Book Reviews

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.

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