Review: Leading Teams – Setting the stage for great performances

leadingIf I see how agile teams perform you can ask yourself why is this the case, what is needed that these teams become much more effective? J. Richard Hackman wrote in 2002 the book Leading Teams – Setting the stage for great performances and this book still gives a lot of answers and directions how to look at those less effective agile teams.

The book is divided in three parts. In part I we get two examples of how senior leaders at two different airlines structured and supported teams of flight attendants. One airline achieved a great deal of control over flight attendant behavior, but at a considerable cost in motivation and creativity. The other airline achieved nearly the opposite outcomes. Throughout the book we will get a lot of references to these two teams and other examples too.

Part II is the core of the book and focusses on the conditions that foster team effectiveness reflected in products, services or decisions that are acceptable to the clients. That the team becomes more capable as a performing unit over time and that the individual members learn. The following five conditions must be put in place and stay there:

  • Having a real team
  • A compelling direction
  • An enabling team structure
  • A supportive organizational context
  • Expert team coaching

Part III Opportunities, discusses imperatives for leaders (and their execution skills) and how to think differently about teams within an operating environment (who decides? authority structure, who is responsible? work structure, who gains? reward structure, who learns? opportunity structure).

QRC (Leading teams, 180611) v1.0To download: QRC (Leading teams, 180611) v1.0

The five conditions:

A real team is the prerequisite for the other conditions. The task actually is appropriate for teamwork and it requires members to work together independently. It means establishing clear but moderately permeable membership boundaries. It means providing the team with substantial but clearly delimited authority for managing its work. And finally it means ensuring that the team will be reasonably stable over time as members carry out that work.

Providing a compelling direction that energizes, orients and engages teams is an important ingredient in setting the stage for great performances.

An enabling team structure is based on the design of the work that the team performs, the core norms of conduct that guide and constrain team behavior, and the composition of the team. Autonomy gives teams room to excel … but autonomous teams gone bad and can do real damage. Also virtual teams become more popular but it is much harder to create the previously mentioned conditions in virtual teams.

An unsupportive organizational context limit the performance of even a well-designed work team. The following three systems have particularly high leverage in supporting teamwork: the reward system (to provide recognition and reinforcement contingent on excellent team performance), the information system (to provide teams, at their own initiative whenever possible, the data and projections that members need to competently plan and execute their work) and the educational system (to make training and technical assistance available to work teams for any aspects of the work in which members are not already sufficiently knowledgeable or skilled).

The last condition, expert coaching, can significantly enhance team performance processes as managing member effort, selecting and implementing its task performance strategies and in utilizing members’ talents. What can coaches do and when can they do it to help a work team manage the three key performance processes efficiently and well.

Conclusion: A must read for (tribe) leaders, sponsors, (project and programme) managers and agile coaches. To be honest it’s not an easy read. There is a lot of text in the chapters and you get sometimes lost (maybe some white between paragraphs and the use of numbered sections would have helped).

To order: Leading Teams – Setting the stage for great performances

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