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An overly simplistic book, written as a fiction novel, with a formulaic pyramid of teamwork...
on January 27, 2013
This is a very short read. It took me about 3 hours to read the book over-to-cover, and I did not feel as if I skimmed over any major concepts.
The book is written as a novel, in which a new highly effective CEO is placed in charge of an extremely dysfunctional silicon valley startup company. The CEO takes the executive team to a leadership retreat where she teaches them about teamwork and the five major dysfunctions of a team.
The five major dysfunctions as stated by the book are:
1) Absence of Trust
2) Fear of Conflict
3) Lack of Commitment
4) Avoidance of Accountability
5) Inattention to results
At first the team is very skeptical of the CEO, and generally feels that the entire retreats are a waste of time. Gradually the CEO wins over each member of the team, and over the course of the 'novel' (warning: spoiler), fires a team member and re-organizes the executive team to better match the needs of the organization.
Ok, now for my criticisms of the book...
My first criticism - this reads like a cheezy TBS movie, where a new woman CEO wins over her team with compassion and competence. I have nothing against the general message of the author's novel, but in real life, people simply don't open up as personally as they do in this novel. The entire 'case study' feels canned and artificial.
For example, when Kathryn, the new CEO takes over the company, the former CEO, Jeff, goes to a VP of Biz Development role. By the end of the book, he's so committed to the teamwork mentality that he voluntarily demotes himself, so that he is no longer an executive level staff member, and he reports to the COO as director of Biz Development.... I worked in a number of different companies and frankly, this would *never* happen. No self-respecting CEO would demote themselves two levels for the sake of teamwork...
In another scene, Kathryn fires the VP of marketing. This added some credibility to the book, but there was quite a bit of writing focusing on the dialogue and thoughts of the characters in a dramatic fashion. Personally, I found this type of writing distracting. While at some level, many working in middle management might be able to relate to this kind of event, personally I don't need the 'entertainment factor' of dramatic dialogue and canned thoughts and would prefer that the author focused on providing criteria by which to judge if team members are willing to work within his framework or not (which was not presented by the way).
My second criticism - I could forgive the novel style writing, but my second major issue with the book is that I question its core message of teamwork.
Yes, you heard me correctly, I have no idea how the author developed his so-called pyramid of teamwork, whether its based on empirical data, or just his personal observations from consulting. While the 5 dysfunctions certainly sound important, perhaps only 1 or 2 (i.e. trust, fear of conflict) of them are truly of strategic importance to teamwork, and the other 3 relate to personal management style of leaders (i.e. inattention of results). Frankly, I'm not sure how well thought out the pyramid is at all.
The worst part is, everything in the book is fiction.... so it's no wonder that the CEO, Kathryn, is able to turn around the company as soon as her executive team embraces the great pyramid of truth... again cheezy TBS movie material.
At the time that I purchased this book, I also purchased two other books on leadership... one of the others is a book that I'd highly recommend to anyone interested in the subject, and that is - 'Lincoln on Leadership.' The book details Abraham Lincoln's ability to lead the Union to victory during the Civil War, and specifically focuses on his management style through a fairly meticulous reading of letters, speeches, and historical records.
Lincoln is a great case study, because first everything that happened is REAL, and second he was dealt an almost impossible hand of cards. He initially was elected to president with a minority of the national vote (plurality of several candidates), people felt at the time that he was a 'second-rate country lawyer' and had little faith in his ability to solve seemingly intractable problems between the North and South, numerous politicians attempted to undermine his executive authority related to the war effort or diplomacy with the South, former generals and members of his own cabinet even ran against him as a presidential candidate either in the first election or his second re-election.
I read the Lincoln book immediately before reading Lencioni's Five Dysfunctions, and what struck me was that Lincoln's team probably violated almost every rule in Lencioni's book. In short, he probably had one of the most dysfunctional teams imaginable, and yet is widely regarded by historians as the greatest among US Presidents and leaders.
While I think teamwork is important, I'm not certain that Lencioni's Five Dysfunctions, really captures the essence of aligning people to achieve a particular objective, nor am I certain how well thought out the pyramid of teamwork is.
I'm surprised by how highly rated this book is. I guess it's easy to read - 3 hours tops, has some entertainment value so it doesn't feel like work, and you may have the illusion that you learned something from reading it, but I'm very much a skeptic.
So far the best leadership book I've come across is Lincoln on Leadership, and having read it, I'm intrigued enough to follow up with Goodwin's Team of Rivals in the near future.