Understanding the Human Element of High-Performance Groups

By O'Hollaren, Ryan | Government Finance Review, December 2012 | Go to article overview

Understanding the Human Element of High-Performance Groups


O'Hollaren, Ryan, Government Finance Review


Understanding the Human Element of High-Performance Groups There Is an I in Team: What Elite Athletes and Coaches Really Know About High Performance By Mark De Rond Harvard Business Review Press 2012. 208 pages. $30

Anyone who's played a sport competitively has heard adages about the phonics of the word "team." Mark De Rond goes many steps further to explore the complex friction points that are created between highperforming individuals and the teams they are a part of. There Is an I in Team analyzes issues, both dynamic and static, that affect team performance in offices as well as in professional sports.

As a book meant to inform and influence business leaders and work environments, the never-ending flood of sports anecdotes sheds an accessible light on performance management concepts that might otherwise drown themselves in business jargon and normative assertions. The resulting book is both relatable and highly instructive.

BALANCING TENSIONS

Initially, the most striking feature of the book is the provocative chapter titles - "Why There is an / in Team," "Why Inequality Isa Good Thing," "Why Harmony Can Hurt Performance," "Why Perception Matters More Than Reality," "Why Productivity Tumbles with Size," and "Why So much Depends on So Little That is Quantifiable" - but there is much more. Taking a variety of detours through professional sports, De Rond makes his case that optimal leadership, or coaching, comes from a balance among many conflicting forces that arise within high-performance scenarios. These include tensions between greed and selflessness, patience and decisiveness, trust and transparency, loyalty and objectivity, and competition and collaboration. According to De Rond, these tensions may be unpleasant, but that doesn't make them illegitimate or necessitate their eradication.

As the author sees it, tensions can ignite outstanding performance. In practice, one might see such forces at work when team performance is a direct reflection of individual merit. De Rond references a study that concludes the performance of grumpy orchestras is superior to that of happy ones, an example that illustrates one of the central maxims of the book: High-performance teams don't need to have perfectly harmonious and supportive personal relationships. Examples abound in many disciplines, from behavioral science to competitive crew racing, that require teams to seek personal recognition as well as cumulative success. Balances between these softer elements are important, but the true test of high-performance cohesion is the ability of individuals to rely on one another, regardless of their levels of personal trust and ambition.

However, it's not purely about the All-Stars. The small individual characteristics that each team member holds dear can end up having a tremendous impact on team performance, and hence the "I" can stand for more than the proverbial Michael Jordan on each team. …

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