The official blog of Abacus Group — a place to share our knowledge and thoughts on trends in recruiting

June 26, 2018

Takeaways from Amy Edmondson’s “How to Turn a Group of Strangers into a Team” TED Talk


Last month Amy Edmondson, professor of leadership and management at the Harvard Business School, did a TED talk on teaming. She describes ‘teaming’ as being teamwork on the fly. She used the example of the Chilean mining accident of 2010 where professionals with different expertise, from different backgrounds and even speaking different languages, came together in pursuit of one goal, to save the lives of the trapped miners.

Edmondson emphasized that sports teams win because they practice, but teams can only practice if they have the same members consistently. Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever, was quoted saying “The issues we face today are big and so challenging that we cannot do it alone, so there is a certain humility and a recognition that we need to invite other people in. When you look at any issue such as food or water scarcity, it is very clear that no individual institution, government or company can provide the solution.”

In the age of the startup, teaming is becoming increasingly necessary and indeed present. Edmondson believes that professional culture clash is our biggest barrier to successful teaming. In her observation of a real estate startup focused on creating greener living, Edmondson came to see the difference in thinking across professionals, as well as that in values, timeframes, and jargon.

Edmondson believes that successful teaming requires humility in the face of the challenge ahead, curiosity about what others bring and willingness to take risks to learn quickly. Unfortunately, the basic human challenge is that it is hard to learn if you already know. Therefore it is important to stay curious. When teaming works, you will see the emergence of situational humility, curiosity, and psychological safety.

“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” Abraham Lincoln


“In our silos, we can get things done. But when we step back, and reach out and reach across, miracles can happen,” says Amy Edmondson. “Look to your left, look to your right. How quickly can you find the unique talents, skills, and hopes of your neighbor and how quickly, in turn, can you convey what you bring?”

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