5 books that have influenced how I think about healthy team work

In a series of 3 earlier posts, I shared some books that I’ve found useful on the topics of community management, online interactions, and leadership and team culture. In this new instalment of the series I add five books that I’ve found useful when thinking about how we create healthy teams where trust and learning together are at the centre of our interactions.

1. “Dare to Lead” – Brené Brown

If you’re already familiar with Brené Brown’s work you’ll know how much she’s done already to bring discussions about shame, resilience and belonging to the fore. It’s no surprises then that the next step on her research (and book) journey is to apply those themes to the topic of leadership. She focuses here on how we can create workplaces that are emotionally safe and welcoming while allowing us to work through and learn from challenging situations.

I particular appreciated the table of armoured versus daring leadership. It compares our sometimes habitual behaviours such as cynicism or numbing (where we fiddle constantly with our phones, go to nightly happy hours or some other tactic to avoid uncomfortable feelings) to the daring versions – being hopeful or sitting with discomfort to see what it might show us.

I did not find this an easy read – it definitely challenges the reader to work on themselves. Yet it provides very vivid perspectives about how taking responsibility for our emotions can lead to more fulfilling, collaborative relationships at work.

2. “No hard feelings – emotions at work (and how they help us succeed)” – Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy

I loved the combination of practical, succinct wisdom and oh-so-true illustrations in this guide to the things that we might find emotionally challenging in the workplace. Each chapter delves into a specific topic such as decision-making or leadership and shares data, tips and personal stories to empower the reader.

Working vs worrying – just one of the great illustrations from “No hard feelings”.

3. “Emergent Strategy” by Adrienne Maree Brown

Emergent strategy is in many ways a delightful, inspiring and sometimes unexpected collection of ideas from art, nature, social justice and community organising about what decentralised, resilient groups look like. One minute you can be reading near-poetic prose about the flocking formations of birds, the next looking at 6 emblems drawing from nature that describe the core features of an emergent group. It’s an unusual combination of beauty, urgency and caring that I found powerfully nourishing.

4. “The 15 commitments of conscious leadership” – Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, Kaley Warner Klemp

I first encountered this book at the Mindful Leadership Summit in 2017 where Jim and Diana led a compelling session that invited the use of some of their leadership principles in conflict resolution. The result was an intense exchange where the audience witnessed real-time breakthroughs in understanding and the release of grudges live on stage.

The book outlines 15 principles for engaging in our work from a place of deliberate, ethical consideration rather than reactive, sometimes (self-)destructive behaviour. For example, one of the chapters invites us to examine the way that we make agreements – such as what work we will undertake and when we will deliver it. It gives a kind framework that allows us to clean up past broken agreements and set about honouring our word.

As well as the thought-provoking topics, that range from identifying your “zone of genius” to avoiding gossip and enjoying play, I liked the supportive, positive tone.

(You can find all 15 commitments listed here.)

5. “The five dysfunctions of a team” – Patrick Lencioni

This book uses a fictional management scenario to tell a quick-to-read story of a failing team that is turned around by a new boss who addresses five key dysfunctions. Lencioni’s pyramid of needs for a team places trust as the foundational value which permits healthy disagreement. The ability to have constructive conflict leads to the formation of agreed upon goals which in turn leads to accountability and evidence-based decision making.

Given how much community managers understand the need for trust in their communities, this provides an easy-to-grasp framework for articulating the knock-on effects of a trust-based environment on group culture.

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