Team working – two good books with different perspectives on getting the best out of teams

I’ve always been more interested in effective team working than I have ‘collaboration’. I know when I am a member of a team but less sure about when I’m “collaborating”.  May be I’m an exception but I think it is possible to be a member of a team and yet not be collaborating in the strict sense of the word. I’m also interested in applying the immense amount of research that has been carried out on team work. Just as is the case with digital workplaces team working is not a novel concept and can be undertaken without the use of any technology. Team working is quite a complex situation because of the multiple personal interactions amongst the team even before you add in the complexity of organisational structures and cultural influences.  How people work in small groups has been studied for well over a century by psychologists and social scientists and is often referred to as group dynamics. Taking group dynamics to the next step and using the techniques to improve organisational performance is a more recent area of study.

I have found Daniel Levi’s book Group Dynamics for Teams a really fascinating read. There are four sections and 17 chapters in this 400 page book, covering the characteristics of teams, the processes of teamwork, the issues that teams face and the organisational context of teams. This is the fourth edition of the book so clearly there are a lot of people reading and valuing it because getting a book to a fourth edition is a major achievement. Daniel Levi is a Professor at the California State Polytechnic but writes in a very readable style that is far removed from an academic thesis. The book summarises research reported in almost 500 papers and books but the author is adept at bringing out the practical consequences of the research in way that often gave me a ‘Eureka’ moment as it dawned on me why a particular team ended up not fulfilling its objectives. The book is full of worksheets and at the end of each chapter is a test case that enables you to assess whether you have grasped the principles that the author has quite clearly presented.

If you are looking for a book that is slim and provides very practical guidance on team management then Creating Effective Teams by Susan A. Wheelan is also a Sage Publishing title and is also just been published in a fourth edition. (The copyright date is 2014 so it doubles as a time machine!). This book is just 130 pages long but it crammed full of good advice, checklists and assessment questionnaires. The author has a four stage model of team development, namely Dependency and Inclusion, Counterdependency and Fight, Trust and Structure and Work. The centre section of the book sets out 10 keys to productive team working and the final three chapters are about effective team members, effective team leadership  and effective organisational support for teams. Susan Wheelan has been working in the area of team work effectiveness for many years and the book benefits from both her extensive experience and an ability to write  in a very engaging way.

The two books serve different purposes. Susan Wheelan’s book is mainly about ‘how’ whereas Daniel Levi writes about the ‘Why’.  The two books together are very complementary and together would be of significant assistance to any manager trying to get the best of the teams they run, or are a member of.

Martin White