Coaching and Development

Building High Performance Teams: A Book Review

Building high performance teams is the dream of any organization. In her book, You First, NYT best-selling author Liane Davey outlines how to do it.

Every organization wants to have high performance teams. Everyone wants to be part of a high performance team. Being a good team player is a sought-after trait for recruiters and hiring managers.

But the reality is that most teams are more dysfunctional than functional, and we’ve all been part of – or witnessed – a team that just didn’t click. So, what’s the trick to building high performance teams?

That’s the topic that Liane Davey explored in her New York Times best-selling book, You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Things Done.

In the book, Davey profiles five types of what she calls toxic teams along with tips to fix them.

The first step in any repair job, whether it’s a dysfunctional team or a malfunctioning printer, is to diagnose the problem. Davey profiles five types of toxic teams; teams “where a lack of alignment and the poor dynamic are a threat to both the productivity of the organization and to the engagement and well-being of individual members.

Types of Toxic Teams

Crisis Junkie Team – These teams may have initially formed as the result of a crisis that needed to be addressed, but now they need a crisis to be effective at all. They lack role clarity, have no clear priorities, and are beset with infighting when the pressure of a crisis isn’t present to focus them.

Bobble Head Team – Bobble heads lack diversity and don’t have the differing opinions and dissent that leads to real debate. Davey says this could be the result of an overbearing leader or the similarity of the members. Either way, it leads to false confidence and poor decisions as members just bob their heads through each meeting.

Spectator Team – Members of the Spectator Team are disengaged during meetings and don’t participate in discussions. Work is siloed and everyone has their role and doesn’t venture beyond that. As a result, there is no engagement among members and they struggle with implementation.

Bleeding Back Team – These team members use passive aggressive techniques like gossip and back channel decision making to advance their own cause. There is no open debate and no trust among members, which leads to poor decisions and slow implementation

Royal Rumble Team – As the name suggests, members of this team don’t shy away from conflict. But it’s not the healthy conflict that encourages debate. It devolves into personal attacks and, while everyone may participate in debate, no one listens to the opinions of others.

Davey includes diagnostic checklists for each type of team to help you figure out just what type of team you may be on.

Building High Performance Teams

Davey provides a lot of great insight into how to address the issues of each type of toxic team and build high performance teams in their place, but one thing she adamantly rejects as a solution are teambuilding exercises where employees do things like go zip-lining, play paintball or attend a cooking class, instead of building a business-focused team effectiveness process. These types of events can actually do more harm than good, according to Davey.

Perhaps her core message in the book is that one person can change the trajectory of a toxic team, and if you see a problem it has to start with you. No matter what role you play, by behaving differently, you encourage good behavior from everyone.

She provides five things you can do to fix a toxic team:

Start with a Positive Assumption – The old assume positive intent mantra. Don’t just pay it lip service. Really do it and you’ll see how your perceptions and, therefore, approach will change.

Add Your Full Value – Don’t just do what you have to do. By approaching each meeting as an opportunity to add your full value, you’ll listen differently, see things differently and others will start to see you differently.

Amplify the Voices of Others – Be the one who makes sure everyone is heard. Not just the loudest voices in the room, everyone, every view point.

Know When to Say ‘No’ – Saying ‘yes’ to every request can leave you spread too thin, preventing you from adding real value. Say ‘no’ to work others can do as well, or better, than you, or that can be delayed. Help your teammates question work that may be low value.

Embrace Productive Conflict – Don’t be afraid of conflict, it can be healthy. Create a safe forum for conflict to happen and use positive language to make your point.

As with the diagnostics for the toxic team types, Davey provides a checklist for you to determine if you’re living up to your responsibilities in each area. She also summarizes these responsibilities nicely at the end of each chapter.

I spoke with Liane Davey at HRPA 2015, where she was presenting, and if you haven’t seen that interview yet, have a look below. She’s a smart woman and has some great perspectives. For more about her book, go here.



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