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on February 1, 2014
Peruse through the average leadership books today and you will find that most of them focus primarily on the top tier of any given team. Corporate America emphasizes management, athletics teams key in on the coaches, and churches center on senior pastors as the problem or solution for anything dysfunctions within the organization. In Creating Effective Teams, Susan A. Wheelan contends that the success of any given team is contingent upon the performance of all of its members. Creating Effective Teams is different from much of the popular leadership books in that the author stresses the importance of teamwork. As a bonus, Wheelan shares practical information and stories to move the reader beyond the theoretical and abstract language found in many publications.
Wheelan’s goal is communicated early in the book as she writes, “The goal of Creating Effective Teams is to translate what we’ve learned about groups and teams into straightforward, user-friendly, practical guidelines for members and leaders.” Wheelan explains throughout the work that there is a difference between groups and teams. She promotes the “team” as the goal for any group and suggests definitively that work groups become teams “when shared goals have been established and effective methods to accomplish those goals are in place.” It appears the role of the leader has not been devalued by the author – only understood in light of the entire team as they endeavor to be successful.
Because group dynamics is a crucial factor in any team, Wheelan suggests that all team members have a good understanding of the stages of group development in order to identify where and who they are as a group. She offers four stages of development every group experiences as they develop. Says Wheelan, “For the first two or three months, groups are dealing with the issues characteristic of Stages 1 and 2. Groups generally enter Stage 3 in the fourth or fifth month, and Stage 4, or high performance, typically begins during the sixth or seventh month.” Each stage in the transformation from groups to teams has its own challenges and Wheelan believes nearly all challenges can be resolved using a systematic approach to problem solving and decision making. Highlighting six methods of conflict resolution, Wheelan believes “problem solving” to be the best at yielding results. She purports, “Problem solving…gives the best results because it requires the actual resolution of different perspectives and a new group conceptualization of the issues involved in the conflict.” Again, Wheelan points to her theory that team success depends on all the members of the team and not just the leader.
The book concludes with the author giving advice concerning seasons of rest, obtaining organizational support, and if necessary, interventions that include goal setting and feedback in order to enhance group productivity.

While the information Wheelan shares in this book is incredibly valuable, the redundancy within the chapters can be a challenge to the reader. As an example, Wheelen writes, “Organizations forget to ask training providers some very basic and important questions.” She lists the questions and follows up with, “If a trainer is unable to answer the first three questions above, head for the hills.” Not even two pages later Wheelan again writes, “Before choosing an intervention to improve group performance, organization members should ask the consultant the following questions.” The list of questions is nearly identical to the list on the previous page. Wheelan concludes this list with the familiar statement, “If the consultant can’t answer the first three questions or bases his or her responses solely on personal experience, head for the hills.” Although the above critique does not take away from the opulence of her message, the redundant paragraphs and lists can be taxing to the reader.
Perhaps the best question to ask in antithesis to Wheelan’s work is, what should one do if they are assigned to a group whose culture is comfortable with performing as individuals. There are leaders who may even inadvertently award competitive behavior by giving in to the person or group that complains the most. The thrust of this challenge is that in such cases, the group will never become a team until the leadership philosophy changes. Many people bring corporate America mentalities into the church where the ruling paradigm is “dog-eat-dog”. The results are devastating in ministry as those who would be and should be co laborers become instead, arch rivals. The group then becomes fragmented and everyone operates as individuals hoping to achieve the group goals on their own and receive the credit and glory by themselves. Addressing these issues would have taken the book to another level.
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on August 2, 2017
Dr. Susan Wheelan has made me a believer in the benefits of strong teams. Her book “Creating Effective Teams: A Guide for Members and Leaders” is a great manual for those beginning new teams or are in need of salvaging or reviving old teams. This book takes the reader through the various stages of group development and helps them identify various pitfalls to avoid so the team can mature into a high-performance team.
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on July 9, 2017
Check it out at the library. Don't waste your money on it. The book is very pricey and the investment is a flop.
I am disappointed with the content. For the price ($50) I expected a lot more. Wish I could return it.
The title totally sold me, it has all the buzz words. I should have done more research on it.
I found no new value in the material I read.
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on August 25, 2015
This is an excellent book, does not get lost in overly academic language. Most literature out there is geared towards leading teams, it is refreshing to see a well written book geared towards team members. Includes excellent surveys to gauge team development.
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on October 4, 2017
This book felt very choppy and awkwardly written. Many sections seemed to have no logical flow whatsoever. I made it through the entire book, but that is because it was required reading for my Masters. Not recommended.
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on April 13, 2016

The title of Susan Wheelan’s book, Creating Effective Teams: A Guide for Membership and Leaders, sums up her message beautifully. Wheelan desired to give her readers a practice guide for all teams to be successful and reach their fullest potential. She sums up the goal of her book saying, “Creating Effective Teams is to translate what we’ve learned about groups and teams into straightforward, user-friendly, practical guidelines for members and leaders.” She goes on to say that her hope is that her book would provide guidance for work groups and people that manage work groups. I believe that Mrs. Wheelan accomplished her goal with this book, she gave great insight into team dynamics and a practical guide for teams to become high performing teams.
The book begins by laying the groundwork for a healthy team culture. Wheelan suggests that you must plant groups in a favorable organizational climate. She advises that to have the proper organizational culture the group must have a clearly defined mission, support innovation, expect success, value quality, pay attention to details, cherish evaluation and recommendations, and reward teamwork rather than individual success. She goes on to unpack all of these characteristics in more depth and detail but ultimately she gives a very practical guide on how to create a successful team environment. Beyond giving a list of details, the book also includes a test, or an evaluation tool, to determine how the reader is doing at creating a healthy team environment.
After laying the foundation for healthy teams to thrive, Wheelan goes on to talk about the stages of group development. Stage 1 of group development is about dependency and inclusion. It is important at this stage that team members find a safe place where they can belong. In this stage the group is dependent on the leader to set goals and assign tasks. Stage 2 is summed up by counter dependency and fighting. In this stage the group is becoming less dependent on the leader and conflict often occur as members attempt to understand their role within the group. In stage 3, groups begin to establish trust and structure. When groups get to this stage, they are more willing to work together and have clarity in their goals. The final stage that Wheelan describes is stage 4. In this stage groups are about getting work done, teams are the most productive and effective at this stage. In stage 4 group members are not working as individuals to solve problems but are working as teams to produce the highest quality product possible. In addition to giving details about each group stage, Wheelan gives practical help for teams to move from one stage to another.
In the following chapters, Wheelan, answers the questions of how healthy teams function and how to be an effective team member. In both of these chapters Wheelan maps out the practices that make up healthy teams and team members. She describes how leaders must behave in each of the stages above to help facilitate the teams’ growth and health. At the end of both of these sections, she includes a helpful quiz to help the reader process where they stand as a team member and leader.
The remaining chapters of the book describe how to succeed in each stage of group development. In addition to giving practical information on each stage, there is a case study of different problems that group leaders and members might face while navigating through the particular stage. These case studies help Wheelan describe each stage in a relevant way. Wheelan closes the book by talking specifically about virtual teams and recent research that answer commonly asked questions about information found in her book.

Concrete Response

In reading through this book, I was reminded about recent events within our church staff team. Two years ago our church sent out several of our staff members to start a new church in downtown Atlanta. In addition to sending out our worship leader and student pastor we also added some new staff members and saw other staff members leave our team. In the fall of 2014, we found ourselves with a completely new church staff, with the exception of myself and the other lead pastor. As we tried to get all of our new team members on board with the mission of Church at the Grove, we experienced all of the stages the Wheelan talks about in her book.
In stage 1 we saw our team very cautious when interacting with each other. However, we quickly moved through this stage and camped out in stage 2 for quite awhile. We had several team members that did not get along. We had some team members that were very outgoing extroverts and one particular man who is an introvert that often came across as rude to several of the women on our staff. As team member jockeyed for position and started distinguishing their roles in our organization, I had several staff members approach me about the need to fire the quiet gentleman. This was a difficult time in our ministry, and honestly, we experienced such conflict and turmoil that we did not get much done as a church leadership team. This stage seemed to last forever, however towards the end of last year, we started to see a change occur in our staff team.
The change occurred one day during a staff meeting when the introverted staff member opened up about some of the fears and difficulties he was experiencing in his personal life; this was a turning point for our team. As this team member shared, others began to understand his perspective and trust and security were built among our staff. From this point, I believe that we moved into stage 3 and have become a more highly functional team. While we still have to implement change and improve, we are well on our way to becoming a more effective team.


In reading through Wheelan’s book, I thought that she did an excellent job in achieving her goals stated at the beginning of the book. She was able to take her years of experience working with teams and simplify the message into an easy to follow format. I not only enjoyed all the concepts that she shared, but I also liked her style of writing and her commitment to giving a practical guide to real life situations.
While I did enjoy much of Wheelan’s book, I did feel like after the first few chapters she became redundant in her message. She spends a considerable amount of time talking about the different stages of team dynamics. These stages are vital to her book but on several occasions she makes it a point to describe each stage. Wheelan could have avoided this problem by cutting out the overview of chapter 3 and given each stage its own chapter; this would have helped her not be redundant and strengthened her message. The book could have still presented the same material and been shorter in length. Additionally, the last two chapters of this book are pointless, the information in these two chapters could have been distributed throughout the book in other chapters.
In addition to cutting out certain sections of her book, I also felt that she could have done a better job of applying the truths she presents to the non-profit or church world. Many of the real world examples that she list come from a corporate setting, where teams consist of paid professionals. In the non-profit and church world, many teams consist of volunteers that are not receiving any compensation for their attendance at meetings. It would have been nice to get advice from Wheelan on how to manage volunteer teams. How do you move a volunteer team through the difficult stages of 1 and 2?


As I mentioned above, one of the things I enjoyed about this book was the practical nature in which it was written. Wheelan’s practicality allows me to process information easily and apply it to my life and leading of teams. The first action step that I need to implement in my life is creating a favorable organizational climate. In reading through the book, I was convicted that I don’t do an excellent job at creating an environment for teams to thrive. Wheelan says, in order to have a favorable organizational climate, you must: “clearly define the organization’s mission, support innovation, expect success, value superior quality and service, pat attention to detail, value team recommendations, set clear expectations for group output, quality, timing and pacing, and reward teamwork rather than individual performance.” While I believe that I am decent at some of these principles, I struggle with valuing team recommendations and rewarding teamwork rather than individual performance. Instead of focusing on what an individual accomplished I need to look at what the team accomplished and reward the team instead of the individual. Recently, we had a new children’s ministry director come on our staff. She has done an excellent job of recruiting new leaders and making positive changes in our children’s environment on Sunday morning. On several occasions I have praised her publically for her hard work and dedication; however, I have not praised the new volunteers and the leadership team that she has created. Over the next two weeks, I am planning on writing notes to all the men and women on the children’s ministry leadership team letting them know how thankful I am for them. Next Sunday I am also going to announce from the pulpit my thankfulness for this team. Wheelan suggests that there should be some type of financial compensation for these successful teams; while we can’t pay these volunteers, we could do a thank you lunch after the service one Sunday to thank them for their service.
The second change that I need to apply in my life and ministry is helping lead our church staff team to stage 4. I believe the biggest hurdle we must overcome to move to stage 4 is in the area of communication. Wheelan says one characteristic of a stage 4 team is that “the team has an open communication structure in which all members participate and are heard.” Our team does communicate, but I don’t do a good job at listening to all the members and making sure that their ideas are heard. Typically in our staff meetings, I will send out an agenda for the meeting that will cover everything that we need to talk about in the meeting. I typically don’t leave room for people to share their ideas or thoughts. Next staff meeting (Tuesday, Feb. 9th) I plan on leaving time for our staff to communicate freely about anything that is going on within the church. Additionally, I need to make it a priority to spend time with the shy members of our team and talk with them about their thoughts and ideas. Many times these shy individuals won’t open up in a larger group but one-on-one they are more willing to share their ideas.
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on October 19, 2014
This book was recommended for reading when I was studying in design school. I found it really helpful and useful to diagnose and analyze team dynamic so you can recognize or foresee some friction point and suggest solutions for them. It's written in a very simple way and describes 4 stages of group development complementing it by several examples. Also you can find some information about leadership depending on each of stages.
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on January 19, 2017
I would have liked it more if there was less marking in the text. It seems like every five page there was marking, the good part is that it arrived sooner than expected.
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on May 12, 2014
This book was required for my High Performance Teams class and provided a very clear and concise methodology. I will continue to use it as reference as I progress further into my career. I did not have an urge to sell this book back to the bookstore after the class was over. I recommend this book to anyone new to working in teams and organizations that require a high level of performance.
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on November 29, 2013
I had to read this book for class. There is now a more current version and I can't speak to whether or not it echoes the content in this edition. That being said I thought it was a great entry-level guide (I think "guide" is the operative word here) to engaging teams in productive and positive ways. Not an intensive read.
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