TITLE: Dysfunctions and Business Books AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: May 27, 2008 11:03 AM DESC: ----- BODY: Last week, I read Patrick Lencioni's The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. It's another one of those "parable" books, wherein the author teaches his method, stance, or idea by telling a story of the theme in action. The book has been in my to-read pile for several months, after seeing a couple of positive references to it on the XP mailing list a while back. But I put off reading it in favor of other things for a long time. Indeed, my experience mirrors the one reported here: I couldn't seem to get started for the longest time, despite my wife's good recommendation, and then I read it quickly and found it to be a "very good little book". I recommend it. Lencioni describes a pyramid of dysfunctions that sabotage a team's effectiveness. This model can also be viewed as a sequence of patterns of effective teams: trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, and collective results. I have experienced elements of all five layers in my current "team". I would not say that we are as self-destructive as the team in his story, but even small chinks in the foundation can weaken the structure above. I hope that in my time as head we have taken steps in the right direction from dysfunction to function. Certainly, trust has been one of my focal points. I have been less successful in encouraging healthy conflict as I had hoped, which indicates weakness in trust. This is an area in which I can grow more able as a leader. Lencioni's model gives me a standard against which to evaluate myself. Of course, as Seth Godin says, Obviously, knowing what to do is very, very different than actually doing it. That is one of the underlying themes of this blog and its name. Speaking of Godin, I am reminded of a misgiving I've had about the parable books that dominate the popular business press. I've enjoyed many of them, but these days I am less eager to read another. I even told my wife that I was planning to skip past the story in Lencioni's book straight to the appendix that explains his model in about 30 pages. Typical academic that I am, I hungered for the meat of the book, not the appetizer. Almost every one of the popular business books could be boiled down to a single chapter that states the main idea and tells me how to implement it. That doesn't make for much of a book, though, and wouldn't attract many readers. But why should a busy guy like me waste time reading the fully dressed version? Am I missing something? I didn't think so, but... There is a big gap between knowing and doing. I was lucky to read Godin's blog entry How to read a business book within a day of finishing Five Dysfunctions, and he set my mind at ease. My understanding of these books is spot-on, yet the parable itself really is important. It is where the author hopes to cultivate in us the motivation to act. Godin says as much about his own books:
... if three weeks go by and you haven't taken action on what you've written down, you wasted your time.
Three weeks is probably too tight for me, with the onset of summer vacation and the end to regular interactions among the whole faculty until fall. I either need to re-read the book in August or find a way to act on what I've learned during the summer. In closing, I see Godin's prescription as something like a unit test for my reading about teams and leadership:
Effective managers hand books to their team. Not so they can be reminded of high school, but so that next week she can say to them, "are we there yet?"
Kent Beck would be proud. -----