Mark de Rond, professor of strategy and organisation at Cambridge University, has written a very comprehensive book on the factors that contribute to making a highly successful team.
To this end, he draws on his experience as an experienced rowing coach for the Cambridge University Boat Club
’s Blue Boat as well as his studies of team performance in many competitive team sports in the US.
The author considers the different way in which individuals within a team can behave, what constitutes good or poor team players and how to influence their behaviour in order to make the team more successful.
In successive chapters, he also considers a range of issues including the place of the individual within a team and the difficulties that can arise when there are very high calibre individuals who stand out as they can easily become disruptive.
But De Rond contests the conventional view that being a ‘good team player’ is essential. He posits that, although some high calibre members are essential to a high-performing team, not everyone can or needs to be a top performer.
Instead he sees inequality as being a positive thing. While some members may contribute more in performance terms than others, those others may contribute to the strength of the team in different ways. For instance, their behaviour may help other members to bear their loads more effectively.
Moreover, although, in general, we are used to valuing team harmony, De Rond believes that excess harmony and cohesion can actually damage team performance.
A team that competes with other teams requires internal as well as external stimuli in order to excel, with some of this internal stimulus coming from members’ recognition of the very high performance of the most talented member of the group, he states.
Finally, the author views conflict within teams as inevitable when the high stakes are high and individual reputations are at risk. But what matters, he feels, is that such conflict must not be allowed to disrupt overall team working and achievement.
The idea is that, while internal competition can be healthy and there is a bigger place for individuality than is generally thought, managers must be careful not to let it become damaging.
This very well-researched and stimulating book is remarkable. It challenges conventional ideas about how to get very high performance from a team without turning to ‘carrot and stick’ methods and approaches the issue from a different and valuable standpoint – although I did find some of the later sections a little repetitive.
Notwithstanding, it is the best book that I have read on the subject. Those who would like to stimulate high team performance, especially at senior level, will learn a lot and find useful examples to match the problems that they face.
- Our reviewer this time was John Pope, founder of management consultancy, John Pope Associates.
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