Tips for High-Impact Teamwork: What do we mean by high-impact teams?

Tyler Reimschisel, MD, MHPE
Founding Associate Provost for Interprofessional and Interdisciplinary Education and Research

In this week’s publication of The Huddle, I begin a regular series of short articles titled, Tips for High-impact Teamwork, which I hope will enhance your teamwork. My goal for this series is to help students, staff and faculty at Case Western Reserve University as well as employees at our partner organizations, residents in our community to improve how they engage within their teams. 

What do we mean by high-impact teams? According to Tony Lingham, a former graduate and adjunct faculty member of the Weatherhead School of Management, high-impact teams have three characteristics: A high level of functionality, meaning the internal dynamics of how the team members interact with one another within the team is of the highest quality; high productivity in terms of the team’s outcomes, output and deliverables; and a positive influence on the organizations with which they represent and engage. 

In this initial article, I would like to focus on the importance of humility in teams that are striving to have higher impact. In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Don’t Let Power Corrupt You, Julie Battilana and Tiziana Casciaro discuss that humility is a crucial ingredient in the leadership approaches that are most important for high-impact teamwork. The authors have extensively studied power among team leaders and how misused or abused power can lead to hubris. Defining hubris as excessive pride and self-confidence, Battilana and Casciaro describe how it can lead to insensitivity, not “seeing” other team members, and compromise team impact over time if it is not mitigated appropriately.

They correctly propose that the antidote to this endemic problem among many leaders is humility. From my perspective they offer several helpful steps that team leaders can take to foster that culture:

  • Make it acceptable for leaders and others to say, “I don’t know.”
  • Establish ways to obtain honest input.
  • Create visible reminders that success is fleeting.
  • Cultivate empathy with others in our organization and in our communities.
  • Measure and reward humility.

Regarding the last step—measure and reward humility—the researchers reference the humility assessment tool developed by Owens, Johnson and Mitchell. The instrument includes the following dimensions:

  1. This person actively seeks feedback, even if it is critical.
  2. This person admits when he or she doesn’t know how to do something.
  3. This person acknowledges when others have more knowledge and skills.
  4. This person takes note of others’ strengths.
  5. This person often compliments others on their strengths.
  6. This person shows appreciation for the contributions of others.
  7. This person is willing to learn from others.

I really like that list. I have found it helpful to reflect on how my colleagues would respond to these statements about me. Additionally, one could also create an informal survey or question to solicit feedback from our teammates and those we may lead. This approach would align with the suggestion above to establish ways to obtain honest input from our teammates.

I encourage you to read the full article by Battilana and Casciaro since this brief summary does not do justice to their excellent, research-based insights. From my perspective it is important to emphasize that like most aspects of teamwork, fostering humility is a lifelong process that depends on a growth mindset and can be achieved through a mutual learning approach. These and many other aspects of teamwork are topics that we will explore in future articles in this series. 

Please contact if there are topics or questions about teamwork that you would like to read about.