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X-Teams: How To Build Teams That Lead, Innovate, And Succeed Hardcover – 1 Jun 2007


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business School Press; 1 edition (1 Jun 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591396921
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591396925
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 15.9 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 700,511 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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“…comfortable reading…has some excellent advice for internal functioning of teams.” (Globe & Mail 2007-09-26)

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris TOP 500 REVIEWER on 5 Jun 2007
Format: Hardcover
Years ago, I read Organizing Genius in which co-authors Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman examine a number of what they call "great groups" that reveal "the secrets of creative collaboration." One of their most important points is introduced in the first chapter: "None of us is as smart as all of us." That is to say, the "Great Man" theory is invalidated by the achievements of truly creative teams such as those at the Disney studios which produced so many animation classics; at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) which developed the first personal computer; at Apple Computer which then took it to market; in the so-called "War Room" which helped to elect Bill Clinton President in 1992; at the so-called "Skunk Works" where so many of Lockheed's greatest designs were formulated; at Black Mountain College which "wasn't simply a place where creative collaboration took place. It was about creative collaboration"; and at Los Alamos (NM) and the University of Chicago where the Manhattan Project eventually produced a new weapon called "the Gadget."

I mention all this by way of introducing my reactions to X-Teams in which Deborah Ancona and Henrik Bresman assert that in recent years, the world has changed and the old model (i.e. one with an internal focus but lacking an external approach) "doesn't work so well anymore." The title of this book refers to teams that lead, innovate, and succeed in a rapidly changing environment. According to Ancona and Bresman, an X-team differs from a traditional team in three main ways. "First, to create effective goals, plans, and designs, members must go outside the team; they must have high levels of external activity...Second, X-teams combine all of that productive activity with extreme execution inside the team.
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Format: Hardcover
Years of research show that a team that focuses solely on internal team building is likely to fail. The "X-team" emphasizes external activity, and a flexible membership and leadership structure. Deborah Ancona and Henrik Bresman write that such a team is not only more likely to succeed, but will often exceed managerial expectations. This book, divided into three sections, tells you why some teams fail, how to create one that works and how to manage it through every phase of a project. The authors make liberal use of examples from major corporations, such as BP and Microsoft, to illustrate all their principles. The terminology is somewhat proprietary, but the approach makes a great deal of sense. We recommend this book to managers and team members alike.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Geof Cox on 19 May 2008
Format: Hardcover
The `X' in the title of this book refers to the external focus of the teams studied by Ancona and Bresman. They contrast this external focus with the internal focus that they attribute to most team development activities and writings. Their premise is that this inward looking produces teams who get on well together, but do not necessarily deliver. Having thus differentiated themselves from the majority of other books and research on teams, they then - in my opinion - fall into the same trap as many popular texts in that they focus on the successes of a few, senior level teams involved in major organisation change activities. This makes a good read, but often leaves the average reader - who is working in a less exhaled or visible role - unable to relate to the messages. It is a similar problem where books on leadership often focus on the stories of some charismatic political, business or military leader which is beyond the comprehension of most managers and team leaders.

For the writers, who are professors at, respectively, MIT's Sloan School of Management and INSEAD, an X-team differs from a traditional team in three ways - its high levels of external activity coupled with extreme execution inside the team and flexible phases of activity moving from exploration through exploitation to exportation. Whilst being descriptive and creative, this repetitive - and sometimes contrived - use of the `X' in the descriptions might affect some more sensitive readers!

The case study examples are broadly based and informative. The organisations profiled include Microsoft, Motorola, BP, Proctor & Gamble, Oxfam and Meryll Lynch, covering a range of industries and situations that show the application of the ideas.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 13 reviews
42 of 47 people found the following review helpful
A new teamwork model that combines an internal focus with an external approach 5 Jun 2007
By Robert Morris - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Years ago, I read Organizing Genius in which co-authors Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman examine a number of what they call "great groups" that reveal "the secrets of creative collaboration." One of their most important points is introduced in the first chapter: "None of us is as smart as all of us." That is to say, the "Great Man" theory is invalidated by the achievements of truly creative teams such as those at the Disney studios which produced so many animation classics; at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) which developed the first personal computer; at Apple Computer which then took it to market; in the so-called "War Room" which helped to elect Bill Clinton President in 1992; at the so-called "Skunk Works" where so many of Lockheed's greatest designs were formulated; at Black Mountain College which "wasn't simply a place where creative collaboration took place. It was about creative collaboration"; and at Los Alamos (NM) and the University of Chicago where the Manhattan Project eventually produced a new weapon called "the Gadget."

I mention all this by way of introducing my reactions to X-Teams in which Deborah Ancona and Henrik Bresman assert that in recent years, the world has changed and the old model (i.e. one with an internal focus but lacking an external approach) "doesn't work so well anymore." The title of this book refers to teams that lead, innovate, and succeed in a rapidly changing environment. According to Ancona and Bresman, an X-team differs from a traditional team in three main ways. "First, to create effective goals, plans, and designs, members must go outside the team; they must have high levels of external activity...Second, X-teams combine all of that productive activity with extreme execution inside the team. X-teams develop internal processes that enable members to coordinate their work and execute effectively while simultaneously carrying out activity...Third, X-teams incorporate flexible phases, shifting their activities over the team's lifetime."

Note the emphasis on extensive ties to those outside the given organization who enable teams to venture beyond traditional boundaries, coordinate their activities, and adapt over time. Also, what Ancona and Bresman characterize as "expandable ties" that allow X-teams to structure themselves. Moreover, exchangeable membership maximizes options to include members who join and leave the team as well as to rotate leadership.

Ancona and Bresman carefully organize their material within three Parts. First, they examine the dominant "internal view" and explain how the business world has changed in fundamental ways (e.g. rapid and extensive expansion of the space of critical knowledge) and thereby rendering the old paradigm obsolete. Next, they build a framework to overcome the challenges. They outline the building blocks needed for teams to engage in "a complex web of complementary internal and external activities." Finally, in Part 3, Ancona and Bresman "pull it all together" as they explain how managers can make the X-team model work for them. In my opinion, the most important material is provided in Part 3 but its value can only be used to maximum advantage if absorbed, digested, and applied within the context created by Parts 1 and 2.

Ancona and Bresman duly note that the traditional model (i.e. one that is internally focused and self-reflective) "works well for groups that do not need to rely on the external environment in which they function." The number of such groups seems to be decreasing, however. All of the changes and consequent challenges that Ancona and Bresman examine in this book suggest the need for a new kind of leadership, "distributed leadership," one that functions at all levels and in all areas of operations. There is also a need for more effective communication, cooperation, and collaboration between senior management and all operational levels.

Although all of the exemplary organizations that Ancona and Bresman examine are large (e.g. BP, Merrill Lynch, Microsoft, Motorola, Oxfam, Pharmaco, Southwest Airlines), I think that much of what Ancona and Bresman recommend - after appropriate modification, of course - can be of substantial benefit to much smaller organizations. For example, they can also engage in relatively high levels of external activity such as forging and then sustaining mutually-beneficial strategic alliances. However, as with much larger organizations, these smaller ones must remain committed to "extreme execution" within the given enterprise each day, even as these organizations proceed through Ancona and Bresman characterize as "flexible phases" (i.e. exploration, exploitation, and exportation) that may require them to change what they do and/or how they do it.

Not all organizations need an X-team. However, decision-makers in all organizations (regardless of size or nature) need to understand the X-team mindset which recognizes and appreciates the importance of "reaching out to far-flung islands of expertise" and of creating new synergies between and among all areas of operation by connecting and aligning "multiple people inside and outside the organization."

Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to read Henry Chesbrough's Open Business Models: How to Thrive in the New Innovation Landscape in which he explains that an open business model uses a division of innovation labor "both in the creation of value and in the capture of a portion of that value. Open models create value by leveraging many more ideas, due to their inclusion of a variety of external concepts. Open models can also enable greater value capture, by using a key asset, resource, or position not only in the company's own business model but also in other companies' businesses."

Also Enterprise Architecture As Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution co-authored by Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson as well as Richard Ogle's Smart World: Breakthrough Creativity and the New Science of Ideas.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Looking outward instead of being insular... 22 Sep 2007
By Thomas Duff - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Much of the literature you read on building teams in the workplace deal with the internal interactions of the group... how they get along, building morale, etc. Deborah Ancona and Henrik Bresman offer up a different take on team success in the book X-teams: How to Build Teams That Lead, Innovate and Succeed. Given my experience over the years, their methodology is likely to be more successful than the conventional approach.

Contents:
Part 1 - Why Good Teams Fail: Into a Downward Spiral; A Changing World
Part 2 - What Works: X-Team Principle 1 - External Activity; X-Team Principle 2 - Extreme Execution; X-Team Principle 3 - Flexible Phases; X-Factors - The X-Team Support Structure
Part 3 - How To Build Effective X-Teams: Tools for X-Teams - From Theory to Action; Crafting an Infrastructure for Innovation - The X-Team Program; X-Teams - Distributed Leadership in Action
Notes; Index; About the Authors

The most noticeable difference between the conventional team and the X-Team is the focus of their activity... external. Instead of spending time waiting for the team to gel and feel secure, waiting for the rules and directions to be established, Ancona and Bresman advocate for an external focus. Get out in the field immediately and start talking to the potential customers and clients. This tilt towards immediate action may well lead to a moderate level of confusion and frustration on the team in the early days, but the net result is a quick start and insights that can't be gleaned from existing knowledge. Couple this with active "ambassadorship" and flexible membership and team roles, and things get done rather than just being talked about. The authors have done a lot of study and research in this field, and many of the examples (both good and bad) are real companies with actual teams that created successful products. This emphasis on real world results is good, as otherwise this could come across as a nice academic exercise with no track record to back it up.

This would make a good read for team leaders and management who are dissatisfied with how their teams are currently functioning (or not, as the case may be). There's no promise that following these steps will make your next project smooth and successful, but it could significantly increase the odds of showing results.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Excellent book! 23 July 2007
By D. M. Loomis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
X-Teams is great book for those who participate on or manage any type of team within the corporate environment. The theme is that successful teams spend more time externally focused rather than internally focused on their team itself. The last 1/3 of the book are very practical tools and tips for establishing and managing successful teams. These are concepts learned from countless interviews and intensive research over the years by the leadership team at MIT. I highly recommend this book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A methodology for managing teams and projects. 3 Dec 2007
By Rolf Dobelli - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Years of research show that a team that focuses solely on internal team building is likely to fail. The "X-team" emphasizes external activity, and a flexible membership and leadership structure. Deborah Ancona and Henrik Bresman write that such a team is not only more likely to succeed, but will often exceed managerial expectations. This book, divided into three sections, tells you why some teams fail, how to create one that works and how to manage it through every phase of a project. The authors make liberal use of examples from major corporations, such as BP and Microsoft, to illustrate all their principles. The terminology is somewhat proprietary, but the approach makes a great deal of sense. We recommend this book to managers and team members alike.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Good new insights in teams 14 Oct 2007
By Bas Vodde - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
X-Teams is a well-written book on teams with an important new message. This is: well working teams should look outside as much as inside. In this review, I doubted between a 3 and a 4 star rating, though I decided on 4 stars.

The book is divided in 3 parts. The first part tries to explain why our mental model about teams might result into bad teams. The second part is the main content of the book and it talks about what X-Teams are and how you can try to create them. The third part talks about implementation issues.

Part 1 shows examples of teams which follow traditional team models and yet fail. Their mistake is that they are too much inwards focused and do not pay attention to the changing world out there.

Part 2 explains what X-Teams are. X-Teams are based on 3 principles:

- External activity
- Extreme execution
- Flexible phases

External activity is the main principle and it focuses on the fact that teams need to not just focus on themselves but at the same time keep in touch with the outside environment and coordinate their work within their context. Teams do this by scouting outside, coordinating their work with others and staying in contact with the management. Extreme execution is about the team work itself. Even though they need to keep track with the outside, they still need to get work done and focus on the work inside the team also! Principle one and two together give a balanced message about teams. The third principle is, in my opinion, somewhat odd compared to the first two. It talks about that teams typically need to go through three phases and what they need to do in these phases.

The rest of part two talks about building a team support structure.

Part 3 talks about the implementation of X-Teams. I found this part very disappointing and think the book would have been better without it (reason for doubting to go to stars). It talks about setting up a X-Team program and gives some examples.

All in all, the beginning of the book is really good. Halfway I started losing some of my interest and I was getting bored with the repetition. Though the message of the book is an important one. I'd recommend to read the book and read chapter 1-5, then stop :)
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