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Sunday, June 24, 2018
Harvard on TEAMS
1. Overview. HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Teams. The Harvard BusiessReview has gathered some of its best articles on teams into one convenient book. Authors and scholars like Hackman, Pentland and Katzenbach, Eisenhardt, and Amabile fill this volume with rich content for leaders seeking research-based guidance. For example, using high-end sensors, Sandy Pentland and his MIT colleagues describe accurately how great teams behave based on massive data tracking. Theresa Amabile uses hundreds of daily work diaries to help us understand that people just want to make progress toward a meaningful goal every day—the “progress principle.” And Kathleen Eisenhardt and colleagues teach us how to engage in constructive conflict to produce excellent results while preserving relationships. Here is a summary of several of the best articles in this volume.
2. The New Science of Building Great Teams (by Alex “Sandy” Pentland). What separates average from great teams? MIT researchers equipped over 2,500 people with sensor badges (like those ID badges people wear at work). MIT’s special high-tech badges collected copious interactive communication data, such as voice tone, position of speakers relative to each other, time spent talking and listening to each other—but not recording conversation. From this communication data, highly reliable patterns emerged that allowed researchers to make reliable predictions about effective team behavior. “Those communication patterns were as significant as all other factors—intelligence, personality, talent—combined.” The three key communication factors that impact on performance are energy, engagement, and exploration. Thus, in the best teams, members of the team:
a. Talk about the same amount of time and in short bursts—no speeches!
b. Face each other and energetically gesture.
c. Connect with the team and each other individually.
d. Carry on back-channel discussions within the team.
e. Explore outside the team (conferences and meetings) and bring back new info to the team.
3. Why Teams Don’t Work (Richard Hackman interview). Teams often underperform due to issues with coordination, competition, and motivation. Even excellent leaders often don’t produce great teams. To increase the chance of a great team:
a. Appoint and protect a deviant. A devil’s advocate (deviant) helps to keep the team from agreeing too much—becoming too homogeneous—a real danger to innovation. The deviant says what others might be thinking, but no one has the willingness to say. S/he must be protected and allowed to tell the truth to power and the team.
b. Keep the number of team members low. Hackman suggests no double digits, even no more than six members. Become ruthless about whom you allow on the team. ONLY the necessary few should be allowed. Don’t let politics or lack of courage of the leader get in the way of key selections.
c. Set a compelling direction and purpose. People need to know the strategic direction—the why—of what they’re doing to have any chance at being aligned and successful. A compelling purpose with a single agenda needs to be the rule.
d. Focus on group process. Forget guiding and correcting individual behavior. Rather, use a coach-approach and group process. Leaders need to know how to launch and assess team progress and outcomes.
e. Stabilize teams. Data shows that stable teams win more often—whether flying planes, conducting surgery, or running companies. Regular turnover destabilizes teams.
f. Engage a team coach. Leaders who receive executive coaching are not as effective as the entire team getting coaching—especially at the beginning, midpoint and end of a team project.
4. The Power of Small Wins (Amabile and Kramer). When people make progress toward a meaningful goal every day, they stay engaged. These authors reviewed the daily work diaries of hundreds of knowledge workers and found that a positive inner work life made the difference between average and high-performing, engaged workers. And engaged employees and teams produce measurably more than others. The finding of this research is that when leaders help people make regular progress toward a goal, people feel empowered and motivated. The authors call this finding “the Progress Principle”—the single greatest motivator a leader can offer. In these diaries, best days were described with the word “progress” and on worst days, the word “setback” showed up.
5. How Management Teams Can Have a Good Fight (Eisenhardt, Kahwajy, Bourgeois) Leaders want differences to be debated without having personal attacks. Thus, separating personalities from issues is critical. Constructive conflict in a high-speed economy will be critical in the future. So how to do it? Vigorous debate on the issues but little time name-calling and politicking. These steps will help: Focus on facts. Develop alternatives. Agree upon goals, not solutions. Inject humor. Maintain a balance of power. Resolve issues without demanding consensus.
6. Virtuoso Teams (Fischer and Boynton). Successful virtuoso teams consist of top performers; intimate and intense relationships; strong communication systems, collaboration and conflict; assumptions that consumers are smart. The temptation is to settle for OK teams. The authors’ advice: DON’T. Ordinary teams produce ordinary results. With the right strategies, virtuoso teams produce high-end results. So, 1) Assemble stars. It’s an investment worth doing; 2) Build the group ego, not individual egos; 3) Make work a contact sport. Cause face to face contact/conflict that’s managed.;4) Respect the customer’s intelligence; 5. Herd the cats. Respect individualism and keep the team focus.
HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Teams by Harvard Business Press, 2013, reviewed by Steve Gladis, June 2018.