The Secret of Teams: A book review by Bob Morris

The Secret of Teams: What Great Teams Know and Do
Mark Miller
Berrett-Koehler Publishers (2011)

High-impact leadership + high-impact teams = high-impact community

Mark Miller is the co-author with Ken Blanchard of a previous book, The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do, now in a second edition. The “secret” to which the title of each refers is a secret only to those who have not as yet learned it, and hardly a head-snapping revelation. However, both books provide invaluable wisdom, insights, and counsel. Effective leadership and effective teamwork are interdependent and yet each poses different challenges. What we have in this volume is a business fable during which Miller examines fictitious characters in a fictitious business environment. However, every issue, conflict, opportunity, peril, and complication is anchored in a real-world context, familiar to anyone who reads this book.

The details of the narrative are best revealed within the sequence of events. Throughout 15 brief but substantial chapters, each best viewed as a component of what proves to be a journey of discovery by the lead characters. Effective team requires effective leadership, of course, but of a special kind and one that is not defined by title or status within a chain of command. Moreover, teams can be either structured or expedient, created to complete a specific task (e.g. answer a question, solve a problem, and/or produce an analysis) whereas expedient teams are usually informal, often spontaneous, and result from a convergence of circumstances. However, as Miller’s narrative demonstrates, high-impact teamwork (whatever its mission and scope may be) requires participants who possess a mindset that is committed to communication, cooperation, and especially, collaboration. Members of all teams think in terms of first-person plural pronouns. Theirs is an “all for one, one for all attitude.”

In the most highly admired companies, those considered to be the best to work for, the mindset that Miller affirms is embedded at all levels and in all areas throughout the given enterprise. The community and its culture have three “pillars” that serve as their foundation: selection, training, and esprit de corps.  A company hires only those who will strengthen each of those pillars. Its leaders select for membership on project teams only those are best qualified in terms of both their individual strengths (talents, skills, and experience) and their genuine care and concern for others on their team.

The “journey” metaphor is especially apt: companies, divisions, departments, teams, and individuals all must complete a process of discovery. Where to begin? Miller includes  “High-Performance Team Assessment” (Pages 124-125) and suggests that his reader and then the reader’s associates take the assessment, sharing and discussing responses to gain a clearer and deeper understanding of the current situation. Then proceed together to leverage areas of strength while achieving improvement where it is needed most. Be persistent but patient. Complete the assessment again in six months and re-evaluate goals, priorities, initiatives, results, barriers, etc.

One of this book’s several value-added benefits is Miller’s inclusion of material concerning high-impact leadership and teamwork in the U.S. Army Special Forces, NASCAR, and a local restaurant. The fictional “pilgrims” learn a great deal from each of these exemplars and therein is revealed the “secret” to which the book’s title refers.



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