Note: This summary is in my own words, and does not contain excerpts from the book.
The book was a very fast read, 220 small pages, lots of white space, 8 hrs for a slow reader. (That would be me.)
The first 180 pages is a story, as enjoyable as most novels I’ve read (I know, this leaves me open to comments on my choices of novels.) The story is about a high tech startup company. They have more talented people, more money, and a better connected board than their competitors, but still, they are third in sales. Morale is quickly eroding. The CEO steps down and a retired manager, Kathryn, is hired as CEO. And so begins the story of Kathryn working to build teamwork among her staff.
The last 40 pages contain a model for teamwork, including suggestions for improvement in each component of the model, and suggestions for the leader. There’s also a 15-question assessment for evaluating each component of the model for your team.
Note: The book models the dysfunctions. I will describe the positive of these, the functions, as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. The five functions of a team.
Description of each component of the model
Trust is the foundation.
One type of trust is credibility, the trust that one will meet her commitments.
Another type of trust, the type at the foundation of this model, is for one to trust the team enough that he feels he can say what he really thinks in difficult conversations. He feels he can be vulnerable to the team without undue concern for ramifications or perceptions to others or to himself. This type of trust is important because it enables constructive conflict to thrive.
Constructive conflict is the passionate and unfiltered debate of ideas. Constructive conflict is important because it enables the team to come to a good solution more quickly. This is especially true for difficult problems. If trust isn’t there and people hold back, then certain critical information and perspectives may not be included.
Constructive conflict is also needed to build commitment within the team. Until each team member has had a chance to be heard, and issues considered, she will not make a deep commitment. She may give passive commitment, but that commitment will dwindle when the going gets tough.
Commitment is important because it drives accountability. If there is a deep commitment, team members will tend to hold each other accountable. Also, team members will tend not to dodge individual or team accountability.
Accountability is important because it drives attention to results. Failure to hold one another accountable creates an environment where inattention to results can thrive.
Attention to results
Attention to results drives attainment of the team’s goals. The morale of the team members will tend to rise or fall with the results, which is healthy for the team. The morale of the team members will tend to be less affected by needs that aren’t connected to success of the team (such as individual ego.)
The leader’s role
The leader’s role in each of these functions is two fold; to model the behavior, and to set up a structure to facilitate the behavior. An example of modeling a behavior would be to show one’s willingness to be vulnerable, to model Trust. An example of setting up a structure to facilitate a behavior would be to go around the table in a meeting to give each person a chance to state concerns, to facilitate Commitment.
Priorities in the hierarchy of teams
If you are a manager, you have a role in at least two teams. You lead a team of your staff (level 1 team), and you are a member of a team of your peers in your boss’s staff (level 2 team). There can be a tendency to have a higher allegiance to your level 1 team than to your level 2 team. In cases where you must prioritize between the needs of the level 2 team and the needs of the level 1 team, you should chose the priorities of the level 2 team, and conform the priorities of the level 1 team to meet those higher needs.