The Secret of (High Performance) Teams

I confess, I wasn’t very enthusiastic when I first picked up this new book by Mark Miller, VP of Training and Development from Chick-Fil-A. The Secret of Teams: What Great Teams Know and Do was kind of thin and reminded me of Who Moved My Cheese? – at least by touch. I’ve read tons of books about cultivating successful teams, many of which were banal and uninspiring (in addition to saying the same things as all the other “yay team” books). Does the world really need one more?

After reading Mark’s 144-page parable, I think the answer is yes. Yes, the world did need one more book about high performance teams, and it’s this one. And I’m glad he took the time to share the story with the world.

The Secret of Teams is the story of Debbie, a manager who has a track record that includes turning one particularly less-than-stellar team into a powerhouse. Her reputation precedes her as she moves into a new position, where her team (although well intentioned) just isn’t coming together like she’d envisioned. Debbie carries a slight air of defeat as she struggles to recover her sense of self-worth. She convinces her boss that it might be helpful to go interview some high-performance teams, to extract some themes that could help improve her own management approach (as well as other team leaders in similar positions in her company) – and she sets off on her journey.

As you read through Mark’s book, you find yourself reflecting on your own personal experiences to uncover the drivers for great teams. It is the easy and natural way that his prose draws out self-reflection that, I think, is the greatest strength of this quick read.

To me, I realized that there are characteristics of individuals as well as characteristics of the collective that must be in place for a high-performance team to emerge. You can have high-performance people that work well alone, but just don’t gel while working together. Each of the team’s members must want to be there. They have to have the skills and capabilities to function within the team, and make a contribution that the other members value, rather than riding the coat tails and momentum of their teammates (and in general, dragging things down). Team members have to be approachable, willing to share information and support. There has to be a feeling of camaraderie and enjoyment for a team to truly be high-performance… because then they will seek out time and opportunities to do more with the work, catalyzing the productivity of inspiration.

Miller echoes many of these findings through the characters in his story. His “Top 3” drivers turn out to be Talent (intrinsic motivation/fit), Skills (capabilities that can be developed through experience and training), and Community (an “emotional grid” where the team’s members can at once be vulnerable to one another and fully supportive of one another). In fact, the only driver I might add to his list is Inspiration, because I’ve observed it in every truly awesome team I’ve had the privilege to observe. You’re going to have to read his book to get more context – but it’s an enjoyable and worthwhile read, one that would be excellent as the basis for a team to read together and discuss how to get on a track towards collective self-improvement.

Management Improvement Carnival #161

It’s been a long time! Although I haven’t served in this role since the spring of 2009, I am pleased once again to host ASQ Influential Voices blogger John Hunter’s Management Improvement Carnival, featuring some interesting or noteworthy articles that have been posted over the past couple weeks. Be sure to check out previous installations of the Carnival to get a broad sample of the most recent blog posts that are relevant to managers who are interested in quality, innovation and process improvement.

My top recommendation is Lotto Lai’s review of a recent symposium in Hong Kong, entitled “One Year After the Fukushima Nuclear Accident – the Way Forward with Safety and Risk Engineering.” (3/10/2012) This is a really fascinating and comprehensive look at the Fukushima disaster from the quality management perspective. I particularly like one of his slides about 60% of the way through the presentation that presents a 2×2 grid detailing probabilistic and deterministic approaches to the design that were intended to enhance plant safety. I really like this grid and will be thinking about ways to apply them to problems that I encounter in my job and my consulting (fortunately, none of which involve managing nuclear power plants).

On a lighter note, I also enjoyed “Coffee Shop Buzz is Good for Your Creativity” from Lifehacker. (3/6/2012) Have you ever thought that maybe the social pressure around you is what helps you get things done at the coffee shop? Hmmmm.

Oh, and we can’t forget St. Patrick’s Day! In preparation for the big weekend, Carly Barry at Minitab blogged about “The Odds of Finding a Four Leaf Clover” (3/16/2012). If you’ve ever struggled with odds ratios to compare the likelihood of two events, this article might give you the example to clear it up for good.

My newest “find” in the realm of quality and management improvement blogs is David Kanigan’s “Lead.Learn.Live” at davidkanigan.com. I so love the interconnected nature of blogs… a couple weeks ago, he “liked” something on my blog, and I decided to go check out his blog. And I really like his too! David intersperses original business-oriented posts with cited snippets of art and inspiration, and posts at least on a daily basis. Here are some of the most recent:

He calls attention to one of David Allen’s posts in “Gnawing Sense of Anxiety about Un-Captured Work” (3/10/2012) reiterates some of the themes I have been reading about in Baumeister’s excellent 2011 book on willpower. Apparently, our unconscious is totally restless when we have tasks on our to-do lists for which no plan exists to address. Once we set up a plan (e.g. “I’m going to schedule Saturday morning to download and look at that new data!”) our unconscious gets real happy, lets go of its silent panic, and we’re less overwhelmed and less distracted. Pretty cool!

In “The Process of Pivoting” (3/10/2012) David encourages us to move to a better feeling if we’re brought down by a problem, or a challenge, or some coworker’s crappy attitude at work. He doesn’t actually say any of those things, but you should be able to easily relate to the general scenario.

How can magical thinking be a solid tool for people who want to improve quality and performance – especially while managing teams? Find out in The Poison of Performance Appraisals (3/10/2012)… Deming would agree.

(And although this isn’t technically a blog, they do use a blogging infrastructure behind the scenes, so…) Hot off the presses we have “A Flash of Green Enhances Creativity” (3/20/2012)… did you know that temporary exposure to the color green can enhance inventiveness? Researchers reported in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin that experiments were conducted where people were asked to solve problems surrounded by either green or red borders. It didn’t matter whether you were male, female, short, tall, or Australian… everyone was a better problem solver “in the green”. This also brings a new meaning to “Green Flash” :)