HBR’s 10 Must Reads On Teams: A book review by Bob Morris

HBR 10 InnoHBR’s 10 Must Reads On Teams
Various Contributors with Editors of Harvard Business Review
Harvard Business Review Press (2013)

Most teams self-destruct. Don’t let that happen to yours.

This is one in a series of anthologies of individual articles that the editors of Harvard Business Review consider to be the “must reads” in a given business subject area, in this instance teamwork. I have no quarrel with any of their ten selections, each of which is eminently deserving of inclusion. Were all of these article purchased separately as reprints, the total cost would be $60 and the value of any one of them exceeds that. Given the fact that Amazon now sells this one for only $13.53, that’s quite a bargain. The same is true of volumes in other series such as “Harvard Business Review on….” and “Harvard Business Essentials.” I also think there is great benefit derived from the convenience of having a variety of perspectives and insights gathered in a single volume

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.

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.

Here are three brief passages that are representative of the quality of the articles from which they are excerpted as well as of the quality of the other seven articles in this volume.

From “The New Science of Building Great Teams,” Alex (“Sandy”) Pentland: “With remarkable consistency, the data showed that the most important predictor of a team’s success was its communication patterns. Those patterns were as significant as all other factors – intelligence, personality, talent – combined. In fact, the researchers could tell which teams would outperform simply by looking at the data on their communication, without even meeting the members.”

From “The Discipline of Teams,” co-authored by Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith: “A team’s essential discipline comprises five characteristics:

1. A meaningful common purpose that members of the team have helped shape.
2. Specific performance goals that flow directly from the common purpose.
3. A mix of complementary skills between and among members.
4. A strong commitment to how the work gets done.
5. Mutual accountability.

“Once the essential discipline has been established, a team is free to concentrate on the critical challenges it faces.”

From “How Management Teams Can Have a Good Fight,” co-authored by Kathleen Eisenhardt, Jean Kahwajy, and L.J. Bourgeois III: “How can managers encourage the kind of substantive [principled] debate over issues that leads to better decision making? We found five approaches that help generate constructive disagreement within a team:

1. Assemble a heterogeneous team, including diverse ages, genders, functional backgrounds, and industry experience.
2. Meet together as a team regularly and often.
3. Encourage team members to assume roles beyond their obvious product, geographic, or functional responsibilities.
4. Apply multiple mind-sets to an issue.
5 Actively manage conflict by mitigating interpersonal conflict.

If you read nothing else on building better teams, read these ten classic articles from Harvard Business Review.

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