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Author: Deborah Ancona & Henrik Bresman

Publisher: Harvard Business School Press

ISBN: Mick Yates

Summary:Simply focusing your teams on internal team building activities is not good enough - you must collectively and deliberately focus on external issues to both bind the team together and get real traction on business issues.

 

 

Leader Values

ISBN: 978-0-1-59139-692-5


Simply focusing your teams on internal team building activities is not good enough - you must collectively and deliberately focus on external issues to both bind the team together and get real traction on business issues. That's the premise of this fascinating book, based on years of research and some acute practical observations.

 

And the obvious extension is that X-teams must use distributed leadership at all levels of their organizations. This call on a new form of leadership is a theme in many current publications - and, in my view, completely right. Gone are the days of a "great leader" telling everyone else what to do all of the time?

 

There are many reasons why the external focus is appropriate, largely built around the ever changing nature of the world, the pace of science and innovation, and the sheer time pressure we all face which means that we should not be re-inventing the wheel. The authors sensibly also call for a focus on systems solutions rather than products as one key to this externally driven approach.

 

Ancona and Bresman set out three principles for X-teams, which underpin how such teams differ from traditional teams.

 

First, focus on external activities - using the three approaches of scouting (finding out what is going on, especially with customers), ambassadorship (managing up your enterprise's hierarchy to get support and strategic buy-in) and task coordination (handling interdependence and collaboration across boundaries).

 

Second, practice extreme execution. Organizations need a safe culture to let them do a great job. This includes sharing information, and the development of psychological "safety" that allows everyone to know everything (or at least enough to get the kind of action the X-team principles demand).

 

Principle three is about flexible phases. Teams coalesce around exploration, or sense making, which also requires building key relationships. Next is the exploitation phase when the collective choices get made, the vision is created and the initial pilot or prototype projects get built. Finally, there is exportation, where ideas and actions get diffused - and acted upon across the entire organization.

 

The authors build an extensive and helpful tool kit of processes and reminders of how teams can make this all work - and they include thoughts on the support structure needed to encourage the external processes and innovation to happen. I particularly like their focus on "weak link" building to drive innovation, straight from social network understanding.

 

Perhaps my main comments on this book are around the author's discussion of distributed leadership rather than teams as such. Their views on leadership are appropriate and actionable. Still, the discussion would benefit from more exploration of the importance of shared values and beliefs amongst team members if true interdependence and empowerment is to occur.

 

And, whilst the real-life cases are helpful, there is still an interesting emphasis on individual team members (or leaders) who drove the change that the rest of the team then executed.  Yes, leadership was "distributed" as the execution unfolded, but the pump was often well and truly primed by an individual not a team. A.G. Lafley's turnaround at P&G is a case in point, as is the Microsoft Netgen example.

 

That said, this is an excellent, thought provoking and well written book with very practical ideas on how to help teams work better.

 

Well worth a serious read.

 


Copyright 2007 Mick Yates