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The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization (Collins Business Essentials) Paperback – July 25, 2006

3.9 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The importance of teams has become a cliche of modern business theory, but few have a clear idea of what it means. In this new edition of their best-selling primer, Katzenbach and Smith try to impart some analytical rigor to the concept. Drawing on their experience as management consultants and a plethora of case studies at companies like Burlington Northern and Motorola, they cover such topics as the optimal size of teams, coping with turnover in team personnel and nurturing "extraordinary teams" rather than "pseudo-teams." Reacting against the touchy-feely interpersonal bent of discourse on teams, they emphasize hard-nosed principles of "performance, focus, and discipline," over the softer concerns of "communication, openness and 'chemistry.'" Teams, they argue, gel and achieve not by developing "togetherness," but by tackling and surmounting specific "outcome-based" challenges ("eliminate all late deliveries...within 90 days" rather than the vaguer "develop a plan for improving customer satisfaction."). Some of the authors' recommendations are reasonably precise and practical, but too many are nebulous truisms ("keep the purpose, goals, and approach relevant and meaningful") or weighed down by turgid consultant-ese ("integrating the performance goals of formal, structural units as well as special ad hoc group efforts becomes a significant process design challenge"). The case studies are better written, but it's not clear that these inspiring anecdotes of team triumph add up to a systematic doctrine. The book leaves the impression that teams ultimately just have to learn by doing.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The authors, who are both consultants, conducted extensive interviews with companies to discover how successful teams are created and sustained. The result is not a research report but a collection of minicase histories and commentary. Some of the findings: Teams respond to performance challenges and not to managers' exhortations for more "teamwork." Organizations committed to high-performance standards and willing to modify individual accountability requirements experience the greatest success with teams. Successful team leaders are not necessarily those with remarkable leadership qualities. Instead, they "simply need to believe in their purpose and their people." Team leaders do real work, remove obstacles, and build trust and confidence. Recommended for larger public libraries and special business collections.
- Andrea C. Dragon, Coll. of St. Elizabeth, Convent Station, N.J.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Collins Business Essentials
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperBusiness; Reprint edition (July 25, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060522003
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060522001
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #105,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Richard E. Biehl on August 2, 1998
Format: Paperback
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." [45] 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" [85]
Katzenbach and Smith aren't completely negative toward working groups.
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The Wisdom of Teams presents Katzenbach and Smith's contention that real teams are the best approach to building a high-performance organization. The authors blended together their highly detailed framework for team development with examples of how several corporations successfully or unsuccessfully implemented these team principles. While acknowledging that teams may not be the best solution for every organization's problems, the authors unashamedly insisted that businesses do themselves a disservice by not considering the team-based approach. The book's twelve chapters are organized into three parts: Understanding Teams, Becoming a Team, and Exploiting the Potential.


Part One, Understanding Teams, introduces the reader to the authors' thesis that teams present the best approach to creating a high-performance organization. Teams are defined as a "small group of people with complementary skills committed to a common purpose and set of specific performance goals" (21). Teams are not the same as work groups, committees, councils or task forces where the emphasis is on individual performance and accountability; that is, the sum of individual bests. Neither is every group that calls itself a team a true team. They may exhibit team-like characteristics or share team-like values, but those in and of themselves do not make a team. The distinguishing characteristic of teams is the synergistic effect created when individual accountability is exchange for mutual group accountability and shared group responsibility. Additionally, teams need to do real work in order be characterized as a real team. They must produce a specific work product that contributes to the organization's mission and success. However, achieving real team status is often difficult.
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Format: Paperback
While this book presents clear theories and structural understanding of teams, the case studies are not the greatest testament to their validity. It makes one wonder how much fluff is behind the principles. This "older" book uses case studies from organizations heralded in years past, but which have now proven to be the world's most corrupt organizations. My personal favorite: "Deal-to-Steel" (appropriately named) a case study of teams at Enron, which authors state is "an organization built on individual accountability." These case studies of high performing organizations make one question the credibility of the research. Furthermore, the authors' record of consulting to some of the most infamous companies known makes me wonder if you'd rather pick up a book about securing your future by Ken Lay, or sound accounting practices by Andy Fastow.

Now, the rest of the story... I did contact the publisher about the poor case studies when a group of students used the book for late night amusement and then heard presenters quote the pitiful examples before seas of laughing professionals. I thought the authors might wish to revamp case studies in future editions. The publisher agreed to contact the authors' representative. Months later, I received a complimentary copy of a new edition--same bad case studies, new cover and a higher price. Our company's bulk orders of the text immediately ceased. Good riddens-- it was dry reading anyway.
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Format: Paperback
Wisdom of Team (WT) is a delightful book that balances both descriptive and prescriptive information about teams in organizations. This book DOES NOT fall prey to using sports analogies as the basis for examples and suggestions. Instead, the authors rely on examples from Fortune 500 companies and their own experiences.

As I read the examples in WT, I enjoyed reflecting on my own experiences on high performance teams. Based on my experiences, I found the authors' analysis insightful and accurate.

Several chapters include checklists that provide a quick summary of key learnings. These checklists make the book a valuable reference tool when creating, developing, and ending teams. Good read for managers at all levels of an organization.
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