- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press (26 Mar. 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1422189872
- ISBN-13: 978-1422189870
- Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 14 x 21 cm
- Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1 customer review)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 47,681 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
HBR's 10 Must Reads on Teams Paperback – 26 Mar 2013
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Harvard Business Review is the leading destination for smart management thinking. Through its flagship magazine, 11 international licensed editions, books from Harvard Business Review Press, and digital content and tools published on HBR.org, Harvard Business Review provides professionals around the world with rigorous insights and best practices to lead themselves and their organizations more effectively and to make a positive impact.
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Top Customer Reviews
In all of the volumes in the "10 Must Read" series that I have read thus far, the authors and HBR editors make skillful use of several reader-friendly devices that include "Idea in Brief" and "Idea in Action" sections, checklists with and without bullet points, boxed mini-commentaries (some of which are "guest" contributions from other sources, and graphic charts and diagrams that consolidate especially valuable information. These and other devices facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review later of key points later.
Those who read this volume will gain valuable information, insights, and counsel that will help them to boost team performance through mutual accountability, motivate large and diverse groups to tackle complex projects, increase their teams emotional intelligence, prevent or resolve decision gridlock, extract collaborative results from a group of superstars, and disagree constructively with colleagues at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise.Read more ›
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In HBR’s 10 Must Reads On Teams (2013), I have found Frisch’s (2008) article, When Teams Can’t Decide, to be my favorite and most applicable to my current career season. In my career, I’m considered one of three core discipline leads, whose work impacts the other in a circular fashion. When having team meetings to discuss creating new features, each lead, representing the expertise of their team’s function, weighs in on the conversation. This often presents the issue of what Frisch has identified as “circular logic” (Strategic…, 2012). Circular logic, also known as the “voting paradox”, was first discovered by an eighteenth century French mathematician and social theorist, the Marquis de Condorcet, in which “… different subsets of the group can generate conflicting majorities for all possible alternatives” (Frisch, 2008, loc. 2144). The article focuses on how teams can circumvent the “dictator-by-default syndrome”, which is cornering their superior to make an either/or decision, and navigate the complexities of circular logic (Frisch, 2008). The purpose of this paper is to review Frisch’s (2008) article.
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function” (Fitzgerald, 1945). In math, the transitive principle is stated as follows: if A > B and B > C, than A > C. However, the Marquis de Condorcet proved this principle is only true as an individual or in pairs (Strategic…, 2012). The transitive principle never became a law because it does not work for groups in which there are three or more decisions, each offering multiple options (Strategic…, 2012). What is perceived as irrational within the context of individuals and pairs is normal for groups and thus, no voting mechanism can overcome Condorcet’s paradox in a group (Strategic…, 2012). In applying this to my career, team members often approach a superior to help overcome decision-making logic because team members are more biased towards their functional areas. This produces a stalemate of sorts by not having the ability to rank preferences to decisions and enabling circular logic. Because information is presented to the superior as an either/or problem, it places them in a lose-lose situation. If A is selected, B and C lose, thus not favoring their superior’s decision. Is it possible the information can be nuanced and presented as a both/and? Spanier (n.d.) noted,
Instead of being oppressed by the tyranny of the OR, highly visionary companies liberate themselves with the genius of the AND, the ability to embrace both extremes of a number of dimensions at the same time. Instead of choosing between A OR B, they figure out a way to have both A AND B.
In order to circumvent “dictator-by-default syndrome”, and cater more towards having both A AND B, Frisch (2008) provided four suggestions: 1) specify the desired outcome, 2) test fences and walls, 3) surface preferences early, and 4) assign devil’s advocates (loc. 2168-2193). By focusing on the overall goal, the superior is able to narrow down the amount of options to what clearly achieves the goal (Frisch, 2008, loc. 2168). Frisch (2008) stated, “Without clear desired outcomes, team members choose options based on unspoken, differing assumptions. This sets the stage for the dictator-by-default syndrome” (loc. 2168). With clear direction on the goal, team members can now test their options against company policy to see if their ideas are stopped, a wall, or presented a passable barrier, a fence (Frisch, 2008, loc. 2193). Once passed, the options must be filtered based on the customer or stakeholder’s preferences (Frisch, 2008, loc. 2193). “Using weighted preferences is another way to narrow the decision-making field and help prevent the dictator-by-default syndrome” (Frisch, 2008, loc. 2259). The remaining options can be deliberated over until a final solution emerges. Frisch (2008) stated, “By breaking the false binary of a business case into several explicit and implicit alternatives and assigning a devil’s advocate to critique each option, you can depersonalize the discussion, making thorough and dispassionate counterarguments an expected part of strategic deliberations” (loc. 2280).
In conclusion, Frisch’s (2008) article, When Teams Can’t Decide, focuses on how to work within the complexities of circular logic in decision-making and circumventing “dictator-by-default syndrome”. Frisch’s (2008) concepts to narrowing options for decision-making focuses on achieving the overall goal by not cornering a superior to an either/or decision, but enabling a both/and decision. The remaining options are then deliberated over until a final decision emerges.
Fitzgerald, F. S. (1945). The crack-up. New York, NY: New Directions Publishing Corporation.
Frisch, B. (2008). When teams can’t decide [Kindle]. In HBR’s 10 must reads on teams
(loc. 2129-2344). Boston, MA: Harvard School of Publishing.
HBR’s 10 must reads on teams [Kindle]. (2013). Harvard Business Review. Boston, MA:
Harvard School of Publishing.
Spainer, N. (n.d.). Excerpts from The Tyranny of the “OR” vs the Genius of the “AND”.
Strategic Offsite Group, Inc. (2012). Bob frisch on why teams can’t decide [video file].
Retrieved from [...]
Gratton and Erickson began by researching fifty-five large teams that seems to demonstrate high levels of collaboration in order to find similarities in their practices (2007). What they found were four categories in which all the businesses seems to “overcome substantially the difficulties that were posed by size, long-distance communication, diversity and specialization” (Gratton & Erickson, 2007, p. 58). The four categories were executive support, HR practices, strength of the team leader and the structure of the team. The rest of this review breaks down each of the four categories in which the authors came up with their eight ways to build collaborative teams.
“At the most basic level, a team’s success or failure at collaborating reflects the philosophy of the top executives in the organization” (Gratton & Erickson, 2007, p. 59). Top leaders have to (1) invest in signature relationship practices. Gratton and Erickson found that “in every case the company’s top executives had invested significantly n building and maintaining social relationship throughout the organization (2007, p. 60). But it is not enough just to invest in this for employees, executives need to (2) model collaborative behavior. People should see the top leaders working hand in hand with others. “A senior team’s collaborative nature trickles down throughout the organization” (Gratton & Erickson, 2007, p. 63). Another area executive support is needed is by (3) creative a gift culture. This gift culture is made up of leaders investing time, energy and resources in mentoring and coaching. It should be evident in both themselves personally and throughout the entire organization. The huge benefit of this practice is that it allows people within the organization to build the networks they need to do the work they have been tasked with across the company (2007).
Surprisingly, Gratton and Erickson’s research showed, reward systems didn’t have a noticeable effect on collaborative behavior in the companies they interviewed. More so, it was the human resources signification investment to (4) ensuring the requisite skills and (5) supporting a sense of community that made a significant impact for collaborative teams (2007). When HR departments intentionally made sure teams had specific relational skills necessary for working with others it displayed in team performance. HR should invest in teaching employees “appreciating others, being able to engage in purposeful conversation, productively and creatively resolving conflicts and program management” (Gratton and Erickson, 2007, p. 66). Their studies also showed “While a communal spirit can develop spontaneously, we discovered that HR can also play a critical role in cultivating it, by sponsoring group events and activities” (Gratton and Erickson, 2007, p. 68). By investing in relational skills and providing informal opportunities for employees to gather together, a leader can encourage better cooperation and collaboration.
Strength of the Team Leader
It is very important for the collaboration of a team to have the correct leader. Gratton and Erickson speak to the importance of ‘flexibility’ as a quality of managers (2007). This means that organizations need to (6) assign leaders who are both task- and relationship-oriented. “They make the goal clear, engaged in debates about commitments, and clarified the responsibilities of individual team members. However at a certain point in the development of the project they switched to a relationship orientation” (Gratton and Erickson, 2007, p. 70). Leaders that can change their style during a project are more likely to lead a successful collaborative team.
Team Formation and Structure
The complex nature of team-member can stifle the goals a team is working toward, especially when they do not know each other. Gratton and Erickson found that “when 20% to 40% of the team members were already well connected to one another, the team had strong collaboration right from the start” (2007, p. 71). This shows it is important to (7) build on heritage relationships in order to build team collaboration. These heritage relationships have already invested time and effort in building trust with each other. The one pitfall that can move a team away from collaboration with this practice is “if not skillfully managed, too many of them can actually disrupt collaboration. When a significant number of peole with the team know one another, they tend to for strong subgroups” (Gratton and Erickson, 2007, p. 72). This can cause a divisive nature within the team that will work against accomplishing collaboration. A way that teams can limit certain friction within the group setting is for there to be an (8) understanding of role clarity and task ambiguity. Gratton and Erickson state, “Collaboration improves when the roles of individual team members are clearly defined and well understood” (2007, p. 72). When people know, specifically, what they are supposed to be doing and how their role impacts the whole, leaders limit the need for sharing when it isn’t needed. It also empowers those who are highly skilled to work independently on their portion. Given this practice, teams can be successful if they are “composed of specialists who had deep expertise in their given function , and each person had a clearly defined role” (Gratton and Erickson, 2007, p. 73).
If team can practice the eight ways above they will succeed in working together on complex tasks or projects. Gratton and Erickson summarize this article by saying, “Strengthening your organization capacity for collaboration requires a combination of long-term investments – in building relationships and trust, in developing a culture in which senior leaders are role models of cooperation – and smarter near-term decisions about the ways team are formed, roles are defined, and challenges and takes are articulated” (2007, p. 74). Once a company can articulate these practices it will overcome the four traits that are crucial to successful teams but can also undermine them; size, virtual, diversity and expertise. The authors conclude this article well when they state “Companies can assemble the breadth of expertise needed to solve complex business problems – without inducing the destructive behaviors that can accompany it” (Gratton and Erickson, 207, p. 74).
Until I read this article, I wondered if there was a way to follow and track the social interactions of team members to see what skills were most important to building a good team. Pentland was able to build such a device: a wearable badge that collects data on “what tone of voice they use; whether they face one another; how much they gesture; how much they talk, listen, and interrupt; and even their levels of extroversion and empathy. By comparing data gathered from all the individuals on a team with performance data, we can identify the communication patterns that make for successful teamwork” (Pentland as cited in HBR's 10 Must Reads On teams, p.5, 2013). This research shows that face-to-face interactions are more important than emails, phone calls, voicemails or texts. While I like emails for data-trails, I would rather discuss issues and ideas in person, so I am pleased to learn how teams can be at least 8% more effective by adding more face time (2013).
Pentland’s research shows that successful teams share several defining characteristics: team members talk and listen equally, members face one another with energetic conversations and gestures, members interconnect, members carry-on side conversations, and members get information from outside the team periodically (2013). These characteristics are boiled down into three elements of communication: energy, engagement and exploration. Energy comes from the number and nature of interactions between team members with the most valuable being face-to-face exchanges (2013). Video or voice calls are next in line of importance, but the value decreases from face time. The research shows that even in our technological world, sitting down to have a conversation with the person across from you is the best interaction you can have. The engagement element comes from the “distribution of energy among the team members” (p. 7, 2013) which means that all the team members have equal and high energy as they interact. The exploration element stems from the amount of interactions team members have with individuals and teams outside of their own team (2013). I believe these three elements are easily remembered and applicable.
Pentland is able to show through data collection how a company can be very inefficient in its communication until a problem arises and then it will switch to face-to-face communication to solve the problem (2013). This shows that the problem may have been avoided if the teams would have communicated in this fashion from the start. The issue with this type of communication over email, text, social media or voicemail, is that it needs more investment. Time to schedule, plan and have such interactions are hard to accomplish at times in our fast-paced business world. However, when crucial issues arise or are expected to arise, we need to make the time to plan these meetings.
I enjoyed the diagrams of social interactions the article contained, especially the ones showing the progression of the project and the problems it caused. Knowing that the different departments of a company did not speak directly, but instead relied on electronic media, failed in their product roll-out but had to fix it with direct verbal communication is extremely powerful and important for team leaders and executives. It should be enough to make leaders change how teams are constructed and how they communicate.
I enjoyed reading through all of their thoughts, and in particular, their examples of organizations who are exemplifying the ways to incorporate EI within their walls. One of the recurring themes was differentiating between individual EI and team EI, which they suggest is dissimilar because when focused on the individual it is directed inward, whereas with group EI it takes both inward and outward self-awareness (Druskat & Wolff, 2001, p. 97). They propose that team EI is not necessarily an easy skill to come by, but with great effort and a management team that is willing to embody a mission of becoming a successful organization any company can hone their skills at developing group EI.
One way in which they recommend evolving and building group emotional intelligence is by creating norms, or paradigms, which are fostered by a learning organization. Druskat and Wolff (2001) advise “the most constructive way of regulating team member’s emotions is by establishing norms in the group for both confrontation and caring.” In other words, the company establishes their paradigm in how they will abide and each employee behaves in accordance to the rules or faces potential dismissal. The importance of forming a group dynamic based on emotional intelligence is imperative to an organization because people need to know where they stand and how to deal with others effectively. This article does a fantastic job at emphasizing how to work with group emotions, regulate them and model them. Their example of IDEO’s work is a great one. They use an illustration of IDEO’s regulation of group emotions saying “this is a company that believes in playing and having fun” (Druskat & Wolff, 2001, p. 114). Their example details how IDEO uses finger blasters to allow their employees to vent their frustrations. This just goes to show how this company has created an effective paradigm to be able to sense and model true EI.
Dreyfus’s (2005) Model of Skill Acquisition is a great example of incorporating emotional intelligence into an organization and establishing a heuristic approach. As Druskat and Wolff (2001) suggest EI is something that typically has to be learned. In the Dreyfus model we can see where someone with little to no EI would be a novice only capable of following other’s leads, then as they become more self-aware and aware of other’s needs they would move through the ranks until they reached expertise where their intuition would merge with their knowledge of what EI entails.
The whole point of this article was attempting to lay out a “model for positive change, containing the most important types of norms a group can create to enhance its emotional intelligence” and I believe they did a great job at summarizing how to lay a solid foundation of trust, group identity and group efficacy (Druskat & Wolff, 2001, p. 116). With that being said I would recommend this article to anyone who truly wants to grasp the concept of building group emotional intelligence in a short amount of time.
Dreyfus, H. L., & Dreyfus, S. E. (2005). Expertise in Real World Contexts. Organisation Studies,
26(5), 779-792. DOI: 10.1177/0170840605053102
Druskat, V. U., & Wolff, S. B. (2001). Building the Emotional Intelligence of Groups. In
Harvard Business Review Press (Eds.), HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Teams (pp. 95-116).
Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation.
To begin with, Katzenbach and Smith offer the fairly provocative statement that “…teams and good performance are inseparable: You cannot have one without the other.” (Katzenbach & Smith, 2013) This statement is doubly startling when coupled with the acceptance of the authors’ position that many organizations use the term “team” inaccurately. Thus, few organizations truly have teams—as Katzenbach and Smith define them—to begin with and the remaining organizations who fail to embrace a true teams philosophy are, by definition, unable to experience high levels of performance. “People use the word ‘team’ so loosely that it gets in the way of learning and applying the discipline that leads to good performance.” (Katzenbach & Smith, 2013)
So, what is a team? Katzenbach and Smith define team, in part, by what it is not—and what a team is not, by name, is a working group. Anecdotally, all of the “teams” I reflected on having been a part of in my career were, in fact, actually working groups by Katzenbach and Smith’s definition. “The best working groups come together to share information, perspectives, and insights; to make decisions that help each person do his or her job better; and to reinforce individual performance standards. But the focus is always on individual goals and accountabilities.” (Katzenbach & Smith, 2013) It is important to note that the authors do not diminish the value of working groups. However, they do espouse the need for clarity surrounding the terms applied to these groups as well as an awareness that the absence of true teams in any organization is a void which must be remedied if the highest levels of performance are going to be reached. In my personal experience, working groups are the norm—having a lower threshold for management than the more intensive nature of a team, as defined by Katzenbach and Smith.
In contrast to a working group, “A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.” (Katzenbach & Smith, 2013) The second of these three components seems to be the most critical to the nature and success of the team. Ambiguity in terms of the metrics used to identify success or failure breeds malaise in the working unit and, if unchecked, will result in the erosion of the effort altogether. “The combination of purpose and specific goals is essential to performance. Each depends on the other to remain relevant and vital. Clear performance goals help a team keep track of progress and hold itself accountable; the broader, even nobler, aspirations in a team's purpose supply both meaning and emotional energy.” (Katzenbach & Smith, 2013)
So, in what scenarios are Katzenbach and Smith’s teams most necessary or effective? Essentially, “anywhere hierarchy or organizational boundaries inhibit the skills and perspectives needed for optimal results.” (Katzenbach & Smith, 2013) As a result, determination of where these inhibiting “boundaries” exist within the organization is a task for upper management as they seek to deploy teams at locations and amidst circumstances where they can have the most profound impact on the overall productivity of the organization.
Katzenbach and Smith contend that the use of a true teams-model is not only beneficial but necessary for organizational success. “We are convinced that every company faces specific performance challenges for which teams are the most practical and powerful vehicle at top management's disposal.” (Katzenbach & Smith, 2013) For the organizational leader looking to form and leverage teams in order to accomplish high-level production, Katzenbach & Smith’s seminal work on the topic will undoubtedly prove to be both challenging and useful.
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