Team Turnarounds: A book review by Bob Morris

Team Turnarounds: A Playbook for Transforming Underperforming Teams
Joe Frontiera and Daniel Leidl
Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint (2012)

How and why results-driven, high-impact teams can transform organizations at all levels and in all areas

With rare exception, the best business books are research-driven and that is certainly true of this one. As Joe Frontiera and Daniel Leidl explain in the Introduction, “After our initial research was published in the 2010 Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, we expanded our questions to the world of business, talking to leaders at different levels, from CEOs to frontline managers.” Expanding the scope and depth of inquiry produced one especially important insight. For example, “We found six elements that were common to all turnarounds we explored. These elements fit naturally into a six-stage model, one that we call the Team Turnaround Process.”

Frontiera and Leidl introduce and then rigorously examine that process and devote a separate chapter to each of six elements or stages of it:

1.  “Leading Past Losing” (facing realities, however painful and unpleasant)
2.  Commitment to Growth (with the given enterprise viewed as a living organism)
3.  Behavioral Change (teach it, model it, reinforce it)
4.  Embrace of Adversity (viewed as opportunity rather than as peril)
5.  Achievement of Success (measurable growth, positive momentum, compounded confidence)
6.  Nurturing a Culture of Excellence (strengthen foundation for sustainable organizational health)

Frontiera and Leidl skillfully present and develop their material within a sequence/timeframe of initiatives but also as separate but interdependent components of a process that will produce, in the final chapter, “The Team Turnaround Workbook.” Given the immense difficulty and complexity of change initiatives, especially those central to a turnaround, the emphasis on “work” simply cannot be exaggerated.

At the conclusion of Chapters 1-6, Frontiera and Leidl provide a “The Playbook for [name of stage]” in which they suggest some especially helpful do’s and don’ts as well as offer reassurances that, by the time the reader concludes Chapter 3 or 4, will be especially appreciated. Many readers will welcome the various “Group Exercises” that are provided in the final chapter. They serve a number of important purposes that include illustrating and demonstrating key points, focusing on priorities, indicating the interrelationships between and among the project’s who < > what < > how< > and < > why, increasing team members’ active and productive engagement, and increasing/strengthening buy-in re sustainability.

There are reasons why so many teams are dysfunctional and not all of them can be turned around. The Team Turnaround Process (in fact, any process) will only be as successful as those who are centrally involved. Obviously, effective leadership is essential but should not be viewed solely in terms of the person who heads the team. What we have in this single volume – best viewed as a playbook — is probably as much as anyone needs to know about how to transform an underperforming team. The stages and elements as well as the strategies, tactics, and exercises are relevant to just about any team in just about any organization, whatever its size or nature may be. I congratulate Joe Frontiera and Daniel Leidl. Also, I wish great success to all the teams and those who lead them, especially those on teams that have been charged with turning around their organization.

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