Top positive review
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A strong working guide to team development and support.
on August 2, 1998
This book is the result of research into why teams are important, what separates effective from ineffective teams, and how organizations can tap the effectiveness of teams to become high-performance organizations. Liberally citing research efforts in 47 specific organizations, Katzenbach and Smith share their insights into what makes teams work.
They emphasize teams as an important part of a three part cycle leading to a high-performance organization: a) shareholders who provide opportunities, b) employees who deliver value, and c) customers who generate returns. The performance targets in the high-performance organization are multidimensional, impacting all three cyclic contributors. Teams provide real benefits to employees, the result being an impact throughout the cycle. If employees increase the value they deliver, customers will increase the return, allowing shareholders to increase the opportunities available to employees.
Central to the thesis is their defini! tion of team, concentrating on "a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable."  The distinction is far more than semantic. Working groups who do not share all of these characteristics are not to be considered teams. "Unlike teams, working groups rely on the sum of 'individual bests' for their performance. They pursue no collective work products requiring joint effort. By choosing the team path instead of the working group, people commit to take the risks of conflict, joint work-products, and collective action necessary to build a common purpose, set of goals, approach, and mutual accountability" 
Katzenbach and Smith aren't completely negative toward working groups. On the contrary, they cite numerous situations in which the working group offers the most effective approach. But for turning ourselves into high-performanc! e organizations, the limitations of working groups must be ! overcome, and the power of teams must be harnessed, through increased risk. "People who call themselves teams but take no such risks are at best pseudo-teams." 
THE WISDOM OF TEAMS describes a Team Performance Curve that correlates team effectiveness against the performance impact of the team, resulting in the organizational path from working group, to pseudo-team, to potential team, to real team, and ultimately to high-performance team. The working group describes the organization of least team effectiveness, although not without performance impact. The performance of working groups, in fact, can be very effective owing to the individual contributions of the group members.
The pseudo-team - high team effectiveness, but usually less performance effectiveness - "has not focused on collective performance and is not really trying to achieve it."  The result is an organization that produces fewer results because of the forced team interactions. Th! e members are actually slowed down compared to the contribution they would make without the team overhead - as members of a working group. "In pseudo-teams, the sum of the whole is less than the potential of the individual parts." 
The "group for which there is a significant, incremental performance need, and that really is trying to improve its performance impact"  is the potential team. Higher up the Performance Team Curve in terms of both team and performance effectiveness, the potential team can be extremely effective when targeted at a problem or process for which a team approach makes sense. Unfortunately, in addition to the results attributable to individuals on the team, the increased performance brought about by the potential team is largely attributable to luck. Still lacking from potential teams are the commitment to a common purpose and working approach, as well as the mutual accountability inherent in real teams.
Finally, the high-p! erformance team "is a group that meets all the conditi! ons of real teams, and has members who are also deeply committed to one another's personal growth and success."  With a little reflection, any of us who has ever experienced working on a high-performance team knows it. We also quickly recognize how rare such opportunities have been. THE WISDOM OF TEAMS is a guidebook to creating a high-performance organization built around high-performance teams.
Teams must have the right blend of complementary skills, including technical or functional expertise, problem-solving and decision making skills, and interpersonal skills. "It is surprising how many people assemble teams primarily on the basis of personal compatibility or formal position in the organization."  The authors warn, however, that too much emphasis can be placed on skill mixes too early in the team process. In their research, they "did not meet a single team that had all the needed skills at the outset. (They) did discover, however, the power o! f teams as vehicles for personal learning and development."  As long as the right team dynamics are present, the necessary skills will materialize or develop.
The authors focus specific attention on the creation of teams at the top. "Team performance at the top of the organization is more the exception than the rule."  They cite several specific misguided beliefs that they find lead to lessened team effectiveness at the top: 1) the purpose of the team can't be differentiated from the purpose of the organization, 2) "membership in the team is automatic,"  3) the role of each team member is predefined by their functional position in the organizational hierarchy, 4) executives spending discretionary time on team activities is inefficient, and 5) the effectiveness of the team depends only on open communication. "This (last) all-too-common misconception equates teamwork with teams." 
These beliefs create obstacles to effecti! ve team performance. "The most practical path to build! ing a team at the top, then, lies not in wishing for good personal chemistry, but in finding ways for executives to do real work together."  Katzenbach and Smith are citing these problems particularly for the top, although they apply just as well to teams throughout the organization. Their prescription for breaking through these obstacles includes "carving out team assignments that tackle specific issues," "assigning work to subsets of the team, "determining team membership based on skill, not position," "requiring all members to do equivalent amounts of real work," "breaking down the hierarchical pattern of interaction," and "setting and following rules of behavior similar to those used by other teams." [230-234]
Katzenbach and Smith have provided a quick-injection standards program for teams. For quality professionals attempting to improve processes in their organization model, the authors have provided mater! ials at all three levels. Their definition of team - with its focus on complementary skills, mutual accountability, common approach, and shared goals - can be used as the basis for a Teams Policy Statement.
Making use of this book in our organizations will allow us to move beyond calling a group of people a team hoping it will motivate and inspire them. It allows us to move forward toward high-performance organizations with a process-based approach to continuously improving team effectiveness.