Book Review: Great Business Teams

March 19, 2010

Great Business Teams: Cracking the Code for Standout Performance
Great Business Teams: Cracking the Code for Standout Performance by Howard M. Guttman

As a manger, are you interested in raising the performance bar for your teams? As a team member, are you interested in how you and your team can become a high-performing team? If so, I highly recommend this book!

The “code,” as viewed from 50,000 feet doesn’t appear very different from many other books or blogs that are out there. You need to be a different leader, discarding the hierarchal organization and implementing a flat, horizontal organization that embraces collaboration. What makes this book different is the level of detail that it goes into. The book is a treasure trove of information about what it takes to be a leader and a team member on a high-performing team.

What I liked about the book is the two-fold approach of providing very good, specific information and supporting case studies. Guttman has real-world experience and examples that he brings to the table, and he very effectively weaves in stories and practical advice on what it takes to get to a high-performing state.

Just some of the advice and information contained in this book:
  • On great business teams, candor is king. If you have a point of view, you should be free to express it. If you have feedback, provide it – depersonalized.
  • For horizontal accountability to take hold, leader must role model the desired behaviors.
  • While members of a great business team share responsibility with the leader for dealing with underperforming peers, the leader plays a critical role. It must be an up-or-out approach. Those who cannot adapt and thrive should take their game elsewhere.
  • Mindset alone does not create high performing teams. Everyone needs the right skills to play and win. Today, most people’s experience is working vertically. Working horizontally feels unnatural.
As I’ve explored the role of agile leadership and reflected on my own experience, I’ve come to one conclusion: There is no one leadership style that fits every situation. You must adjust your leadership style based on the needs of your employees.

In the book, Howard Guttman indicates that leadership behavior involves analyzing two factors:

ENAGAGEMENT: An individual’s commitment to being a team player, his or her willingness to take ownership of and be held accountable for the team’s success; his or her intention to embrace the attributes of high-performing teams.

SKILLS: The knowledge and skills an individual brings to a goal or task; education, experience, and/or ability; the individual’s appropriate utilization of his or her technical leadership, interpersonal, and strategic skills in the context of meeting performance goals.

The book offered some additional advice, and that is defining the leadership style to adopt based on the level of engagement and skill set.

Engagement and Skill Set Stage
Recommended Leader Behavior
Low level of engagement and/or skill set
Moderately low level of engagement and/or skill set
Moderately high level of engagement and/or skill set
High level of engagement and/or skill set

A quick description of the leader behaviors:

Prescribing/Directing: Telling players the what, where, when, and how of an issue.
Coaching/Instructing: De-emphasizing the how in favor of the why.
Coordinating/Partnering: Working alongside the player.
Inspiring/Empowering: Allowing team members to run with the ball.

Finally, for those of you who are interested in the Characteristics and Behaviors of High-Performing Team Members:
  • Be personally accountable and hold others accountable.
  • Be coachable: adapt, move, change, and lead others to change.
  • Be collaborative: open, above board, direct.
  • Be trusting: let go so others can lead.
  • Have integrity: keep your word.
  • Be committed: act as an owner, really engage/add value.
  • Follow up/act upon decisions.
  • Keep commitments.
  • Follow conflict-resolution protocols.
  • Be good listeners.
  • Be open/transparent.
  • Act as coaches/support each other. 
The book covered a lot more ground than I’ve discussed. It’s really a great book about building high-performing teams. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.