Principle 3: Coach, not boss. Get out from behind the desk. Empower, don’t order

Principle 4: Culture, not rules. The new CEO mantra: Respect, flexibility, and fairness

Principle 5: Growth, not promotion. Make growth part of every activity at work

Principle 6: Purpose, not profits. Companies are built for purpose. Profits are what happen when you do that right and consistently

Principle 7: Employee experience, not output. Employees first. Everything else comes second

This exclusive excerpt for HRZone comes from the book’s first chapter on ‘Teams, not hierarchies.’

How do we make teams work at scale?

Can work be rewarding and long-lasting in a network in which people switch teams frequently? Yes, but it requires a little rethinking of the problem.

High-performing teams, whether in business, in sports, or in the military, share some common characteristics. They are exciting and fun; they empower and energize people; they thrive on purpose and mission; and they have a unique combination of leadership, clarity of roles, and self-determination.

Here are some key characteristics of effective teams.

Instilling autonomy, mastery, and purpose

People are most engaged when they feel a sense of ownership in their work, they are working in the right jobs, and they are clear on the team’s goals. In Drive, Daniel Pink explains that “autonomy, mastery, and purpose” are critical to motivation.

They empower and energize people, creating teams that thrive and deliver results. 

Providing an ability to see progress

Teresa Amabile of Harvard analyzed the work notes of more than 100,000 employees and found that one of the most valued aspects of work is to “make progress every day.” She describes this energizing process as our “inner work life,” one where positive feedback on work fuels happiness, productivity, and better thinking. Managers of teams help remove barriers to progress, maintain clear goals, and provide ongoing support.

High-performing teams develop their own unique work practices.

Creating an environment of safety and trust

Google’s Project Oxygen team, which spent a year studying performance appraisals and employee notes, concluded that great teams are built on trust, a sense of openness and freedom, and letting people do the work they love – and that they are led by managers who act as coaches, experts, and partners.

Google turned these findings into a set of rules for team leaders, teaching them to be open, to set clear and ambitious goals, and to focus on results:

  1. Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
  2. Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high-quality work on time?
  3. Structure and clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?
  4. Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?
  5. Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?

Forming their own work practices

High-performing teams develop their own unique work practices. Psychologist Bruce Tuckman developed the concept of “forming, norming, storming, [and] performing.”He essentially proved that there are four stages to developing a team and that over time teams develop trust and work rules, build processes for feedback and improvement, and work out the role of the leader. The concept of job crafting, where the job is changed by the person (and not the other way around), is essential here.

Great teams know each other, talk to each other, and give each other feedback.

Including deep knowledge of the organization

Michael Arena, the former head of talent management at GM and current vice president of talent and development at Amazon Web Services, found that the most important factor in a team’s success was its internal relationships and its knowledge of how the rest of the company works.

In other words, teams must not only be productive internally but also understand how their work fits into the overall structure.

Developing an organizational culture that supports performance

Harvard professor Boris Groysburg has found that superstars in one organization (for instance, investment bankers who far exceeded their goals) did not necessarily succeed when they moved to a new company.

Their earlier excellence appears to have depended heavily on general and proprietary resources, organizational culture, networks, and colleagues at their old firm. In other words, culture really matters, and people who may not perform well on one team may thrive on another – forcing organizations of the future to be very focused on work and team culture.

Amazon develops a sense of purpose by asking every team to write its press release before starting a project or initiative.

Creating a culture of feedback

Great teams know each other, talk to each other, and give each other feedback. When someone fails to perform, others tell the person in a constructive way. Many new tools now facilitate this, and shared goal and communication systems such Trello and Slack make this easy to do online. Continuous performance management, which I discuss later, further eases this process.

Building a clear sense of purpose

Amazon develops a sense of purpose by asking every team to write its press release before starting a project or initiative. The press release must describe the team’s eventual output and how they accomplished their goal, forcing the team to clarify its purpose and talk about how they want to work.

How to get started

Discuss these questions with your own leaders and teams:

  • Are we able to build cross-functional teams quickly when we need to solve problems? Why not, and what gets in our way? Culture? Rewards? Management?
  • Do our teams talk with each other and share information so they don’t duplicate solutions or work at cross-purposes? Why or why not?
  • Do we have any standard tools to help teams form and work together? Do we have a set of practices, tools, or systems to help new leaders create and manage teams?
  • Can people in our organization move from organization to organization without peril or risk? Is talent mobility rewarded, or is it considered a risky move? Why or why not?
  • Can we identify the highest-performing teams and understand what they have in common that low-performing teams don’t? Do we have any standards or practices we can share?
  • Will our leadership let go of their power and ownership to let teams flourish and grow, with specialists as leaders? Are they incentivized to support such structures? Why or why not?

Want to read more? Irresistible is available from Amazon, priced £20.99.

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Josh Bersin

Industry analyst and CEO

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