How Humility Contributes to a Successful Team

I’ve recently become a big fan of podcasts and among my favorites is WorkLife by Adam Grant. Adam is an organizational psychologist who studies how to “make work not suck” by sharing stories from companies and organizations he’s discovered to have unique approaches.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. - CS Lewis

Image by Ron Mader via Flickr.

If you’re a friend of GroundFloor Media (GFM) | CenterTable you know that we’re fortunate to be consistently named a best place to work, and you might think part of the formula for this honor is to fill our bench with all stars. That’s certainly what I thought, until I listened to Adam’s podcast about “The Problem With All Stars.”

Yikes! Did this blog post just take an unexpected turn? Absolutely not – and here’s why…

What is humility?

The premise of this podcast is that humility is a key ingredient to building great teams. So, what is humility? Merriam-Webster defines humility as “freedom from pride or arrogance.” Adam describes it as having the self-awareness to recognize what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. In a team setting, this means embracing the role you’re best suited for instead of gunning for the spotlight.

How do you know if someone is humble?

Research shows there are three key actions that reveal humility:

  1. Recognizing your own shortcomings and limitations
  2. Appreciating others’ strengths, giving credit where it’s due, and highlighting the team’s success over your individual achievements
  3. Showing openness to learning from others

Can a humble team member be a star?

This all depends on how you define “star.” In basketball – the theme of this podcast – the star is often defined as the person who scores the most points. But author Michael Lewis – who wrote Moneyball and The Blind Side – argues that often stars are overrated and role players are underrated. He points out that each time you’re on the court, only one person can take the shot. So, if you define the star as the scoring machine, it doesn’t make sense to have more than one on the court at a time when there are other roles that need to be played, too.

How humility affects workplace culture

GFM President Ramonna Robinson was proud to hear that her beloved Butler Bulldogs were featured in this podcast for their commitment to The Butler Way, which is all about humility. Adam succinctly captured the team’s approach by explaining that it’s not that talent doesn’t matter, but talent alone isn’t enough. Coach LaVall Jordan emphasized the importance of everyone on the team embracing their individual roles, and taking personal responsibility when things don’t go the way they hoped. The team doesn’t even have captains – it’s all about shared responsibility. That’s The Butler Way, and the team screens for it carefully.

How to hire for humility

All of these points bring me back to the team at GFM | CenterTable. While I think everyone on our team is a star in their own right, it turns out that what makes the team work is a healthy dose of humility. This starts at the top with Founder and Chief Cultural Officer Laura Love’s unwavering commitment to hiring for culture first. The organization’s mostly flat structure and approach to custom-building teams on which, regardless of title, someone might play a lead or a support role depending on their strengths, confirms that some of The Butler Way has made its way to our culture, too. For that, we’re grateful!

There’s no wrong time to start being humble

Adam summed up his podcast by sharing that he often thought of humility as something to display after success, but his mind – and mine – has changed. Cultivating humility before success can arguably lead to more success, as it affects how close we come to our potential. He even states that in the best teams, humility isn’t a weakness; rather, it’s a source of status and a sign of strength. I couldn’t agree more.

The first season of WorkLife with Adam Grant has wrapped, but while we wait for the new season of podcasts you can keep up with Adam on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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