Written a while ago, this best seller is one of the better quality books on teamwork.
The book is the result of research into why teams are important and what separates effective from ineffective teams.It guides organizations into how to harness and enhance the energy, that teams can contribute to become a high performance organization.The contents of this book will not date.
If you are seeking to enhance your organization design and results. Changing Structure and processes etc the authors argue is not enough. The 'best results' come when teams are built into and used as part of the change process. On page 252 they say:
'No major company we know is pursuing an energized, productive workforce without the conscious use of teams.'
The authors make a clear distinction between working groups and teams, and in which situations to use them to enhance performance. The authors point out that a working group can be effective, but demonstrate the advantage of striving to create an effective team. This is expanded on when they present the concept/model of the team performance curve.[page 85] This brings together team effectiveness and the performance impact of the team.
The section [page 119] on common approaches to building team performance is well set out and provides eight guidelines, that you can easily apply to your own situation. These are summarized to help you move a team up the team performance curve, which is dealt with in chapter five.
Another positive feature is to be found on page 196, where they pose some important questions in relation to handling major change. They go on to expand on the use of teams in this context:
'Nearly every promising major change effort appears to attack change along three critical dimensions: top down culture-shaping initiatives, bottom-up goal achievement and problem solving initiatives, and cross functional redesign and integration initiatives. Second, the leading change efforts have moved along all three dimensions simultaneously and iterively instead of sequentially. Third, and most importantly for this book, teams have played a critical role in all three dimensions.'
Chapter eight gives pragmatic guidance on 'Teams Obstacles and Endings: Getting unstuck.' This is particulary good on managing transitions and changes of direction. Dealing with these factors are often overlooked by organizations eg where implementation of a project groups work, is not thought through in terms of handover to another team or line management.
The authors comment on page 253:
'Whenever adding value depends on the real-time blending of multiple skills, experiences, and judgements, a team performance challenge exists. And teams provide an excellent [often unsurpassed] crucible for on-the-job skill development.'
For further development of this approach the field of action learning provides insight and proven techniques. See the following for a excellent coverage:
- Optimizing the power of action learning: solving problems and building leaders in real time. - By Michael J Marquadt.
The work on team roles produced by Belbin is also worth considering, and I have used it extensively.
In summary; The Wisdom of teams is a powerful guide to creating a high performance organization, built around high performance teams. In many repects nothing really original here, but a good sold framework for making teamwork work. A later book - The Discipline of Teams, takes forward the work of the authors, with more emphasis on application inside your own organization.
Some of the case studies used by the authors could be better chosen, one example is the frequent reference to the use of teams in Enron, not a great choice with hindsight! Hence four rather than five stars.
With regard to innovation and teams see:
* "Stop the innovation wars" - Harvard Business Review July/August 2010. This highlights that tensions between your innovation team and core operations, can derail your companys growth initiatives. Provides guidance on how to deal with these situations.
Stan Felstead - Interchange Resources - UK