Three Big Things I’ve Learned about Teams – from Research, from Experience, and from Fran.

by Lyn Turknett

May 2020

This month’s newsletter is focused on teams, and I love thinking about teams. Indeed thinking about teams has been my life’s work – how leadership teams function best, why teams fail, and, more recently, what agile teams tell us about the future of enterprise. But as I try to finish this short piece I have one thing on my mind – and that is the remarkable individual that the world lost on Sunday, May 10th, 2020 – Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne. Fran would have been 103 on May 23rd.

When we visited Fran last, on December 1st of last year, she had been interviewed earlier in the day for a CBS documentary on the Jacksonville University Cinderella team of 1970 – still the smallest team in the modern era to make it to the NCAA final four. Fran was president of JU from 1979 to 1989, but as Dean of Fine Arts in 1970 she was already the unofficial team-builder at JU – and of any organization she was ever a part of.

Lesson One

The most important lesson about teams crystallized for me on a Sunday in 2016, when I read Charles Duhigg’s article entitled What Google Learned From It’s Quest to Build the Perfect Team.  Google is data rich and data obsessed, and in 2012 embarked on Project Aristotle – a huge effort designed to figure out what distinguished their most productive teams from the other teams. After measuring everything under the sun they found some things that were important, like clear goals and norms for accountability, but the most important element – far and away the most important thing – was psychological safety.   The term psychological safety was coined by Harvard researcher Amy Edmondson, and she defined it in 1999 as ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up. It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.’’

Google found that teams high in psychological safety were not just more productive but also more innovative, and that has been corroborated by others. They share their research along with ways to build psychological safety on their ReWork site. I wish I could go back and measure the psychological safety in teams that had Fran as a leader or member – I would bet the scores would be off the charts.

My favorite recent book about teams is Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Effective Groups, and his first secret, unsurprisingly, is Safety.  The most important lesson for any team is that psychological safety must be high.

Coyle says that people, especially leaders, need to signal safety quickly, in the first five seconds. Fran did that. She connected immediately. I don’t remember the event, but I remember being in the back seat of a car in a line for valet parking. Fran was in the front passenger seat. She began a quick conversation with the valet, asking him, with incredible warmth, his name, whether he was in school, and what his plans for the future were. I still remember the light in his eyes. And she did that with everyone, no matter who they were.

Fran made everyone immediately feel like a better version of themselves. She convinced Jack Benny and Bob Hope to come to JU to receive honorary degrees at the same time, and I’ll bet they would both tell you that they just felt more comfortable, more real, and more capable around Fran.

Lesson Two

We have used a stage- setting slide in our work with teams for over 25 years. Entitled “The Role of the Secondary Facilitator,” I believe that it came originally from Xerox.  When we began work with executive teams decades ago, most were composed of white males with out-sized egos. It amazed me how this simple slide shifted behavior and made conversation more productive. The framing idea was that while I might be facilitating, everyone in the group had an important role as a “secondary facilitator,” and to that end needed to follow certain rules:

  • Balance your own participation
    • Say what needs to be said – take risk
    • Don’t dominate
  • Bring in others who aren’t participating
  • Maintain an attitude of respect
  • Be present – pay attention
  • Stay with the topic
  • Take personal responsibility for the discussion

I am not sure how important the specific norms are, but I am sure that explicitly spelling out the norms is critical. The difference in a meeting with explicit norms and a meeting without is dramatic.

We now have teams create their own team charters and spell out “Operating Guidelines” in their own language, but I firmly believe that the most important things are that the guidelines be written, and that the reminders be frequent.

Lesson Two: Codes are key.

Fran was an explicit conveyor of her values, and I imagine that she set the stage well with any team. She said frequently that she learned from her mother, “Life is not about us. Life is about others.” She lived with humility and respect combined with extreme optimism and extreme confidence and she instilled that “culture” into even a dinner table conversation.

Lesson Three

Lesson Three is one that anyone in any organization knows by heart – the leaders, and the leadership team, set the culture and the behavioral norms throughout the organization. And effective, trustworthy leadership teams create cultures of engagement and high performance.

I would love to have been on a team led by Fran Kinne.  Fran was President of JU one of the first times I visited the JU campus, and I remember talking to the person who was leading the tour Bob and I were on. She had graduated the May before, but had stayed on at JU because she had a chance to “work with President Kinne.” I have never heard anyone talk more excitedly about their work.

Bob has always said that since having Dr. Kinne as his humanities teacher in 1960 he has guided his life by her example, often asking when in a dilemma, “what would Fran do”?  There are so many people who are better versions of themselves because of knowing Fran – better friends, better spouses, better leaders, better people.

We will forever be on her team.

“Listen to her carefully: Fran Kinne never says that. She never says, ‘I was the first,’” Cost said. “Never. I’ve never heard her brag. I’ve never heard her put herself into a story so the story was about her.”

Additional Resources

Mental health of employees:


The 5 Keys to a Successful Google Team


Human Resource Executive


JU Hoops Memories Show Why Kinne was so Extraordinary


I believe that companies are moving to team structures:

  1. Teams don’t need to be comfortable, but they need to safe. Team Genius, Charles Duhigg, Project Aristotle,
  2. Codes can transform – big code? Take turns – and pay attention to the mind in the eyes – why some teams are smarter than others – have realized that turn-taking can be painful to.
  3. Top teams
  4. 5 Keys to a Successful Google Team


Team Genius –



The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups

How do you develop a hive mind?

How do you develop ways to challenge each other, ask the right questions, and never defer to authority? Essentially, this question is about how to create leaders among leaders.


Science of great performance – Cleveland Indians – Inside scoop on Successful teams



Why CEOS Should Model Vulnerability


Teams and Resilience – HRE

Coyle – closed face and open face –

Focus on the first five seconds

use the open face

send the two line email

Obey the two times rule

Coyle – signals of connection and direction – adults thinking about power – kindergartners just focusing on connecting and building – share signals of safety, vulnerability and story –

Distributed control and decision making

Four ways to Build Organizational Resilience. 

Resilience demands distributed control with centralized coordination, not centralized control with distributed execution.


Teams and Leadership Character:

  • Foundation of trust
  • Courage and Empathy – conflict
  • Accountability and Lack of Blame – culture of accountability



During the current crisis, businesses have worked faster and better than they dreamed possible just a few months ago. Maintaining that sense of possibility will be an enduring source of competitive advantage.

Many leaders are reflecting on how small, nimble teams built in a hurry to deal with the COVID-19 emergency made important decisions faster and better.

  • Rethinking the organization. In 2019, a leading retailer was exploring how to launch a curbside-delivery business; the plan stretched over 18 months. When the COVID-19 lockdown hit the United States, it went live in two days. There are many more examples of this kind. “How can we ever tell ourselves that we can’t be faster?” one executive of a consumer company recently asked. Call it the “great unfreezing”: in the heat of the coronavirus crisis, organizations have been forced to work in new ways, and they are responding.

Team of Rivals

Lincoln’s Team of Rivals

Three big things I’ve learned about teams:

  1. Psychological safety,
  2. turn taking, and EQ make a big difference – Google project Aristotle,
  3. Teams are the lifeblood of organizations now
  4. The power of codes
  5. The culture of the executive team sets the culture of the organization

Teams – Culture Code, Team of Rivals, Leaders Need to change


Team of Rivals

Conflict is essential – Team of Rivals: By putting his rivals in his cabinet, he had access to a wide range of opinions, which he realized would sharpen his own thinking. It also gave him a way of keeping all those conflicting opinions together. If he didn’t have a unified group fighting against the South, the fight would be impossible to sustain. So having all those opinions in his cabinet not only helped him; it helped the country as well. 

Resilience demands distributed control with centralized coordination, not centralized control with distributed execution.

In order to prepare for the unforeseen, the military branches have developed highly trained, distributed teams that are enabled and empowered by coordination and data.

For Cynthia Good July 30:

McKinsey – Reimagining the Post-Covid world

CCL Three Characteristics of Best Executive Team


The best executive teams are characterized by 3 vital threads that run through everything they do.

  • Strategic focus. Effective executive teams establish a vision for the organization and invest considerable time and energy at the strategic level. They balance risk and innovation, anticipate future needs and opportunities, and seek to ensure the organization’s sustainability.
  • Collective approach. Top-performing executive teams work together, taking an enterprise-wide view of their individual and team functions. They model for the entire organization ways to break down silos and develop solutions to business problems together. Individuals on top-performing executive teams prioritize the interests of the organization over individual gains.
  • Team interaction. Finally, the best executive teams are intentional in their interactions. They value their differences, listen and communicate well, seek input from each other, and trust and respect one another. These behaviors make teams more effective. Crucially, they also model for the rest of the enterprise what team interactions should look like.

Executive Teams must (CCL):

  1. Get the diagnosis right. The CEO or top leader at an organization should understand what drives individual executive-team members and what makes them work — or not — as a group.
  2. Get the leadership mental model right. Executive team members must have an explicit understanding of, and agreement with, what it means to lead at the enterprise level. Senior executives must understand that their role on the team goes beyond functional responsibilities.
  3. Get the mindset right. For seasoned leaders, the executive team shouldn’t represent the summit of their professional development, but rather a new challenge that requires them to continue to learn and grow. They must also bring this perspective to their direct reports and others they interact with, encouraging them to develop beyond their technical expertise.
  4. Get the interactions right. Creating explicit “interaction rules” to guide how team members interact with one another is critical to building effective teams. Members of the executive team must be transparent, vulnerable, and comfortable learning in public; they must also have strong communication skills.
  5. Get the diffusion rules right. Finally, executive teams are only effective when their decisions, thinking, and behaviors can spread quickly across large numbers of people at all levels of the organization. This ensures that strong, healthy executive team actions and values can be modeled by other teams throughout the enterprise.

From surviving to thriving: Reimagining the post-COVID-19 return