Oddity: A Business Book That Recommends Getting Something Done

Building Effective Teams: Leading From the Center

By Duke Corporate Corporation

Dearborn Trade Publishing

August 2005

112 Pages $16.95

What a concept. A short, tightly focused, well-reasoned book on one specific topic—in this case, getting people with different skills to work together toward a common goal—geared for senior managers who don’t have a moment to waste.

This book is part of a series put out by the Duke University executive education program, and perhaps the best thing it does is recognize that, first and foremost, teams are created to accomplish something. Yes, you need to know how to get the best out of each participant. Yes, you want team members to work well both internally and with the external groups they come in contact with. But the most important goal is accomplishing a task efficiently and well.

The natural tendency when advocating something new is to argue that everything ever written before on the subject is wrong. Not so here. The unnamed authors begin by assuming you have a handle on the fundamentals: You know what needs to be accomplished, you can choose the right people and resources for the team, and you know how to manage all the relationships involved, while developing clear goals and priorities.

Then they turn their attention to explaining the “three factors that will force additional complexity” to the job of creating and leading a team:

  • The speed at which teams have to form and produce results.
  • The distance that can separate members.
  • The blurred boundaries of membership and accountability.

    The advice for dealing with each is specific and helpful.

    Consider the problems that occur when your team members are not all in one place: Distance complicates everything. Not only does it decrease “the spontaneity of interaction,” according to the authors, but “having most members [in one place] while one or more are distributed elsewhere has the potential to create two-tier membership.” Those not in the central location may feel less involved, so they are less likely to give the project their best efforts.

    The solution? Lots of one-on-one conversations with those not in the home office; encouraging individual and small group interactions among the team members themselves; and getting the group together informally, as well as formally, to spur interaction and deal with minor internal conflicts immediately. “A downside of not being there physically is there is a greater opportunity to ignore misunderstandings and let issues fester,” they write. “It is also more challenging to resolve conflicts remotely. So plan ahead instead of fighting fires.”

    The benefits of following the common-sense advice offered here are easy to understand. It is not simply that you will have put together a well-functioning team. That should be the price of entry. The value comes when you have a team that is efficient and has a chance to accomplish something. The more you can increase the odds of that happening, the less the chance that you are going to find yourself outsourced.

    Paul B. Brown is the author of numerous business books, including The Rules, which will be published by Doubleday this fall.

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