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BookReview: The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization
by Jon R. Katzenbach & Douglas K. Smith, 1993, 0-87584-367-0

Totally excellent book. These guys know what a team is and tell you why you want them and how to make them. The book is well structured with clear conclusions at the end of every chapter. You could get by with reading just the conclusions. It has many real world examples and questionaires to help guide the aspiring team player. Teams are distinguished from work groups (discussed below). The book must be read to get the full feel, but here are some memorable quotes:

[p39] In one of the many phrases that had special meaning to the team, Dave Burns summarized all this activity by describing what he calls the "Jesuit principle" of management: "It is much easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission."

Given the team's performance, however, they rarely had to ask for forgiveness.

[p50] The best teams invest a tremendous amount of time and effort exploring, shaping, and agreeing on a purpose that belongs to them both collectively and individually. In fact, real teams never stop this "purposing" activity because of its value in clarifying implications for members. With enough time and sincere attention, one or more broad, meaningful aspirations invariably arise that motivate teams and provide a fundamental reason for their extra effort.

[p90] [We] find it useful to apply a simple framework we call the "team performance curve" (see Figure II-1). On it there are five key points[...]

[p91] 1. Working group: This is a group for which there is no significant incremental performance need or opportunity that would require it to be a team. The members interact primarily to share information, best practices, or perspectives and to make decisions to help each individual perform within his or her area of responsibility. [...]

2. Pseudo-team: This is a group for which there could be a significant, incremental performance need or opportunity, but it has not focused on collective performance and is not really trying to achieveit. [...] Pseudo teams are the weakest of all groups in terms of performance impact.[...]

3. Potential team: This is a group which there is a significant, incremental performance need, and that reall is trying to improve its performanceimpact. Typically, however, it requires more clarity about purpose, goals, or work-products and more discipline in hammering out a common working approach. It has not yet established collective accountability. [...]

4. [p92] Real team: This is a small number of people with complentary skills who are equally committed to a common purpose, goals, and working approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.[...]

5. High-performance team: This is a group that meets all the conditions of real teams, and has members who are also deeply committed to one another's personal growth andsuccess. That commmitment usually transcends the team. [...]

[p115] The natural instince of managers like Janacek in companies built on individual accountability is to indentify, divide up, and assign tasks to individuals instead of letting a group figure out a common purpose, set of goals, and a working approach to optimize collective skills. The latter was risky because, as JAnacek knew, his superiors still held him individually accountable for the task force. Nevertheless, Janacek starte to behave in ways that lessened his control but allowed for mutual accountability to grow among his group. According to other team members, for example, he encouraged free-wheeling discussion while prohibiting finger pointing. "We're looking at the process, not the people" became a common refrain. He also started to step back and let others take charge when they could apply a special skill or offer new insight.

[p119] Common approaches to building team performance

1. Establish urgency and direction. [...] The more urgent and meaningful the rationale, the more likely it is that a real team will emerge.

2. [p120] Select members based on skills and skill potential, not personalities. [...]

Far too many leaders overemphasize selection, believing that without "just the right set of people at the start," an effective team will not be possible. Yet, with the exception of some advanced functional or technical skills, most people can develop needed skils after joining a team. All of us have the capacity for personal growth and need only be challenged in a performance-focused way. Accordingly, instead of focusing solely on whether candidates already have the needed skills, it can be more pertinent to ask whether the team, including its leader, will invest the time and effort to help potential team members grow. If the answer is no, then putting, or keeping, such people on the team probably makes no sense.

3. [p121] Pay particular attention to first meetings and actions.

4. [p123] Set some clear rules of behavior. All real teams develop rules of conduct to help them achieve their purpose and performance goals. [...] Such rules promote focus, openness, commitment and trust--all oriented toward performance. [...] However they arise, such rules test a group's own credibility.

5. [p124] Set and seize upon a few immediate performance-oriented tasks and goals. Most teams trace their advancement to key performance-oriented events that forge them together. Potential teams can set such events in motion by immediately estaablishing a few challenging yet achievable goals that can be reached early on.

6. Challenge the group regularly with fresh facts and information.

7. [p125] Spend lots of time together.

8. [p126] Exploit the power of positive feedback, recognition, and reward.

[p131] Most important, like all members of the team, team leaders do real workthemselves. Yet, in each of these aspects, team leaders know or discover when their own action can hinder the team, and how their patience can energize it. Put differently, team performance almost always depends on how well team leaders like Geyer strike a critical balance between doing things themselves and letting other people do them.

[p132] Simply abandoning all decision making to a potential team, however, rarely works either; the team leader's challenge is more difficult than that. He or she must give up decision space only when and as much as the group is read to accept and use. Indeed, this is the essence of the team leader's job--striking the right balance between providing guidance and giving up control, between making tough decisions and letting others make them, and between doing difficult things alone and letting others learn how to do them. Just as too much command will stifle the capability, initiative, and creativity of the team, so will too little guidance, direction, and discipline.

[p148] In the ultimate accolade to the team leader has struck the right balance between action and patience, one of the Zebras says of Frangos, "So much of what we have been able to do comes from the fact that Steve has let us be what we want to be." Fragos himself favors a quote from the Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tzu to describe his view of team leadership: "As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate. When the best leader's work is done, the people say, 'We did it ourselves.'"

I must say that I am beginning to believe that the mark of a good book on psychology/management must contain at least one quote from Tao Te Ching. I've read several good books lately and they all point to this one very slim book written 2500 years ago. Perhaps this is related to my cognitive dissonance, but I'm not so sure...

[p150] Deal with Obstacles

[p151] We are all familiar with the frustrations associated with stuck teams. They include:

  • A loss of energy or enthusiasm ("What a waste of time.")

  • A sense of helplessness ("There's nothing anyone can do.")

  • A lack of purpose or identity ("We have no clue as to what this is all about.")

  • Listless, unconstructive, and one-sided discussions without candor ("Nobody wants to talk about what's really going on.")

  • Meeting in which the agenda is more important than the outcome ("It's all show-and-tell for the boss.")

  • Cynicism and mistrust ("I knew this teamwork stuff was a load of

    crap.")

  • Interpersonal attacks made behind people's backs and to outsiders ("Dave has never pulled his own weight and never will.")

  • Lots of finger pointing at top management and the rest of the organization ("If this effort's so important, why don't they give us more resources?"

    [p151] The good news is that potential and even pseudo-teams can get [p152] unstuck as long as they address barriers that relate to their specific performance challenge. In fact, teams can make no greater mistake than to try to solve problems without relating them to performance. [...] The parties involved [in broken interpersonal dynamics] must identify specific actions they can take together that will require them to "get along" in order to advance performance.

    [p159] Approaches to Getting Unstuck

    [p160] 1. Revisit the basics. One of the primary messages of our book is that no team can rethink its purpose, approach, and performance goals too many times.

    2. Go for small wins. 3. [p161] Inject new information and approaches. 4. Take advantage of facilitors or training. 5. [p162] Change the team's membership, including the leader.

    [p168] Listen, for example, to one person we met who found himself in the middle of an interpersonal dilemma hindering a very stuck team: "If you're not getting along with someone, it's a lot easier to just not do anything else about it as far as the next day is concerned. If you don't do anything about it, it doesn't hurt so bad today. But two months down the road you're going to be much worse off than if you just suck it up and deal with it right up front. It's more painful right then, but it's a lot less painful in the long run."

    [p169] The good news in that being stuck--and even team endings--can serve invaluable purposes for teams.

    [p210] Real teams reflect these "to" behaviors (in Table 10-1 [below]). Conversely, teams cannot exist if their members are stuck in the "from" patterns.

    [p211] Table 10-1 Behavioral Changes Demanded by Performance in the 1990s and Beyond

    FROM

    TO

    Individual accountability

    Mutual support, joint accountability, and trust-based relationships in addition to individual accountability

    Dividing those who think and decide from those who work and do

    Expecting everyone to think, work, and do

    Building functional excellence through each person executing a narrow set of tasks ever more efficiently

    Encouranging people to play multiple roles and work together interchangeably on continuous improvement

    Relying on managerial control

    Getting people to buy into meaningful purpose, to help shape direction, and to learn

    A fair day's pay for a fair day's work

    Aspiring to personal growth that expands as well as exploits each person's capabilities

    [p213] Work Group Performance May Be Enough As we indicated in Chapter 5, working groups are neither good nor bad. As Table 11-1 shows, they are simply an approach that differs from that of a team. While we believe the performance results of a real tema will almost always outstrip that of a working group, working groups can and do help their members perform well in their individual roles. OFten this is all that total performance at the top requires.

    [p214] Table 11-1 Differences between Working Group and Team

    Working group

    Team

    Strong, clearly focused leader

    Shared leadership roles

    Individual accountability

    Individual and mutual accountability

    The group's purpose is the same as the broader organization mission

    Specific team purpose that the team itself delivers

    Individual work-products

    Collective work-products

    Runs efficient meetings

    Encourages open-ended discussion and active problem-solving meetings

    Measures its effectiveness indirectly by its influence on others (e.g., financial performance of the business)

    Measures performance directly by assessing collective work-products

    Discusses, decides, and delegates

    Discusses, decides, and does real work together

    [p259] Epilogue: A Call to Action

    The Killer Bees

    In starting to write this book, we were determined to stay away from sports examples since they dominate the subject of teams and often present misleading analogies. But, in the end, we simply could not resist the Killer Bees, a boys' high school basketball team from Bridgehampton, New York. Bridgehampton is a small hamlet on the

    [p260] southern shore of Long Island populated, except during the summer, by hard-working people of relatively modest means.

    Winter in Bridgehampton is high school boys' basketball. Nearly every permanent resident and even many summer seasonals from New York City religiously follow the Killer Bees--and for good reason. They are an incredible team. Since 1980, they have amassed a record of 164 wins and 32 losses, qualified for the state championship playoffs six times, won the championship twice, and finished in the final four two other times. Not bad for a school whose total enrollment has declined since 1985 from 67 to 41, and whose entire male student body numbers less than 20.

    [...] [The coach] never had more than 7 players, never had a star who went on to the pros, and never had a very tall team. As a result, Niles and his boys had to develop different sets of skills and game plans every year. To win, the Bees had to be the ultimate in versatility, flexibility, and speed. Their game is "team basketball," and they are among the best at it anywhere.

    [p263] A Call to Action

    We have listened carefully to all logical reasos for not pursuing team options, many of which are rational and understable if not compelling. Yet, while we respect this reluctance, we are not dissuaded from our basic contention: most of the objections to pursuing the use of teams do not offest the advantages theyoffer. The opportunity for increased performance is too great to let misunderstanding, inexperience, uncertainty, or false assumptions-- or even past team failures--stand in the way. And the risks and actions necessary to team performance are well within the capability of most of us.

    [p264] If you are in a position to help temas you are not a port of, start with the pseudo-teams that plague all organizations. Do not let them fool themselves or others any more. Stop calling them teams, and do not let them pretend to be teams. Insist that they make the real choice between working group and team. nothing is more discouraging than being on a pseudo-team. And nothing is more impressive than seeing the people on pseudo-teams as well as higher management face up to doing something about it.

    Turn next to the potential teams that matter most to performance. Again, do not tell them to "become a team." Rather, demand performance from them. Encourage or insist that they work on a purpose that has real meaning to them, and on a set of performance goals to which they will hold themselves accountable. Make sure that their working approach builds on collective work-products that contribute to performance goals, and set up small wins all along the [p265] way. If necessary, "lock them in a room" until they can come out with an agreed-on set of goals and measures. [...] Most of all, do not get in the way when they start to get excited and even unrealistic about what they are trying to do. Unbridled enthusiasm is the raw motivating power forteams.

    Via Rob 1993