Three Must-Reads to Build Better Teams

Andy Makar | May 14, 2019

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Building high-performing teams isn’t easy, even though teamwork and project management go hand in hand. As teams form, they all go through Bruce Tuckman’s four stages of team development, which is characterized by formal introductions and pleasantries, recognizing conflicting opinions, establishing common ground, and eventually working better as a team. Tuckman formally defines these stages as the following:

  1. Forming
  2. Storming
  3. Norming
  4. Performing

Poor-performing teams get stuck in the Storming phase, and by the time these teams reach a Norming or Performing stage, the project is already behind schedule and wracked with problems. In IT projects, technical problems are easy to solve since there is always a technical solution. People problems are more difficult to solve due to the ranges of emotions and personalities that make us all human.

Fortunately, I have found these three books are must-reads for project managers who need help addressing these teamwork challenges.

  1. The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey
  2. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler
  3. Be the Sun, Not the Salt by Dr. Harry Cohen

Below are my top takeaways and why all project team members should read these books.

The Speed of Trust

Covey defines trust as “confidence born of the character and the competence of a person or an organization.” Trust is the one currency within an organization that can have dramatic effects on the organization and its people. Trust is the key factor that can help or derail a team.

Recall the last time you were on a high-performing team with an increasing level of trust. You likely experienced one of the following:

  • When trust went up, speed went up.
  • When trust went up, costs went down.
  • When trust went up, energy and enjoyment went up.

Of all the chapters I read, Covey’s 13 behaviors of high-trust leaders were the most beneficial:

  1. Talk Straight
  2. Demonstrate Respect
  3. Create Transparency
  4. Right Wrongs
  5. Show Loyalty
  6. Deliver Results
  7. Get Better
  8. Confront Reality
  9. Clarify Expectations
  10. Practice Accountability
  11. Listen First
  12. Keep Commitments
  13. Extend Trust

If team members exhibited half these behaviors in their relationships, teamwork and results would soar! The book provides action plans, tools, and resources for leaders to improve trust in their organization. It is definitely a recommended read for any project manager!

Crucial Conversations

Crucial Conversations focuses on how to recognize and have crucial, meaningful conversations, especially when emotions are high. This book is not only a resource for work but for personal relationships!

The book defines a crucial conversation as a discussion between two or more people where the stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong. A few examples include ending a relationship, talking to an offensive coworker, critiquing performance, or providing a negative performance review.

When we are presented with a crucial conversation, we either avoid them, handle them poorly, or handle them well. The book provides a model to recognize when we are in a crucial conversation and provides a framework to properly manage emotionally charged conversations.

I’ve seen directors yell at their direct reports. I’ve seen managers publicly criticize their boss, and I’ve been on both ends of sending and receiving poor communications. Team dynamics could be significantly improved in these situations if the participants thought about crucial conversations.

The key learning for me was to look for indicators that show people moving to silence or violence in a conversation. Silence is a real teamwork killer as people start disengaging. In this model, violence isn’t a physical attack, but you see it manifest in raised voices, aggressive body language, and people talking over each other.

We can all improve if we start with ourselves, ensure there is safety in the discussion, and find a shared pool of meaning by communicating our view and exploring other viewpoints before properly following up.

I know it is easier said than done, but Crucial Conversations provides a useful framework to make stressful conversations easier.

Be the Sun, Not the Salt

Be the Sun, Not the Salt introduces a heliotropic metaphor on how we should treat each other in work and in our personal lives. The heliotropic effect is the tendency for all living things to be drawn to energy that sustains life. People are attracted to those who energize us (the Sun), and people avoid those who reduce our energy levels (the Salt).

The book is full of short, positive, inspiring statements that encourage you to be the source of energy for your teams. Many of the statements are reminiscent of parental advice or reminders from your first-grade teacher. However, they are helpful reminders and “gut checks” for self-reflection.

These are some of the key statements that resounded with me:

  1. Do all the good you can.
  2. Assume positive intent.
  3. Light someone up.
  4. Apologize well.
  5. Hold the sale.
  6. Take the high road.
  7. Release your pet peeves.
  8. Be an Olympic listener.

If I had these books earlier in my career, I would have avoided some of the communication pitfalls and relationship challenges that are often described as “politics” in an organization. If teams focus on the speed of trust while managing crucial conversations, they will feel the heliotropic effect and simply deliver projects better. They will also enjoy the journey!

Have you read these three books? Do you have any teambuilding books on your must-read list? Let us know in the comments!

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