Book Notes

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

Posted on April 5, 2018

The Hard Thing About Hard Things is ostensibly a book about how to build a business but it is in fact a collection of war stories and opinions by venture capitalist and erstwhile CEO Ben Horowitz. I think it is probably a fairly helpful read to somebody in crisis in a CEO-like role who needs to hear that the work is difficult and that even CEOs regarded as successful have a really hard time of it. I personally found lots of the book sort of narrow-minded and wrong-headed and sometimes downright offensive. It comes off as a bit of a long-form humble-brag, which is annoying. I wouldn’t personally want to work for this guy or to emulate him. And as someone in a leadership role, it’s frankly hard to imagine putting much of what he writes about into practice.

Structurally the book is very weak. It starts with a longish set of anecdotes about Horowitz’s background but by the end becomes a series of brief, un-nuanced spurts of advice. It waffles a bit between offering more pragmatic tips and offering more vague blustery opinions. It feels a little scattershot, and it’s disappointingly casual and shallow — meaning that some sections feel like summaries for what could usefully be more in-depth treatments. On the whole, the book reads a bit as if you’re listening to a blowhard carrying on in a bar. It’s not a book I would recommend to most people.

Deep Work

Posted on April 3, 2018

I wanted to add some notes to Daryl’s earlier post about Deep Work. These are less of a book review and more of an overview of the key highlights from different chapters. If the tidbits interest you I’d definitely read the full book. It’s a quick read that will likely prompt a lot of thinking.


Introduction
Newport defines deep work as:

Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate. pg. 3

Our broader work culture’s shift toward shallow work presents an economic opportunity to those who can master deep work. This is because deep work allows for learning complicated things quickly.

Deep Work Is Valuable
When a market is universally accessible the peak will thrive while the rest suffer. In our economy there are two core abilities:

  • The ability to quickly master hard things.
  • The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.

Deliberate practice is key to achieving this. It involves focusing your attention tightly on a specific skill or idea and then receiving feedback so you can correct your approach and keep your attention where it is most productive. Sophie Leroy introduced an idea she termed attention residue. When you move from one task to another not all of your attention follows. A residue is left behind with the first task.

A good chief executive is essentially a hard-to-automate decision engine. pg. 46

Deep Work Is Rare
Three trends lead to this rarity: open office floor plans, instant messaging, and the push to maintain a social media presence. Newport argues these trends actively decrease people’s ability to perform deep work. The busyness they engender is only a proxy for productivity.

In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner. pg. 64

Deep Work Is Meaningful
Newport’s thesis here is that deep work is not just economically lucrative. It’s also a life well lived. Our brains will ultimately construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to. Winifred Gallagher writes that, “when you lose focus, your mind tends to fix on what could be wrong with your life instead of what’s right.” Generally speaking a sense of meaning comes not from the work itself but from how you approach it.

Work Deeply
Newport outlines four depth philosophies he’s found to be successful. These aren’t an exhaustive list, but a sampling.

  • Monastic: when you maximize deep efforts by eliminating shallow obligations. It requires having a crystal clear notion of one’s value to the world.
  • Bimodal: when you divide your time, dedicating clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits. The minimum unit here tends to be one full day.
  • Rhythmic: when you generate a rhythm for deep work by consistently making it a simple habit. This can be just a portion of your day.
  • Journalistic: when you can shift into deep work at a moment’s notice and take advantage of any time available. This is not for the deep work novice.

Regardless of approach it’s important to be deliberate. A haphazard approach gets you nowhere; you have to ritualize it. There’s no one correct ritual. Just be consistent.

Expose yourself to ideas in hubs on a regular basis, but maintain a spike in which to work deeply on what you encounter. pg. 132

Key to any approach is execution. Newport encourages thinking of execution as a business would. He summarizes four disciplines from The 4 Disciplines of Execution:

  • Focus on the wildly important.
  • Act on lead measures.
  • Keep a compelling scoreboard.
  • Create a cadence of accountability.

One thing that supports deep work is have a shutdown ritual at the end of the day. The goal is to close off all work and shut down work thinking. Trying to squeeze more work out of evenings likely reduces your effectiveness the next day. “Fortunately we don’t need to complete a task to get it off our minds.” (pg. 153).

Embrace Boredom
If you flee the slightest hint of boredom you’ll struggle to achieve the deepest levels of concentration. Strategies for this are motivated by the idea that training is necessary to get the most out of your deep work habit. Newport recommends scheduling in advance when you’ll use the internet and to then avoid it altogether outside of these times. The goal isn’t to avoid or even reduce distraction. It’s to resist switching to distractions at the first hint of boredom. He also proposes productive meditation, or focusing your attention on a problem while your occupied physically but not mentally (e.g. while walking).

Quit Social Media
Largely clear from the chapter title. The shift is to think of a tool not through the lens of any benefit it offers but instead through whether it has a net positive impact.

Drain the Shallows
The goal is not to eliminate shallow work from outlet day. Instead we can focus on taking its footprint. We should treat shallow work with a healthy suspicion. One way to do this: schedule every minute of your day. It also helps to fix a start and end time on your work day.

Deep Work

Posted on April 2, 2018

Deep Work by Cal Newport is a great read if you’re looking for motivation, tips, and reassurance that might help you transcend what he characterizes as “shallow” work to do higher impact “deep” work. He defines these work types as follows:

Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

Shallow Work: Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

Shallow work is composed of tasks like answering emails and performing social media activities (e.g. for authors who feel like they ought to keep connected). Deep work is more creative and productive in sustained ways and tends to generate substantive output. Newport proposes that deep work is increasingly important in our economy but decreasingly rare, and he makes an argument for the value of deep work and shares some approaches that have helped him and others perform deep work.

Most of the things he proposes are fairly common sense. For example, you should find ways to engage less with email and other distractions that aren’t high value. Push these things to the periphery of your work and intentionally spend more focused time on high value things. Optimize your behaviors to promote this sort of prioritization. And more.

Newport describes several modes of deep work that have proven successful (you don’t necessarily have to build a tower on a remote island and cut yourself off from all distractions, it turns out), and he shares a few tactics for training yourself to be more effective at deep work. The book offers a pretty good balance of sales pitch for the concept and pragmatic suggestions for how to begin doing deep work, and it for the most part does so without seeming too smarmy about it.

Although I’ve never called it deep work, I’ve certainly proven capable of focusing pretty intensely on a given task. To help myself do so, I’ve recently made a shift that clears my Fridays of meetings and designates some scheduled time for certain types of tasks, for example. And I’ve begun to be more intentional about how I plan my week and load balance my tasks, offloading some of the cognitive burden of spinning my various plates to simple tools rather than feeling as overwhelmed by miscellany. When I know I really need to focus on something, I’ll shut down email and other distractions and go dark for two or three hours to get the task done. These are all the sorts of behaviors that Newport suggests, but I’ve arrived at them out of necessity and often out of frustration, mostly by happenstance. This book presents a bunch of underpinning ideas and a double handful of tactics all in one source, and it’ll likely shape how I continue to iterate on my own approach to deeper work.

If you’re in a similar place to the one I’m in in your current approach to work, this book may offer useful refinements to your approach. If you’re already in the 90th percentile for how effectively you structure your work to be consistently effective, the book won’t likely offer you much. If your work’s primary function is composed by design chiefly of shallow work (these terms are not intended to suggest any sort of value judgment; some sorts of shallow work make the world go around!) and that work is appropriate and satisfying, this probably isn’t the book for you. If you’re familiar with the phenomenon of getting to the end of the week and feeling like you’ve left a lot of big important things unfinished because you’ve been mired in miscellany that is lower impact within the context of your job’s mandate, you may find value in Deep Work.

The Effortless Experience

Posted on February 2, 2018

The Effortless Experience, by Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman, and Rick DeLisi, is a really good read for pretty much anybody who runs a customer service organization, and parts of it are worthwhile for anybody who leads people working in a customer service organization. The authors strive to make a pretty solid case for a Customer Effort Score framework that their research has led them to develop; I don’t intend to push too hard for the introduction their framework in my organization, but I still felt like a lot of what the authors share makes good sense and can contribute to providing better customer service. Several times, I found myself kind of smacking my head and thinking “we should be doing a better job of that.”

The authors start with a consideration of the cases you hear of every once in a while in which a customer support representative goes many extra miles to delight a customer. These are appealing as viral stories, but based on a lot of research the authors did, this sort of story is more of a flash in the pan. It’s expensive and unsustainable. Instead, the authors propose, we should scrap the notion of delighting our customers and instead work to make their experiences be (or at least seem) as low-effort as possible.

The authors’ research has turned up four headlines:

  • A strategy of delight doesn’t pay.
  • Satisfaction is not a predictor of loyalty.
  • Customer service interactions tend to drive disloyalty, not loyalty
  • The key to mitigating disloyalty is reducing customer effort.

The authors think of customer loyalty in terms of whether customers continue to buy things, how much they spend, and how much advocacy they perform for the company (do they talk the company up to friends and family?). A customer who scores high marks across these dimensions is a loyal customer. Loyalty correlates with lower-effort experiences.

The big drivers of customer disloyalty are as follows:

  • Having to contact the company more than once to resolve the problem
  • Generic service (feeling treated like a number, having no personalized experience)
  • Having to repeat things (your story, your account number…)
  • Being bounced around a lot to different departments, or channel-switching (going from FAQ to chat to email to phone, etc.)

The four best practices that are common to low-effort service organizations:

  • Minimize channel switching by making it easy for people to self-serve, so that they never have to leave that self-service channel.
  • Don’t just resolve the current issue, but set agents up to prevent future calls by using next issue avoidance practices.
  • Set agents up to use advanced “experience engineering” tactics to manage the customer interaction and create a good emotional experience for the customer. This can be as simple as phrasing things better (you hear this sometimes called “turning a can’t into a can”) but can also be a lot more involved.
  • Incentivize agents to optimize for quality of the experience over speed and efficiency, which also tends to include giving agents some autonomy (untether them from the long, rigid checklist).

The practices above that are in the customer support representatives’ hands are pretty trainable.

The perception of effort has more to do with how the customer feels about it than what steps they actually had to take. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we should just be nicer to customers, but rather that we can plan next steps and language carefully to anticipate pitfalls and think of outcomes that, while not the initial desired outcome, might be agreeable to the customer. The book offers a really good example of the way one company manages this alongside helping the customer feel like they’ve had a really personalized experience.

The authors write about Control Quotient (CQ), which they define as the ability to “exercise judgment and maintain control in a high-pressure, complex service environment.” Most reps already have high CQ, but organizations inhibit it by, for example, limiting people to using rigid checklists and generally opting for standardization over autonomy. The drab name aside, CQ as portrayed in the book does a good job capturing a lot of what I’ve seen in very good customer support representatives, so the idea here passes the sniff test for me. Traits common to people with high CQ:

  • Curiosity
  • Creativity
  • Capable of critical thinking
  • Experimental

And a further set of skills common to these folks:

  • They demonstrate product knowledge.
  • They demonstrate technological expertise.
  • They communicate confidently.
  • They communicate clearly.
  • They ask good questions.
  • They’re capable of multitasking

There’s another set of skills and traits categorized as emotional intelligence that, when present in customer service representatives, tends to correlate with an even bigger performance lift than those listed above:

  • They’re empathetic.
  • They can flex to different personality types.
  • They have a customer service ethic.
  • They’re extroverted (they’re comfortable interacting with strangers).
  • They advocate for the customer.
  • They’re persuasive.

And finally, there’s a set of five skills and behaviors that lifts performance yet further:

  • They’re resilient.
  • They’re able to handle high-pressure situations without becoming burned out.
  • They take responsibility for their own actions.
  • They respond well to constructive criticism by managers.
  • They’re able to concentrate on tasks over extended periods of time.

Now that we know a lot of great traits and behaviors, how do we unlock them? There are three environmental factors that we can influence:

  • Trust customer service representative judgment.
  • Make sure they understand and are aligned with company goals.
  • Assure that they have a strong peer network.

The authors write about the distinction between training (which is very common and tends to be kind of negligent in practice because people read it once and move on) and coaching, which is often focused more on being corrective after the fact than instructive in the midst of an interaction. Training of course can be useful, but more hands-on (vs. retrospective) coaching leads to better outcomes.

The book talks a bit about change management, which is perhaps useful for organizations making a big shift in how they approach thinking about customer satisfaction and success, but it was a pretty shallow treatment of the topic and probably is useful for a small segment of the people to whom the book might be more broadly appealing.

I’ve offered a lot of highlights here. If they’re enticing to you and you’re in a position to implement some of the changes they might inspire you to make, a deeper read than this glimpse provides might be in order, as the authors do go into more detail and offer stats and a few case studies to clarify their argument.

The Effective Executive

Posted on January 19, 2018

Years ago, I started to read an abridged version of James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough, a huge work of comparative religion and mythology that jumps from continent to continent from one sentence to the next as it outlines myths and magics of the world. It’s a dazzling book that’s really hard to absorb because of how much information it throws at you. Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive made me think of Frazer’s book, though Drucker’s is a fair bit more modest in scope. Often in the book, he states a premise and then catalogues a few case studies in brief, and his catalogues, located as distant in time as they are, and as discursive as they sometimes are, kind of made me glaze over sometimes. The same was true for me of Frazer’s landmark book.

Drucker’s prose is very clear and confident and assertive, and so it feels like it has the weight of authority. The case studies he offers are dated (the book was published in the 1960s), and sometimes his organization of information feels a little scattershot. In the end, I felt like I had read a bunch of useful information but hadn’t retained many of the details. For the most part, this is fine; for example, the first thing an executive must do to be effective is to understand how time is being spent, and to spend it effectively. This is simple enough to understand and agree to without retaining a lot of specifics. But in the longer sections on effective decision making, I had difficulty retaining some of the details in part because of Drucker’s scattershot delivery, so I found those sections less useful.

Drucker defines as executives “those knowledge workers, managers, or individual professionals who are expected by virtue of their position or their knowledge to make decisions in the normal course of their work that have significant impact on the performance and results of the whole.” He doesn’t limit this cohort to people with the initials “C” or “VP” in their title. Any knowledge worker may act in an executive capacity.

The main things an effective executive must do are as follows:

Effective executives know where their time goes.

Effective executives focus on outward contribution. They gear their efforts to results rather than to work.

Effective executives build on strengths—their own strengths, the strengths of their superiors, colleagues, and subordinates;

Effective executives concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results.

Effective executives, finally, make effective decisions. They know that this is, above all, a matter of system—of the right steps in the right sequence. They know that an effective decision is always a judgment based on “dissenting opinions” rather than on “consensus on the facts.”

Much of what he writes about squares with my experience. I can testify for example that losing time has been a big problem for me and that in order to increase my effectiveness and impact, finding ways to set aside significant chunks of time (hours in a row) to focus on important tasks has been key.

I can also vouch for the focus on outward contribution. What he means here is that we should push for achievement rather than activity. For me, this combines with time auditing. I’ve often found myself spending lots of time in conversation or suggesting edits to things that cost me a lot of time and likely had a minuscule impact. Better to keep that hour haggling over minor details reserved for other, higher impact use, no matter how relevant it might seem in the moment. Of course Drucker also means that we should similarly direct the efforts of those who report to us.

Playing to strengths includes not merely working toward your own strengths but making sure the people in your care are in the right job or that the job is designed (where possible) to make the best use of their strengths. This one can be tough unless you’re in the position of actually designing the job.

As noted above, Drucker lost me a bit in the details and case studies around making good decisions. He suggests that you should start from opinions rather than facts, that you should tend to look for ways to focus decisions on general cases so as to build principles rather than re-making situational decisions every time, and that you should encourage disagreement so that as you make a decision, you’re able to consider a diversity of perspectives rather than falling victim to confirmation bias.

Many business books are delivered in a way that feels like the author is posing as a guru. Drucker’s book by contrast is shot through with a sort of moral philosophy. He sees the work as a thing worth moral reflection, and I find this both a little old fashioned and very appealing. For example — “A superior owes it to his organization to make the strength of every one of his subordinates as productive as it can be. But even more does he owe it to the human beings over whom he exercises authority to help them get the most out of whatever strength they may have.”

On the whole, I’m glad I read the book, but it was more detailed in some ways than I found useful, and it was hard to connect a lot of his case studies to my own current reality. By contrast, many of the case studies and the framework offered in Switch were easy for me to internalize. I suppose I would recommend The Effective Executive to some. At present I’m more excited about The Daily Drucker (post forthcoming when I finish it), which distills a much broader range of Drucker’s work into daily reflections that might offer some of the moral or philosophical tidbits and send me deeper into more recent and relevant parts of Drucker’s body of work.

 

Switch: How to Change when Change is Hard

Posted on January 8, 2018

Chip and Dan Heath’s Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard is a solid read.   Kotter’s Leading Change is pretty structured and high level and kind of hard to think about using on a day-to-day basis. By contrast, Switch actually starts at more of a micro level and encourages you to think of small things you might change to lead to a bigger change. I cover most of the book’s main points below, but the book provides a lot more texture and a lot of inspiring case studies, and I highly recommend it as a resource for practical approaches to navigating change; it has already impacted how I approach parts of my work.

The book outlines a basic framework around the metaphor of trying to ride an elephant, and it offers loads of case studies that show both big and small changes, often undertaken by people or groups with no real authority over the people or control over the environments they wish to involve in the change (for example, a group of high school kids who revitalized the economy of their small community).

The authors of this book think about the human response to change as being like a rider on an elephant trying to get to a particular place. The elephant represents the emotional response to the stimulus — it can be very hard to control. The rider represents the analytic or controlling force that keeps the elephant/emotions in check. Different people and situations have different elephant-to-rider ratios. Part of the trick to navigating change successfully is finding a good working relationship between the rider and the elephant. The bigger the change, the harder it is to get the elephant to veer from its current course to make the change.

To make change effectively, you must do three things:

  1. Direct the rider. That is, provide clarity that lets the rational, logical part of a person decide what needs to change.
  2. Motivate the elephant. Even if a change makes sense rationally, you sometimes have to make essentially an emotional appeal to get people on board. If we’re invested personally and emotionally in a change, we’re more likely to go along with it.
  3. Shape the path. That is, set circumstances up so that change is actually feasible. An example here is using smaller plates to help you eat less so that you’re more healthy. This simple change in plate size actually does help people eat smaller portions, which can lead to weight loss. Just doing this small action shapes the path for you to make a change that is otherwise more difficult to make.

Direct the Rider

The authors propose a few ways to direct the rider. First, look for bright spots. That is, what has been successful already that we might build on? In an effort to improve nutrition among children, workers studied the habits of those mothers whose children were more healthy and brought some of their practices to other mothers. Nutrition increased! This wasn’t a huge sweeping change to healthcare but was an observation of what was working for some and the simple transference of that behavior to others.

Next you script the critical moves. This means providing simple rules that reduce decision paralysis, which can really hurt change initiatives. For example, in an effort to turn a railroad’s finances around, a leader identified four rules to govern the company’s expenditures. Anything that would have violated these critical rules was off limits, period. You don’t have to outline every move — just the ones that are highest impact, the critical ones. In another case study, researchers seeking to improve health in a community by reducing saturated fat set a rule to drink 1% milk, as milk was the biggest source of saturated fat in the diet. They could have made rules that had people counting calories and reading labels on all their foods, but the people’s elephants would have lapsed on that quickly. It’s easy (and it proved effective) to simply make the rule “drink 1% milk instead of 2% or whole.”

Finally, you point to the destination. This can mean making a “destination postcard” — something that can be achieved in months or years rather than decades. An example from the book is that in working to improve school performance for first graders, a teacher told them that by the end of the year, they would be third (not second) graders. This gave them a clear destination (perform according to educational standards at the level of third graders) and motivated the elephant (it gave kids something to feel proud to strive for).

Sometimes, the critical moves should include black and white goals — things that very intentionally restrict behaviors and remove ambiguity. These aren’t inspiring on their own, but paired with a destination postcard that motivates the elephant, they can provide great direction.

It’s important to “marry your long-term goal with short-term critical moves.”

Motivate the Elephant

To motivate the elephant, you “find the feeling,” “shrink the change,” and “grow your people.”

If you’re stuck in a burning building and your options are to stay and burn or leap and maybe live, you’ll likely accept the change of leaping from the building. That’s one way to find the feeling. But fear isn’t generally a good motivator to use intentionally for corporate change. If you can find more positive motivators, you should do so, and you should be relentless in doing so.

Shrinking the change seems related to finding the bright spots for the rider. Rather than trying to overhaul something huge, narrow scope and work on something that feels more achievable (then lather, rinse, repeat). This can mean things like (for retail businesses) giving out loyalty cards with a couple of stamps already stamped, so that a customer feels like they’re already part-way along the journey. If your house is a mess and you want it clean, make your task to clean the bathroom rather than to clean the house. Feeling like the change is manageable potentially gives you a sense of accomplishment when you do the smaller task and gives you momentum to work on the next bit of it.

You can shrink change by decreasing the investment (of time, money, whatever) or by setting up smaller achievable milestones and building on the momentum of hitting them.

Growing your people means in part setting stakeholders up to feel a sense of identity with or ownership of the change rather than setting them up merely to feel as if there will be consequences for failure. The more you can underscore this identity and connect goals and change to serving a shared value, the smoother your change efforts may be. The more a change seems disconnected from this goal the change supports, the less smooth it’ll go.

Promoting a growth mindset rather than a fixed one also helps with change, as it helps us embrace failure when it occurs as a thing we can learn from and improve, vs. as a thing that merely feels bad.

If you can grow your people and shrink the change, your elephant will feel like the task at hand is achievable.

Shape the Path

Shaping the path means making it pretty easy to work on the task at hand. The book gives an example in which people were asked to donate cans of food. People who had been classified by peers as jerks were more likely to donate food even than non-jerks if they (the jerks) had simple, clear instructions for doing so that the non-jerks did not have. The path for them was easy, so they did the thing it led them toward.

Sometimes, shaping the path can mean doing little hacks to yourself or to your processes. For example, if you want to spend less of your evening time plugged into work, you might take Slack off your phone (or mute its notifications). Otherwise, you’ll be constantly checking in at work even when you really don’t want to.

Habit-building is a fundamental part of shaping the path, and an effective way to build habits is to use action triggers, which means setting up rules that “when X happens, I will do Y.” Preloading this sort of behavior basically into the environment reduces decision fatigue and helps you build habits; you need only follow the simple rules you set up. In thinking about habits as a way to implement change, it’s important both that habits advance progress toward the change and that they be pretty easy to embrace.

Checklists are a great tool for shaping the path.

Rallying the Herd

Behaviors are contagious, and so once we’ve begun to change things, we also want to begin to build them into the norms of the group that’s making the change. So, when a group has embraced desired behaviors, we should publicize it. It’s a little harder when people don’t embrace the desired behaviors, as it can lead to things like shaming folks for not being on board, so there’s a delicate balance to strike here.

The book also talks about just getting desired change into the consciousness. For example, we have the notion of designated drivers because of a careful campaign on the part of its champion to get it mentioned in many TV shows starting in the 1980s.

Some of the case studies in this section amount to promoting propaganda, which feels a little weird.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Posted on January 8, 2018

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick M. Lencioni, offers what it bills as a fable dramatizing a team’s shift from dysfunction to function. It’s a little annoyingly patronizing in how it lays out the fable, and it’s also annoying how much it relies upon stereotypes (e.g. the spectrum-ish CTO or the sort of diva marketing personality), but it’s also fairly useful and easy to follow, and it’s a small time investment.

The five dysfunctions are (indented bullets are quotes from the book):

  • Absence of trust (the bottom of the pyramid)
  • Fear of conflict (building on absence of trust)
  • Lack of commitment
  • Avoidance of accountability
  • Inattention to results

In a nutshell, if you lack trust on your team, you likely also have a fear of conflict because people don’t feel like they can engage in constructive conversations when they disagree. This in turn leads to a failure of commitment since there hasn’t been room for team members to feel heard and to get on board in spite of reservations. The prior three build to lead to an absence of accountability — without trust and comfort with conflict, it’s difficult to hold people accountable, and without commitment to the direction, people might actually resist being held accountable since they weren’t on board in the first place. Finally, these can all build toward a failure to get results. If you weren’t committed, you might prize your own ego or resume above that of the team and wind up hurting the team as a result. In any case, you’re likely pulling in different directions rather than pulling toward the same results based on a shared commitment.

A lot of the dysfunction portrayed in the book is very familiar to me based on my own job experience, and I can personally vouch for how some of the dysfunctions can lead to poor results.

The key takeaways for me:

  • Always work to build trust.
  • Model vulnerability when opportunity arises (and mean it).
  • Model holding members of the team accountable, and respond well when you mess up and are constructively held accountable by a teammate.
  • Consider trying out the Team Effectiveness Exercise the book offers.
  • Spend less time delaying and waiting for perfect data, as doing so can lead to decision paralysis and lack of confidence.
  • Consistently review key decisions and messaging.
  • If there’s difficulty getting commitment, take a few minutes to consider worst case scenarios as a way of gut-checking actual risk next to unfounded fear.
  • Commit publicly to specific results.

If you’re working with a team that’s not collaborating well to accomplish things, this book may be worth a read. It’s a quick read, and the dramatization of a team working through the dysfunctions may be useful, but be forewarned that it’s also a pretty ham-handed fictionalization of a scenario probably not many of us would actually be in, so the book itself (vs. the info distilled above) is only so useful.