Making Magic Happen: Hot
by Pat Craig
from the Winter 2001 issue
"Every so often a Celtic game would heat up so that it became more than
a physical or even mental game and would be magical... When it
happened I could feel my play rise to a new level... It would
surround not only me and the other Celtics but also the players on the
other team..." So writes Bill Russell in his book, Second Wind: The
Memoirs of an Opinionated Man. Magic also happens with business teams.
Often called "Hot Groups" or "Great Groups," these teams are a manager's
dream - an intense group doing great things - fast.
of the Complexity Management Chronicles
Is it possible to recreate such high achieving groups?
Yes, according to Harold J. Leavitt and Jean Lipman-Blumen, authors
of the article Hot Groups, published in July-August 1995 edition of the
Harvard Business Review (Reprint # 95405). This excellent article discusses
one type of leader, "Keepers of the Flame," who nourishes successive waves
of hot groups while pursuing answers to a certain fundamental problem.
We worked with many hot groups over the years: an imaging team, a telephony
team, a firmware team, an Internet team, etc. This newsletter, the first
of a series, will discuss our experiences and compare it with some published
work, the HBR article and others.
All the groups we helped pursued a clear attainable goal, a vision
and something the group believed in, such as the roll-out of a new product.
W. Bennis and P. Bierderman the authors of the book Organizing Genius,
The Secrets of Creative Collaboration and the authors of the HBR article
concur on this point. Bennis and Bierderman write, "The zeal with which
people in Great Groups work is directly related to how effectively the
leader articulates the vision that unites them."
All hot groups we worked with contained a critical mass of talented
committed staff members from both Development and QA. Stringent team selection
criteria proved vital. R. Beckhard, a past lecturer at M.I.T, an Organizational
Development consultant, and author of the book Agent of Change, categorizes
people into "Make it Happen" types, "Help it Happen"
types, "Let it Happen" types, etc. All of these types existed in the groups
we worked with. Having a sufficient number of "Make it Happen" types
participating in the team proved critical to success. However, in our opinion,
both the HBR article and the Organizing Genius book overemphasize this
factor. The authors appear to believe that hot groups need 100% "Make it
Happen" types, although we have participated in successful hot groups with
a much lower percentage of these people.
Additionally, none of the hot groups we assisted had anyone at a high
level sending mixed messages and diffusing the group's focus. Leaders in
these hot groups presented a clear vision and recruited a skilled team.
Then the leaders got out of the way and "Let it Happen." For example, none
of the hot groups we know of believed in excessive documentation, they'd
rather ship code. The HBR article goes so far as to say, "Sometimes what
a company needs is a group that a manager can't control."
To sum up, we have covered these three points about hot groups:
In conclusion, we trust this short discourse will provide you with food
for thought. We'll explore hot groups further in our next newsletter.
Leaders need to articulate a vision, focusing the team on creating some
positive outcome in the future.
Leaders should select talented people who are passionate about their work.
Like attracts like.
Leaders should keep bureaucracy to a minimum. Pulling at cross purposes
can destroy the alignment, and hence the output, of a hot group.
©2001 by Complexity Management
Somerville, Massachusetts, in Metropolitan Boston
Complexity Management Chronicles, a newsletter for software quality
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