Building State Capability Podcast

Episode 9: Building Effective Teams

Episode Summary

The process of implementing public policies and solving complex development problems requires working in teams. But working in teams is often a challenge. In this podcast, Professor Monica Higgins, Kathleen McCartney Professor of Education Leadership at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, shares her experience and research about building effective teams.

Episode Notes

To learn more about the Implementing Public Policy executive education course, visit

About Prof. Monica Higgins: Monica Higgins joined the Harvard faculty in 1995 and is the Kathleen McCartney Professor of Education Leadership at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) where her research and teaching focus on the areas of leadership development and organizational change. Prior to joining HGSE, she spent eleven years as a member of the faculty at Harvard Business School in the Organizational Behavior Unit. Her book, Career Imprints: Creating Leaders Across an Industry, (2005) focuses on the leadership development of executives in the biotechnology industry. In education, she studies the effectiveness of senior leadership teams in large urban school districts across the United States and the conditions that enhance organizational learning in public school systems. As a long-time member of the Public Education Leadership Project, a joint initiative between HBS and HGSE, Higgins co-authored a book in 2015 with her colleagues on managing central office-school relationships called, Achieving Coherence in District Improvement; this book is based upon their work with large urban districts over a ten-year time period.

Higgins also works with entrepreneurial education organizations to help them navigate the constraints and opportunities they face in the education reform movement. Central to this work is HGSE’s Scaling for Impact initiative, which she leads. Here, along with colleagues from HGSE, HBS, and HKS, she is engaged in research and teaching that focus on helping entrepreneurial teams both within and outside of traditional district structures scale their work for even greater social impact. Her latest research in this area focuses on sources of funding and strategic opportunities for nonprofit education organizations.

She served as an appointee for Education Secretary Arne Duncan of the Obama Administration from 2009-2016 and currently sits on several boards in the nonprofit education field. At Harvard, Higgins teaches in the areas of leadership and organizational change, entrepreneurship, teams, and strategic human resources management. She has also taught in leadership programs for The Broad Foundation and for New Leaders for New Schools. Additionally, she teaches in and is on the faculty board of the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative.

Before academia, Higgins held marketing and organizational consulting positions at American Express Travel Related Services, BankBoston, Bain & Company, and Harbridge House. Higgins earned her A.B. in policy studies with a focus in organizational behavior from Dartmouth College, her M.B.A. from the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration, her M.A. in psychology from Harvard University, and her Ph.D. in organizational behavior jointly from the Harvard Business School and the Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

To learn more about the conditions that enable teams to do great work, please see: