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Great Business Teams   •   Cracking the Code for Standout Performance
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Great Business Teams:    
The Back Story    
Great Business Teams cover image  
by Howard M. Guttman

Now that Great Business Teams has been published, this is a good time for a little reflection. Looking back at the past 18 months of research and writing, here's what stands out:

The Courage to Share. We interviewed 39 executives for Great Business Teams, and a number of them allowed us to attend their alignments and team meetings. They were open, remarkably honest, and self-critical. It took real courage for them to give us the key to the meeting room, a pass to record the action, and permission to share the results with readers. Impressive!

Can't Get No Satisfaction. By just about any performance standard, the leaders we interviewed are successful. Yet, they refuse to bask in past glory. These leaders are proud of what they and their teams have achieved, but they keep moving back the goal post. Ken Bloom, INTTRA's CEO, summed up the common sentiment: If you think you are done, you are done."

Leading, Not Talking. There's a good deal of patter these days about "flat" organizations, "engagement," and "empowerment." What impresses me is the bias toward action of the 39 leaders. They ask: "What do I need to take my team from good to great?" Then they forge ahead. They lead by doing, and in the process they redefine leadership and followership, and transform their organizations team by team.

Force for Change. Change doesn't occur in a vacuum. Frustration is a key driver. At some point in the lives of the leaders we studied, a big-bang, enough-is-enough moment occurred. Here's how Scott Edmonds, CEO of Chico's, describes it: "As Chico's grew more complex we began to operate in silos. . . . I felt as though, if it didn't change, they wouldn't be able to pay me enough to put up with it. Life is too short to be a referee or a dad trying to keep peace among all the siblings in the family."

Feedback Pushback. Many leaders are comfortable dishing out feedback, but much less so accepting it. For many of our 39 leaders, meeting the feedback requirement for greatness proved a struggle. As Helen McCluskey reported, "My toughest challenge was learning how to deal with negative feedback. At the beginning, I took it well on the outside but then overanalyzed, dwelled on it, catastrophized it. I had to learn to lighten up." My takeaway: Inner struggle builds high-performance muscle.

Becoming Great. Our book presents the Team Development Wheel to describe the four stages of a team's progress, from Stage 1, Infighting, to Stage 4, High Performance. Typical teams remain stuck somewhere between the first two stages. Breaking out requires guidance, typically from an outside coach/advisor. Stage 4 greatness represents an extreme makeover. It involves rethinking assumptions about what it means to lead and to be a player, what behaviors are acceptable, what accountability entails, what new skills need to be acquired, and what criteria will be used to measure success.

Power Revisited. Power is one of the highest-voltage words in the management lexicon. To leaders of great business teams, it is a value-neutral concept, not to be glorified or debunked, as Alpha and Servant Leaders, respectively, tend to do. Great leaders create horizontal playing fields, align teams—beginning at the top of the house, make them accountable for results, and then ask: How much decision-making "space" does a team require to achieve standout results? Once the preconditions for creating high-performance, horizontal teams are in place, power no longer follows old hierarchies but flows or is "distributed" to meet the challenges at hand.

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