Team Genius: A Book Review by Bob Morris

Team Genius: The New Science of High-Performing Organizations
Rich Karlgaard and Michael Malone
HarperBusiness/An Imprint of HarperCollins (2015)

Not all teams can accomplish something great but they can be great

One of Rich Karlgaard and Michael Malone’s key insights is that work really gets done by informal teams rather than by standing committees or groups assigned to formal projects of finite duration. Think in terms of high-impact collaboration that is often spontaneous and improvisational rather than initiated and supervised by senior management.

This is a mindset similar to what Roger Martin characterizes (in The Opposable Mind) as “integrative” thinking. Those who engage disciplined collaboration “take their organizations to higher levels of performance…know where the opportunities for collaboration exist and when to say no to lesser projects…avoid the trap of overestimating benefits and overcollaborating…tear down the barriers that separate their employees…set powerful and unifying goals and forge a value of teamwork…cultivate T-shaped management…help employees build nimble, not bloated, networks…look within themselves and work to change their own leadership styles…And in cultivating collaboration in the right way, they set their people free to achieve great things not possible when they are divided.”

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Karlgaard and Malone’s coverage:

o Apple (Pages 7-15 and 119-120)
o Hewlett-Packard (22-29)
o Diversity (65-91)
o Challenges of diversity (72-74)
o Leaders (92-100)

o Interdependence (94-98)
o Darrell Anderson and the Bismarck High School cross country team (105-112)
o Magic Moment pairs (111-121)
o Chained-Together-by-Success pairs (121-124)
o Remember-the-Force pairs (141-145)

o Distant-Idol pairs (143-149)
o Sword-and-Shield pairs (149-155)
o San Francisco 49ers and the West Coast offense (161-165)
o Controlled Randomness (162-164)
o Frank Chance and the Chicago Cubs (175-178)

o Creating and Managing trios (178-182)
o “Two Pizza” rule (188-189)
o George Washington (210-214 and (246-249)
o All Teams Have Life Cycles (215-235)
o “The Retirement and Death of Teams (236-250)

I wholeheartedly agree with Rich Karlgaard and Michael Malone’s concluding remarks: “The teams in which we work, and the teams we lead, may not change the world. But they can make the world a better place, make our company (and everyone who depends on it) more successful and secure, and give ourselves and our teammates a more rewarding and fulfilling career. And most of all, we can increase the odds of our team’s success. Given all of that, why shouldn’t we want to apply the latest discoveries and experiences about teams to our own lives and careers? Why wouldn’t we want to create and be part of a team of genius?”

It is no coincidence that most of the companies annually ranked among those that are most highly admired and best to work for are also annually ranked among those that are most profitable and have the greatest cap value in their industry. With rare exception, everyone involved in the given enterprise nourishes and strengthens a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive.

Each of the aforementioned companies, therefore, can be viewed as a team of organizational genius. If the same cannot be said about your workplace culture, you need to read this book and recruit as many other people as you can to read it. Then get together as a team and agree on what must be done.

If you doubt that much of value can be accomplished by these efforts, consider this observation by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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