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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

The Alchemy of Teamwork

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #151

Have you ever wondered how a group of individuals turn into a fantastic team? I've always been curious about how individuals with different skills, mindsets, biases, and dispositions come together to do remarkable work. How does that synergy take place? I went on a book binge, diving into various reads about building a great team. Authors like Lencioni, McChrystal, Hackman, Katzenbach, and Smith shared some cool thoughts. But I keep thinking, what secret sauce changes a group of individuals into a superstar team? Come along with me as I piece together these nuggets of wisdom, mixing in thoughts from my life and the experts' big ideas.

First, let me share my summary of the following books:

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and The Ideal Team Player

Patrick Lencioni introduces the hurdles that impede team synergy: the absence of trust, a fear of conflict, lack of commitment, shirking responsibility, and indifference towards outcomes. He places trust at the core, essential for fostering open dialogue, dedication to shared goals, accountability, and a unified drive for success. Additionally, in his book, "The Ideal Team Player," Lencioni highlights the predominant qualities of effective team members: humility, ambition, and emotional intelligence, while underscoring the role of character in team cohesion.

The Wisdom of Teams

Katzenbach and Smith explore the difference between ordinary groups and exceptional teams. The authors maintain that outstanding teams are composed of individuals with diverse talents, united by a common purpose and performance objectives. They stress the importance of discipline, a range of skills, and adaptable leadership in driving productivity and creativity. Successfully overcoming obstacles together, navigating through different stages of development, and receiving support from the organization are crucial elements for achieving success as a high-performing team.

Teams of Teams

General McChrystal proposes a new approach to organizational structure that can effectively address today's complex challenges. This involves promoting shared awareness and autonomy among team members, with leaders serving as facilitators and coaches to ensure progress and remove obstacles. These ideas all point towards the importance of a holistic approach to building successful teams - one that includes trust, open communication, shared responsibility, and a clear collective purpose. Additionally, individual strengths of team members, flexible leadership, and a supportive organizational culture are critical elements in fostering adaptability, innovation, and independence within a team. Ultimately, this combination of wisdom highlights the necessity of creating an environment where diverse talents can come together and work towards a common goal.

Leading Teams

J. Richard Hackman offers a comprehensive and expertly researched guide on effective team leadership. His deep understanding of organizational behavior allows him to delve into the intricacies of team dynamics and provide practical strategies for improving team performance. According to Hackman, team success is not solely dependent on strong leadership but also on an organization's ability to create a supportive environment. He identifies crucial elements necessary for fostering high-performing teams.

Hackman says the key to successful teams lies in the fusion of authenticity and purpose. These exceptional teams are made up of members who understand their responsibilities and share a steadfast commitment to a common goal. This collective drive is fueled by a clear and ambitious mission, creating a strong team identity. With this alignment, everyone is working towards the same objective, motivated by goals aligning with the team's and the organization's larger aspirations. The structure supporting these efforts is meticulously crafted to encourage cooperation and integration of diverse skills, roles, and norms, enhancing teamwork rather than impeding it.

However, team composition and direction are not the only factors; the overall organizational environment and leadership style also play crucial roles. For a team to thrive, they must have a supportive foundation that provides them with the necessary resources, recognition, and opportunities for growth. This environment is further enhanced by skilled coaching from team leaders who balance guidance and autonomy. These leaders act as catalysts, creating an atmosphere of open communication, continuous learning, and mutual support, allowing the team to overcome obstacles and progress toward their shared objectives.

Hackman also presents the concept of "leading from the outside," proposing that the most effective way to impact team success is by establishing favorable conditions beforehand instead of intervening during the team's functioning. He asserts that close attention to teams' initial structure and continual environment can result in autonomous groups achieving exceptional results.


In the tapestry of teamwork, the threads of individual strengths, shared vision, and effective leadership weave together to create a masterpiece of collaboration. The insights gleaned from luminaries like Lencioni, McChrystal, Hackman, Katzenbach, and Smith serve as guiding stars in our quest to understand the essence of exceptional teams. The blend of trust, open communication, dedication to common objectives, and the harmonious balance of diverse talents catalyze a group of individuals into an impressive force. A supportive organizational culture, adaptable leadership, and a clear, compelling direction mark the journey from a collection of different personalities to a cohesive unit. As we reflect on these principles, it becomes evident that the secret sauce to transforming a group into a superstar team is creating an environment where authenticity thrives, purposes align, and every member feels empowered to contribute their best. This alchemy of elements illuminates the path to high performance and inspires us to reimagine the potential of teamwork in achieving remarkable outcomes.

The secret sauce is as simple as 1, 2, and 3, but it requires a commitment from leadership to enact the following steps.

  1. Build Trust and Encourage Open Communication

  2. Develop a Unifying Goal

  3. Establish Supportive Systems and Leadership Strategies

Leaders and team members working together can establish a solid basis for a team that attains exceptional outcomes and appreciates the adventure toward achieving them, embodying the true spirit of teamwork and collaborative success.



Lencioni, P. M. (2002). The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Jossey-Bass.

Lencioni, P. M. (2002). The Ideal Team Player. John Wiley & Sons.

Katzenbach, J. R. (2015). The Wisdom of Teams. Harvard Business Review Press.

McChrystal, S., Silverman, D., Collins, T., & Fussel, C. (2015). Team of Teams. Portfolio/Penguin.

Hackman, J. R. (2002). Learning Team. Harvard Business School Press.

We'd love your insights and experiences on building and nurturing effective teams. Please share your leadership thoughts and strategies in the comments below. Your stories and wisdom can inspire and guide others toward creating extraordinary teams.


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