Connection Point Ferrazzi Q&A
ATD Blog

Building Strong Teams Through Strengths: A Q&A With Marcus Buckingham

Friday, June 5, 2020

Marcus Buckingham is known as the world’s most prominent researcher on strengths and leadership at work and today leads People + Performance research at the ADP Research Institute. Prior to his keynote session, Buckingham spoke with Connection Point about his background and experience and what he’ll share with ATD Virtual Conference attendees. Note: Be sure to complete the StandOut strengths assessment prior to Buckingham's keynote address at noon ET Friday.

Your keynote presentation is about how to build strong teams through strengths. Why does this topic, more than ever, merit special attention for talent development professionals?

For two reasons: All talent development happens in teams or it doesn’t happen at all. I, along with rest of the ADP Research Institute team, just finished a 19-country study of workplaces around the world, and 84 percent of respondents said they do most of their work on a team. And 75 percent of those respondents said they do their work on more than one team. All work is actually team work.

When we think about talent development, we think about performance management; we think about goals—things at the individual level. And that’s not a terrible place to start. But real work always happens in collaboration; it always happens in combination; it always happens in teams. Now is an important time to think about what that means in terms of developing our talent and whether that development really happens in teams.

The second reason is our increasingly virtual world. Even before the pandemic, there was increasing virtualization. We don’t know now how much virtualization we’re going to have in our world, but it’s going to be more than we had in February. So, in that context, the challenge for team leaders and for talent developers is how do you get to know people on your team? How can you know what you can rely on from the people on your team? How can you onboard people quickly onto your team? If you’re a team leader, how can you build trust with the people on your team? How do you do that virtually?

It’s a challenge, although it’s not an impossible challenge at all. In fact, we have significant data that says that the most engaged teams in the world are those where the employees work from home four days a week. It’s not that virtual working situations prohibit real engagement; rather, it seems they may foster it somehow. Now is the perfect time for talent development professionals to be thinking about how to build teams when they don’t see each other’s faces except on the screen.

All participants will complete the StandOut strengths assessment in advance of your keynote. Why is this an important step for professionals looking to identify and recognize their strengths?

The Marcus Buckingham Company developed the StandOut Strengths Assessment a few years ago as a way for team leaders and team members to get to know each other quickly. As part of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve chosen to give it away. It’s a rigorous, carefully designed and built tool that more than 1 million people have taken. But I, along with the ADP Research Institute, felt that now, more than ever, we need a way to see ourselves, our colleagues, and others we care about through the lens of our strengths.


In a world where we don’t actually physically see one another, StandOut is a way for us to see one another—and not through the lens of gender, race, intellectual accomplishment, or level in the company. Rather, we can see each other through one’s positive natural pattern, which you can call their strengths. As part of this session for the Virtual Conference, we didn’t want to just talk concepts but to give attendees tools.

On Twitter, you have said that “engagement is about who you work with, not where.” Can you elaborate on that thought? Why is this important to understand?

For the 19-country study I mentioned earlier, we asked a lot of questions that measured engagement, but we also asked individuals about their work situation—where they work, how often they go into the office, whether they have one full-time job or one part-time job, and so forth. The most engaging work status for people—and this was before the pandemic—was that they worked from home four out of five days. They work for a company full time—they like the security of that—but they have the freedom to set their schedule physically. What we discovered is that the status in which individuals are away from the office for that amount of time is an engaging work experience under one condition: that they felt part of a team.

By far the strongest driver of engagement—in fact, individuals are 2.3 times more likely to be fully engaged—is whether people felt they were on a team and said they were on a team as compared to those who don’t. If people worked from home and aren’t part of a team, they’re disengaged; if they work in the office and aren’t part of a team, they’re disengaged. Feeling part of a team is the single greatest driver to engagement, and we found that working from home four out of five days, when combined with feeling part of a team, has a combination effect. Individuals are connected to a team but are still in charge of their own time. That is a state of mind, not a place. Engagement, collaboration, sense of team—those are states of mind, not physical places.

After the conference is over, a lot of us are going to want to continue learning about the concepts you’ve shared. What are some great resources that you would recommend?


While we’re all quarantined, I’ve been putting up education and learning resources primarily in two places (for free, of course). The first is Instagram, where I’ve been putting up videos and insights pretty much every day. The other is my YouTube TV channel, MarcusBuckingham TV, which is for our longer-form resources, for example, videos about what the nine StandOut roles mean and live sessions.

ATD’s Virtual Conference was designed to provide a safe space for TD pros to come together to learn. What one thing have you learned that has made the greatest impact in your life?

That my loves are not your loves. What I love, what I lean into, what lights me up, what ignites me and draws my attention are unique to me. The way I will find my way in life will come from me understanding what those loves are and taking it seriously and figuring out a way to turn them into contribution. They have nothing to do with you or my brother, sister, gender, race, age, or anything. They have to do with the unique clash of my chromosomes—that I’m a weird person and so is everyone else.

And if you want to grow your talents or others’ talents, you have to begin by understanding that mine aren’t yours and never will be. Our beautiful, enduring uniqueness is the most important lesson I’ve learned in life.

Share your ATD Virtual Conference experience on social media. #ATDVirtualConference

About the Author

Connection Point is the daily news source written by ATD staff for the ATD Virtual Conference, relaying news, session coverage, and other updates.

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