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Posts tagged ‘book review’

Cracking the Code for Standout Performance (part II)

image by shadaringtonAs Agile team coaches or organizational coaches, we aim to increase the teams’ performance in an attempt to deliver better results. We improve quality, help the team work more efficiently, and have fun while delivering increased business value. Interestingly, many of the observations presented in Great Business Teams: Cracking the Code for Standout Performance (this is the second part of the book review) are in line with the Agile values and principles. Here are some of the keys points to remember:


The leaders have an important role in developing high performance teams. Their actions and behaviors will be closely observed and people will modify their own behaviors based on those of their leaders. Guttman highlights some of the leader imperatives to achieve high performance.

Develop and drive the horizontal vision

An horizontal organization means moving to an organizaton in which everyone operates according to a clearly defined set of decision-making protocols, where people understand what they are accountable for and then own the results.

For an organization to raise its level of performance every team, on every level, must be a great team. That is to say, it must be aligned in five key areas:

  1. business strategy
  2. business deliverables coming from the strategy
  3. roles and responsibilities at individual and business unit or functional levels
  4. protocols, or ground rules, for decision making and conflict resolution (see a recent post on this topic)
  5. business/interpersonal relationships and interdependencies

Create the right mindset

  • Being candid from “wary, closed with hidden agendas” to “candid, open, relaxed, easy to speak your mind” – from “no tolerance for confrontation, conflicts suppressed” to “tensions surfaced, confronted, and resolved”
  • Accentuating accountability: putting equal emphasis on cross functional, peer-to-peer accountability, as well as peer-to-leader acountability.

Provide the right skills

Such as influencing, active listening, assertion, giving and receiving feedback, conflict management, decision making and leadership.

Keep the game and guard the rules

Everyone is clear about and committed to the business strategy and the operational goals that flow from it; undertsands his or her roles and responsibilities, and adheres to agreed-upon protocols, or ground rules for decisions making and for interpersonal behavior, especially those relating to conflict management.

Here’s how great teams make decisions:

  • Identify the decisions that need to be made
  • Identify decision subteams
  • Assign accountability
  • Set objectives and timelines
  • Select the decision making mode
  • Identify information sources
  • Determine the shelf life of the decision

Raise the bar

Keep challenging the status quo, revisit the targets and get the team involved in the process.

Be player centered

Leadership is in large part about power – about how it is exercised, shared, delegated, and used. High performance leaders seek to leverage power, not monopolize – to put it to use to drive up their team’s or organization’s performance. Putting the power in the hands of the teams members provides the right conditions to deliver maximum payoffs.


The road to a great team begins with two nuclear elements of team reality: the leader and the team members. Consequently, team members must show four very obvious characteristics.

Think like a director

Keep their eye on overarching goals and the need to stay on top of their competition.

Put team first, function second

They are team members first and functional representatives second.

Embrace accountability

Slowly move from an individual accountability for their own results toward accountability toward the success of the entire organization.

Become comfortable with discomfort

People need to be or become comfortable with the changes required of them and their leader.

Building an outstanding team requires time and energy and is achievable once people agree to work together and pull in the same direction.


Cracking the Code for Standout Performance – Applying the approach to Agile Teams

I just finished reading Great Business Teams: Cracking the Code for Standout Performance.

In Great Business Teams, renowned business consultant Howard M. Guttman takes you inside some of the world’s most successful corporations—Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Mars Incorporated, and L’Oréal, to name a few—to discover how a powerful new high-performance horizontal model has changed the way leaders lead, team members function, challenges are met, and decisions are made. He also reveals how and why the organizations that have implemented this innovative team structure have become great companies, able to ride the crosscurrents during lean times and truly soar when opportunities arise.

As Agile team coaches or organizational coaches, we aim to increase the teams’ performance in an attempt to deliver better results. We improve quality, help the team work more efficiently, and have fun while delivering increased business value. Interestingly, many of the observations presented in Great Business Teams: Cracking the Code for Standout Performance are in line with the Agile values and principles. Here are some of the keys points to remember:

1. Great Business Teams are Led by High-Performance Leaders who:

  • Create a “burning platform” for fundamental change;
  • Are visionaries and architects;
  • Know they cannot do it alone;
  • Build authentic relationships;
  • Model the behaviors they expect from their team;
  • Redefine the fundamentals of leadership.

Isn’t this what we would expect of the Product Owner in Scrum?

Interestingly, the author positions the process by wish the leader achieves these objectives by asking tough questions such as:

  • What is the business strategy and how committed are we to achieving it?
  • What key operational goals flow from the strategy and how do we make sure these goals drive day-to-day decision making?
  • Are we clear on roles and accountabilities?
  • What protocols or ground rules will we play by as a team?
  • Will our business relationships and interdependencies be built on candor and transparency?

Hence, the support of an external coach is useful and can help the leader ask powerful questions.

2. Members of Great Business Teams are Us-Directed Leaders

Members of great business teams think of themselves as accountable not only for their own performance but for that of their colleagues. Similar to the concept of self-organized teams, great business teams typically take accountability to achieve their objectives.

On high-performing teams, accountability goes well beyond the individuals recognition that he or she is part of the problem. It even goes beyond holding peers on a team accountable for performance. “Us” accountability includes holding the team leader accountable as well.

3. Great Business Teams Play by Protocols

Once a leader with the right skills is in place and supported by a self-organized team, the group needs to agree on the rules they will play by. Obviously, the more structured its way of working together, the less likelihood of misunderstanding, conflict or costly delays and bottlenecks the team will encounter.

One important set of protocols related to decision making.

Straight-up rules such as “no triangulations or enlistment of third party”, “resolve it or let it go”, “don’t accuse in absentia”, and “no hand from the grave or second guessing decisions” can eliminate much of the unresolved conflict that paralyzes teams and keeps them from moving to a higher level of performance.

4. Great Business Continually Raise The Performance Bar

No matter how much it achieves, great business teams are never satisfied, they implement self-monitoring, self-evaluation, continuous improvement, and raise the bar. The continuous improvement process helps a highly performing team to keep improving its performance and deliver impressive results.

5. Great Business Teams Have A Supportive Performance Management System

Having the right individuals in the right roles and establishing clear rules of engagement are not sufficient. The performance monitoring systems have to be inline with the expected behaviors.

  • Team and individual goals have to be crystal clear;
  • The necessary technical and interpersonal skills have to be provided;
  • Performance has to be monitored;
  • And feedback has to be timely an well thought out.

The book wasn’t written for an Agile audience but after reading it, it seems to me that applying the Agile principles would come close to cracking the code for standout performance.

The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Picture by topshampattiIf you work in an Agile environment or better yet, if you manage people who have embraced the Agile principles, you have certainly bought into the concept of self-organized teams. The underlying assumptions are that:

  • People are more motivated when they are self-organized;
  • People take their own commitments more seriously than the commitments made by others on their behalf;
  • Teams and individuals are more productive when they are not interrupted;
  • Teams improve when they can settle their own issues;
  • Changes in the composition of the team affect the productivity of the team members;
  • Face-to-face communication is the most productive way to share information.

Needless to say, management hasn’t changed much in a hundred years with its need to control and its chief tools remain extrinsic motivators.

Taylor believed that work consisted mainly of simple, not particularly interesting tasks and that the only way to get people to work on them was to incentivize them properly and monitor them carefully. Later on, Maslow developed the field of humanistic psychology in the 1960s (which questioned the idea that human behavior was purely ratlike seeking positive stimuli and avoiding negative stimuli) and McGregor challenged the assumption that humans are fundamentally inert (in the absence of external rewards and punishments, we wouldn’t do much).

In his most recent book (Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Usaudiobook format), Daniel Pink presents many factoids taken from scientific researches to demonstrate how people can (and can’t) be motivated. Although the author brings a scientific perspective to people motivation, the book is easy to read in addition to being entertaining.

Scientists then knew that two main drivers powered behavior. The first was the biological drive (comes from within) and the second comes from without – the rewards and punishments the environment delivered for behaving in certain ways […] The third drive – performance of a task provides intrinsic reward. The joy of the task is its own reward.

Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

In his book, Pink states that human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another.


The opposite of autonomy is control. Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.

Pink’s book provides valuable scientific explanations to the concept of self-organised teams. He presents the ROWE (Results-Only Work Environment) concept and the Self Determination Theory (SDT) to demonstrate the relationship between autonomy and well-being. He goes further to associate autonomy with higher productivity, less burnout, and greater level of psychological well-being. More closely related to software development, the author presents the level of authority given to employees at software giant Atlassian where people decide: what they do, when they do it, how they do it, and whom they do it with.


The desire for intellectual challenge (the urge to master something new and engaging) was the best predictor of productivity.

Daniel Pink explains that people are motivated by self-development and learning of new skills or developing existing abilities. The actual challenge of mastering a discipline is often a better motivator than money can be (assuming a minimal level of income). Similar to children who easily get motivated with playing – which is a way for them to learn and master a skill – managers can leverage that ability to motivate individuals.

As such, human beings are said to have an inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges to extend and exercise their capacities to explore and learn – which are in themselves powerful motivators.


The science shows that the secret to high performance isn’t our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but our third drive – our deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to live a life of purpose.

The author points out that many psychologists and economists have found that the correlation between money and hapiness is weak – that is past a certain level, a larger pile of cash doesn’t bring people a higher level of satisfaction. As such, contrary to traditional motivational techniques, money does not increase happiness and performance – some research have actually demonstrated the opposite effect! It is possible to keep people highly motivated without constantly leveraging money as a motivator.

Human motivation seemed to operate by laws that run counter to what most scientists and citizens believe. When money is used as an external reward for some activity, the subjects lose intrinsic interest for that activity. Rewards can deliver a short term boost but the effect wears off and worse can reduce a person’s longer-term motivation to continue the project.

In direct contravention to the core of tenets of motivation 2.0, an incentive designed to clarify thinking and sharpen creativity ends up clouding thinking and dulling creativity. Why? Rewards, by their very nature narrow our focus. That’s helpful when there’s a clear path to a solution. They help us stare ahead and race faster but “if then” motivators are terrible for challenges. The rewards narrowed people’s focus and blinkered the wide view that might have allowed them to see new uses for old objects.

Carrots and Sticks – The Seven Deadly Flaws

  1. They can extinguish intrinsic motivation
  2. The can diminish performance
  3. The can crush creativity
  4. They can crowd out good behavior
  5. They can encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior
  6. The can become addictive
  7. The can foster short-term thinking.

The relation to software development

Algorithmic tasks are tasks in which an individual follows a set of established instructions down in a single pathway to one conclusion. That is, there’s an algorithm for solving it.

A heuristic task is the opposite precisely because no algorithm exists for it, individuals have to experiment with possibilities and devise a novel solution. Software development is a heuristic task.

During the twentieth century, most work was algorithmic but as McKinsey & Co. estimated that in the United States, only 30 percent of job growth now comes from algorithmic work, while 70 percent comes from heuristic work.

Researchers have found that external rewards and punishments – both carrots and sticks – can work nicely for algorithmic tasks but they can be devastating for heuristic ones.


If you need scientific explanation and useful examples to explain to people around you why a self-organized (autonomous) team with team members who are striving to develop their skills in an attempt to reach a common purpose is possibly the most impactful motivator, you may want to read this book.


Books I have read – December 2009

Another monthly update on the books I read during the past month. For a complete a list, you can visit my virtual bookshelf.

Systemic Thinking

I read Senge’s The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization a few times so I was looking forward to his new collaborative book.

The Necessary Revolution: How individuals and organizations are working together to create a sustainable world

My Rating

A few words on the book: This time, Senge and his collaborators propose a systemic approach to help solve the environmental and social challenges we are currently facing (Energy & Transportation, Food & Water, and Material Waste & Toxicity). He provides real life examples of people and organizations who have successfully implemented sustainable solutions by: following a systemic approach, collaborating, and inspecting & adapting their production methods.  Although at times the picture seems very bleak, seeing true solutions to some of the most complex problems our planet is facing was encouraging. Overall, a good book to read.

Servant Leadership

In the past year, I have heard references to servant leadership hundreds of time. Since I like to learn about various leadership styles and after a colleague suggested this training course, I jumped in. For more details on this training course, you may want to read my summary.

The Servant Leadership Training Course: Achieving Success Through Character, Bravery, and Influence

My Rating:

A few words on the book: A word of advice, although the beginning of this training course (audiobook) sounds like preaching by an experienced motivational speaker, the references and analogies used throughout the course are useful and eye-opening. Our organization strongly relies on servant leadership principles and getting the bigger picture will hopefully help me improve along those lines.


After releasing his audiobook The Right Use of Power, Peter Block wrote this book that provides more explanation around his philosophy of stewardship.

The Answer to How Is Yes: Acting on What Matters

My Rating

A few words on the book: In this book Block details his philosophy about life and work and breaks many of the common assumptions one makes when entering the work force. He offers new paradigms and presents why the old patriarchal type relationship between boss and employees does not work. If like me, the status quo isn’t your perspective, you will like Block’s thinking but beware implementing some of his suggestions is very demanding as society doesn’t (yet) work as Peter suggests.

People keep asking “How?” as a defense against living their life, says best-selling author Peter Block. In this witty, insightful award-winning book, Block shows that many standard solutions and improvement efforts, reinforced by most of the literature, keep people paralyzed. Here he places the “how to” craze in perspective and teaches individuals, workers, and managers ways to act on what they know. This in turn allows them to reclaim their freedom and capacity to create the kind of world they want to live in. Block’s “elements of choice” — the characteristic of a new workplace and a new world based on more positive values — include self-mentoring, investing in relationships, accepting the unpredictability of life, and realizing that the individual prospers only when the community does.

Servant Leadership – A training course

As my commute to work takes around 45 minutes morning and night, I was looking for an audiobook for my drive to the office. I’ve been a subscriber to Audible for over 2 years now and after a few searches on the topic of Leadership, I came across James C. Hunter’s audiobook The Servant Leadership Training Course: Achieving Success Through Character, Bravery, and Influence. I didn’t know Hunter so I thought “Even a bad audiobook would be better than sitting in a traffic jam caused by a snow storm!” so I went ahead and purchased it. The audiobook is apparently based on Hunter’s earlier book The Servant.

My intend here is not to summarize the training course since I probably wouldn’t do the book justice but to give a few quotes from the book to give you a sense of the content and hopefully get you interested in servant leadership if this is something you would like to develop.

  • Leadership is not a position or a job title;
  • Leadership is influence;
  • To lead is to serve others;
  • Generation X doesn’t trust power people;
  • Two thirds of employees quit their job because of their boss;
  • Leadership is not management – leadership is about influencing people, not having power over people;
  • Leadership is not about what you do, it’s about who you are;
  • Leadership is the skill of influencing people to achieve a common goal;
  • Leadership is character in action;
  • Character is who you are in the dark when nobody is looking;
  • Your thoughts become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your character, and your character became your destiny;
  • You are either green and growing or ripe and rotting (I really like this one!)
  • Leadership is getting over your 2’s (years old) and start behaving like an adult;
  • Leadership is about addressing the real needs of people, not their wants;
  • The difference between power and authority:
    • POWER = Do it or else…
    • Power is “I have the position to make you do it, so you will”
    • AUTHORITY = I’ll do it for you…
    • Authority is “Getting people to willingly do what you ask them to”
  • Authority is about who you are as a person;
  • Power destroys relationships;
  • Business is a series of relationships.

If you are a people manager and wish to become a true leader, this training course will offer you lots of reference points. Similar to the concept of stewardship, true leadership is not easily accessible. Most of us need to change our behavior, attitude, and actions to serve others and then become servant leaders.

As I said at the beginning, these are only a few quotes and the training course provides much more material to better understand the context and background of servant leadership. Under 4h30, this audiobook covered my commute to work for less than a week. Now, I need to search for another audiobook. Any suggestions?

A Sense of Urgency by John Kotter

I have just finished reading A sense of urgency by John Kotter. A useful book when dealing with an agile transition.

John Kotter is author of Leading Change, published in 1996 and still a business book bestseller. In that book he presented eight steps in leading change in an organization – the first step presented was to develop a sense of urgency. Kotter believed that topic was so critical that he followed up with this new book specifically dedicated to developing a sense of urgency.

The book is useful to help make clear distinction between a real sense of urgency, a false sense of urgency, and complacency. After explaining at length the difference between these 3 situations and providing clear examples, Kotter provides tactics to deal with complacency and false sense of urgency in order to convert them into a real sense of urgency.

Although the book is dry – don’t read it just before going to bed – it is well written and fairly concise.

The first section of the book focuses on what is described as a “false sense of urgency.” Kotter characterizes people with this attitude as feeling that change must be made but whose actions aren’t very helpful. The single biggest error people make when they try to craft change is they do not “create a high enough sense of urgency among enough people to set the stage for making a challenging leap into some new direction“. “A false sense of urgency is pervasive and insidious because people mistake activity for productivity“.

The biggest challenge facing people who try to create a sense of urgency within the organization is “complacency”. “We underestimate its power and its prevalence“.

To increase a “true sense of urgency”, “create action that is exceptionally alert, externally oriented, relentlessly aimed at winning, making some progress each and every day, and constantly purging low value-added activities–all by always focusing on the heart and not just the mind.”

To implement strategies to address these situations, the author he suggests the following tactics: 

  • Bring the outside in with engaging information so that the outside is acknowledged, understood, and acted on. 
  • Demonstrate urgency every day as a leader and expect everyone else to do the same. 
  • Find appropriate opportunities to change and improve from crises that threaten the organization. 
  • Wall off, neutralize, or eliminate those who oppose or slow down change for no good reason. 

In summary, taken via Book Excerpt: A Sense of Urgency — HBS Working Knowledge.

Big Mistake Number 1: Assuming that crises inevitably will create the sense of urgency needed to perform better.

Big Mistake Number 2: Going over the line with a strategy that creates an angry backlash because people feel manipulated.

Big Mistake Number 3: Passively sitting and waiting for a crisis (which many never come).

It is a good book to help you transform your organization.

Big Mistake Number 4: Underestimating what the people who would avoid crises at all costs correctly appreciate: that crisis can bring disaster.

What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis

I just finished reading What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis the man behind

Like many people, I’m a big fan of Google and most of their products and when someone told me about this book I thought it would be interesting reading material both pleasure and business knowledge.

The title is catchy but I must warn you, this is not a business book. The book does not even provide insight into Google’s culture, management style or innovation process. On his blog, the author says the following about himself: “Jarvis was creator and founding editor of Entertainment Weekly; Sunday editor and associate publisher of the New York Daily News; TV critic for TV Guide and People; a columnist on the San Francisco Examiner; assistant city editor and reporter for the Chicago Tribune; reporter for Chicago Today” and as a consequence, the book reads much more like a long blog post than a structured book. Don’t get me wrong, Jarvis’ style is entertaining and the content of the book is interesting but you won’t find any major revelation that you can use to inject new ideas into your organization.

In summary, the whole book is based on the “Ten things Google has found to be true” and the book can pretty much be summarized by “Five Steps to a Googlier You” posted on the author’s blog. 

The most interesting part of the book is that Jarvis shows what other business models might look like if they were run by Google. These companies include airlines, real estate, banks, hospitals, insurance, and universities. Big comparing to real life example, the author demonstrates how internet companies like Craigslist, Flickr, Wikipedia, Amazon and Digg  have disrupted their market by applying Google’s philosophy.

Overall, I enjoyed this book eventhough it turned out to be more for leisure than business.