Culture-Driven Team Building: A Conversation with Derek Newberry

Culture-Driven Team Building: A Conversation with Derek Newberry

Derek Newberry is Affiliated Faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, and a leadership development consultant in the areas of interpersonal communication, collaboration, and corporate culture. He co-teaches Culture-Driven Team Building Specialization. As a business anthropologist, he advises senior leaders in Fortune 500 companies and major non-profits on the human factors that drive organizational effectiveness.

What sparked your interest in team building?

My background is actually a little different for teaching and working in the business as I do now. I’m a cultural anthropologist and received my Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in cultural anthropology. I focused on how organizations form cultures over time, how those cultures fragment, and why cultural conflicts surface. What I realized is that the most important unit in an organization is the team. I look at team building from an anthropological and practical standpoint.

I’ve studied and consulted organizations on improving culture and creating high performing teams, and over the years, I was able to recognize the problems teams come across and how to fix them. Teams often underperform compared to their potential and that’s a fundamental challenge they face. My goal is to help teams reach their maximum potential.

Who should take the Culture-Driven Team Building Specialization?

Anyone would find this course useful but especially those who find themselves at a crossroad where they’re starting a new project or starting a new role in a new company and they want to learn some principles to help them start off on the right foot. We rely on teams in every aspect of life so this course will give people the basic principles for working with others effectively.

Why is observation a key component in team building?

Observation is central to the anthropological toolkit and it turns out it’s one of the most important tools you can use when team building. A team can get really get misaligned without anyone realizing it – tensions may arise, people drift, or the people within that team could have life-changing circumstances. It’s important to take a step back and observe what is happening to each team member and how that will affect the group collectively. The first step in being able to fix problems on your team is to be a good observer and to be able to notice small behavioral cues that will tell you someone’s disengaged.

Why is the relationship between business and interpersonal relationships so important?

The hardest part of getting good performance in a business is managing interpersonal relationships because people are so complex. The famous anthropologist Clifford Geertz said “We’re all suspended in webs of significance� meaning we all play many roles in life. For example, I am a parent, friend, and boss, and all those roles give me different sets of competing priorities which affect how I work in a team. That’s why it’s so important to be attentive to those interpersonal relationships, it’s critical for business performance because if there’s an unproductive conflict that affects one person, the whole team may struggle.

How would you define a high performing team?

High performing teams are constantly going through a reflective process. Some of the best teams I’ve seen spend a lot of time focusing on the team dynamic itself separate from project objectives. They’re constantly stepping back and asking, “how are we doing as a group?� High performing teams understand that spending a little bit of time to reflect on the people pays off in the long run.

Sign up for the Culture-Driven Team Building Specialization here:


The post Culture-Driven Team Building: A Conversation with Derek Newberry appeared first on Coursera Blog.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here