Nice Teams Finish Last: The Secret to Unleashing Your Team’s Maximum Potential

Brian Cole Miller, Amacon, 2010, 209 pp., $17.95 (book).

This is an easy-to-read, but not-so-easy-to-digest, book on why what we learned in grade school makes us unsuitable for participating on a productive team.

Miller dissects our desire to be cooperative against the need to give genuine, honest feedback when part of a team. This is a well-written wake-up call for all managers and leaders putting together a team, and for team members themselves. Don’t play nice, play bold.

The chapters are cumulative in terms of learning how to be a useful team member progressing from niceness to boldness with a jog over to mean and fierce. Miller outlines the principles of effective teams and provides a set of appendixes with assessment guides and planning sheets.

The myths in the second chapter read like the introductory material I received from my son’s middle school, outlining how praise and self-affirmation—even in the face of failure—were to rule. While perhaps somewhat appropriate in grade school, the author explains how this leads directly to team failure.

The remaining chapters read like a guidebook on effective teams and team leadership, including examples and figures showing the differences among nice, fierce and bold teams. Miller also has a chapter on conflict resolution, because part of being bold is being able to understand and accept differing views from team members.

This book is a valuable tool for all of us who are leading or are members of teams. It will help any team move to a higher level of effectiveness.

I. Elaine Allen
Babson College
Wellesley, MA

Superior Customer Satisfaction and Loyalty

Sheldon D. Goldstein, ASQ Quality Press, 2010, 136 pp., $25 member, $42 list (book).

This book provides a good introduction to the topic of customer satisfaction. It covers the basics on gathering data, rating scales, data types, basic statistics, how to find underlying causes, setting customer satisfaction goals and achieving these.

The book is accessible and concise, and it’s a great way to introduce and train a team on the fundamental aspects of quality while showing how it can directly impact an organization through its customers.

While this is applicable for any organization, it is particularly valuable for a customer service team and for any improvement teams focused on improving customer satisfaction.

Denis Leonard
Business Excellence Consulting
Bozeman, MT

What Works for GE May Not Work For You: Using Human System Dynamics to Build a Culture of Process Improvement

Lawrence Solow and Brenda Fake, Productivity Press, 2010, 166 pp., $39.95 (book).

Solow and Fake believe typical process improvement tools and methods are fundamentally sound, but the way they are implemented and sustained is not. Most professionals have seen too many process improvements, continuous improvements, Six Sigma and lean initiatives fail. This is where Human System Dynamics (HSD) comes in.

HSD takes into account the principles of complexity, nonlinear dynamics and chaos theory as it applies to the study of groups as they live and work in teams, organizations and communities. The authors want to increase success rates on implementing and sustaining these improvement programs by using HSD.

The book is mostly made up of two case studies. The first one dramatizes the dynamics of a failed linear Six Sigma implementation program. The second begins by telling the first story, only this time integrating adaptive change tools used in HSD that recognize complex properties of human organizations. Of course, the second is the success story, which highlights tools used in HSD but never goes into great detail.

I would not recommend this book to those interested in learning more about HSD or as a guide to implementing a continuous improvement program. The book is easy to read, but the two stories in which the authors attempt to make their case for HSD take up too much of the book and the outcomes are predictable. If you are looking for a good story, pick up the book. If, however, you are looking for ways to implement HSD, pass on it. The recommended reading list at the end of the book is the most useful part.

Wayne Sander
Dove Quality Consulting
Dousman, WI

Applying Lean in Healthcare: A Collection of International Case Studies

Joe Aherne and John Whelton (editors), Productivity Press, 2010, 247 pp., $49.95 (book).

This book, organized into 13 chapters, provides an introduction, 11 chapters of case studies and a closing chapter on the future of lean healthcare. It also contains a glossary and acknowledgements for contributors and editors.

Aherne and Welton are principals of the firm Leading Edge Group and the case studies are examples from their practice. The case studies add a cultural twist to lean implementation ranging throughout the U.K., Ireland, Brazil, Canada, Oregon and Colorado.

The introduction in chapter 1 makes a rapid jump from the origins of lean thinking to identifying typical real-life wastes in healthcare scenarios. The first case study is from a cancer care facility in the U.K. Detailed explanations of lean principles are woven into the story, demonstrating points considered important by the authors. A short summary of results and lessons learned conclude the chapter.

As I read the remaining chapters, I realized the practitioners were telling their own stories, and, in some cases, using local terminology and phrasing not common to me. The book offers examples of real tools used in the case studies, including current state and future state value stream maps, spaghetti diagrams, action plans and fishbone diagrams.

The final chapter, The Future for Lean Healthcare, emphasizes the need for a sustainable culture change and the requirement to drive change based on facts, not biases.

I recommend this book’s short case studies to healthcare leaders wondering what to do next to improve service and value delivered. These examples demonstrate the success achieved in widely differing healthcare situations while also energizing organizations just beginning the journey.

Bill Baker
Speed to Excellence
Santa Fe, NM

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