Saturday, February 25, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Outclass Teams: Secrets of Building High-Performance, Result-Oriented Teams / Author: Qaiser Abbas

Thanks to Possibilities Publications for the review copy

Published by Daily Times / Saturday, February 25, 2012

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Runaway Teams beware. Qaiser Abbas is an organisational psychologist, author of books like the Tik Tok Dollar and the upcoming Leadership Insights — and one canny facilitator who introduced Pakistan to the concept of ‘Management by Adventure’, or as he likes to call it, MBA. His mission of rescuing wayward teams from doom makes him dash in and out of companies on a regular basis. Prompted by the success of such expeditions, he proceeds to refine these insights for a book on team-building and a lecture on group dynamics.

As someone who specialised in using experiential learning methodology in outdoor training, Abbas swears by well-structured one-day team-building programmes over time spent bonding over social activities. His recent book takes an in-depth look at this phenomenon to determine the value of team-building, show the expertise needed to ensure its success and, once achieved, evaluate its impact on overall performance. The path to redemption is lined with wisdom (conventional/unconventional) marketed with considerable flair. Every so often an enthusiastic yell of ‘Are you Ready’ (in all caps) cuts across the wilderness — and then the readers are off for a crash course in building great teams.

“Teams are fluid, they do not remain the same, team work is not automatic, team spirit is not constant and team bond is not immortal,” he announces, admitting that he often goes “off-track to meet the needs of different teams and clients”. While team-building is not the ultimate ‘fixit’, Abbas will insist that “a sound, well-coordinated and totally customised team-building experience” is a good place to start.

Written in a dry textbook format, he customises his pitch to appeal to prospective clients just as much as facilitators in training or troubled teams looking for a saviour. By tying real life examples around tried and tested concepts, a change of scenery is suggested to stage such interventions. In his opinion, “team-building is the beginning and not the end” and helping teams in dire straits requires being cognizant with stress fractures and a willingness to embrace what might be perceived as radical concepts in closed societies.

The author must not have come across much resistance and happily shares the seven key secrets of an outclass team before guiding readers though his customised team-building programmes where teams discover, compete, transform, partner, build and revitalise. He then rifles through their psyche and since each team differs, the resultant methodology will differ accordingly. Along the way he will make surprising pronouncements — like how conflicts can actually be good and argue that well-defined challenges can help motivate lacklustre teams.

This handbook further clarifies the role of the facilitator, the dos and don’ts of high performing teams, laying down some fixed tenets that must be obeyed for the process to take hold. It goes on to expand on the role of a team facilitator outlining a list of team-building exercises in the six stage process designed to help organisations alter their trajectory. Before trainers rush out to try out these recipes, they are forestalled with an analysis of why some team-building programmes fail where others succeed with personal anecdotes thrown in to enliven these discussions. Some of the indicators might include aloof managers, a shortsighted approach instead of a long term strategy, or failure to defer to an outsider “with no agenda and more credibility”.

These exercises could be extensions of party games but here they are used to rekindle the dormant spark and fortify team spirit. Cultural constraints that might hinder his well-meaning efforts remain unexplored. While the information presented within provides a framework for creating a solid base; it also stops to strategise to make these changes stick by listing seven keys that keep the revitalisation process in constant motion.

This ambitious study attempts to place the prevalent corporate culture in context while outlining the moving parts of a successful team-building programme. It demonstrates how such a tiered approach can help companies circumnavigate corporate landmines and reconfigure a broken team. For the author, all this is part of a process “that brings people to a point where they can appreciate each other’s essence and ultimately this appreciation becomes the driver for collaboration”.

Judging from the eager testimonials listed on the cover, his visionary approach has inspired countless already. There was one who initially worried that “sharing trade secrets was tantamount to professional hara-kiri” (he later comes around) — others might take this book of revelations as a smartly worded proposal generously seasoned with elegantly designed solutions to sweeten a bland presentation. In either case, after floating such enticing images of “results oriented, high performance teams” an inexplicable urge to get an ‘MBA’ would be understandable.

Possibilities Publications;
Pp 204; Rs 1,450

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