Eye-Opening Books for Building a Team with Dynamism

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Eye-Opening Books for Building a Team with Dynamism
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Eye-Opening Books for Building a Team with Dynamism

Don’t you sometimes wonder what your employees say over happy hour, after they’ve left the office and let their hair down? Do they brag and name drop about “their” company, or rather talk about “those people” they work with, and discuss the workday like it’s a painful slog?

These casual comments have significant implications. They reveal a company’s culture and the esprit de corps within the team. Employees who brag know they’re part of something, that they belong. Those who gripe aren’t convinced their contribution matters.

Listening in on some of this banter would provide a clear indication as to the kind of work that needs doing around the office.

But team building is such a challenge! Isn’t it frustrating to have to continually build rapport with a group that has constant turnover, and disappointing to watch a group of talented people bicker and compete, and underperform as a result? Plus, at times, it feels nearly impossible to come up with team-building activities that aren’t a total turnoff to most of the staff.

Rather than leading a team that’s running in unison like a pack of wolves, sometimes it feels more like a group of slinking cats who’re eying one another as they groom themselves at their desks and compete for the top rung.

It’s easy to look over the fence and see others who’re doing something right; those teams that head out together on the weekends to fish or play golf, the ones who are so devoted to their manager that they’ll never leave the company, regardless of pay or promotion opportunities.

What do they know? What’s their secret?

Many have spoken and offer persuasive and insightful answers. If you’re looking to improve culture, increase camaraderie and build collaboration, then let’s dig into the best books on team building, to discover the recipe for building a dynamic team.

Stick Together: A Simple Lesson to Build a Stronger Team by Jon Gordon & Kate Leavell

Stick Together - A Book on Team BuildingPublisher: Wiley
Year Published: 2021
Number of Pages: 128

Didn’t someone once say that the most important lessons are learned in kindergarten?

Stick Together looks like a book you might see on the shelf of a children’s classroom. The font is as large as your pinky fingernail and it has a picture on every page. You can flip through this book in under an hour.

But don’t write off Jon Gordon and Kate Leavell’s book as infantile. Its readers say it has a profound lesson to impart.

Stick Together tells the story of Coach David and his basketball team. At the beginning of the book, we find David completely at a loss as to why a team of capable athletes continually falls short of expectations.

He seeks inspiration from a fable his mother told him about broken sticks, and over the course of the book, imparts seven lessons to his team that brings them back into a winning position.

The book is helpful for anyone leading a high performing, competitive team. It provides the framework for a leader to create an atmosphere where the team doesn’t seek to outshine one another, but collaboratively work toward the same goal. Its lessons can be applied to any group.

The 126 pages are divided into ten chapters, seven of which impart the book’s lessons: believe, ownership, connection, love, inclusion, consistency and hope, unbreakable. Resources at the end serve to help the reader apply the tips to his or her situation.

This isn’t Gordon’s first foray into writing: he’s written five other picture books, including You Win in the Locker Room, as well as ten bestsellers.

Readers find that the lessons work with children, adults and even families. The practical takeaway tips, however, fall short of some of Gordon’s other books.

Leavell is a former NCAA coach who now gives keynote speeches and coaches organizations on unifying teams.

Surrounded by Idiots: The Four Types of Human Behavior and How to Effectively Communicate with Each in Business (and Life) by Thomas Erikson

Surrounded by Idiots - A Book by Thomas EriksonPublisher: Essentials
Year Published: 2014
Number of Pages: 304

“Everything you say to a person is filtered through his frame of reference, biases and preconceived ideas,” is how Thomas Erikson begins his internationally bestselling book, Surrounded by Idiots.

This brilliant title compels anyone and everyone who sees the book to pick it up and flip through it, as we’ve all had days when this phrase captures our feelings exactly.

We’re not really surrounded by idiots, however, Erikson says, but rather people who see and think differently from us.

According to Erikson, there are only two scenarios in which you can be yourself without reservation. The first is when you’re alone in a room, and the second is when you’re surrounded by other people exactly the same as you.

In all other scenarios, you need to gauge how you’re coming across and how other people are behaving. Assessing other’s behavior, cataloging it, then adapting and morphing your own is key to collaboration.

“There is no such thing as proper or incorrect behaviors….within reasonable limits, of course.”

With this book, Erikson challenges team leaders to appreciate a variety of communication styles, and he provides guidance on how to interact with people of different “colors.” The lessons help anyone, whether at work or in everyday interactions. However, he doesn’t recommend using his system to classify children.

In friendly, approachable prose, he divides people into four colors that represent four types of human behavior:

  • Red: The alpha who takes charge.
  • Green: The laid-back types who cannot make decisions.
  • Yellow: The head-in-the-clouds dreamer.
  • Blue: The perfectionist.

Most people are a combination of two colors, some are one color, while a few are a combination of three. Behavior patterns refer to “the whole set of attitudes, beliefs, and approaches that govern how a person acts.”

Communication is a dance of reading someone for the colors they’re giving off, and then determining an effective approach for interaction.

“Communication Happens on the Listener’s Terms” is a title to one of his chapters. He also covers “Adaptation: How to Handle Idiots (i.e., Everyone Who Isn’t Like You)” and even “What Makes Us Mad as Hell” (hint: the answer varies depending on a person’s color). It includes a quiz at the end to codify what lessons the reader has taken away.

Erikson is a charismatic behavior expert who gives lectures all over Sweden. This book became a runaway bestseller when it was first published in 2014, and is translated into over 40 languages! It’s the first in a series, which also includes: Surrounded by Bad Bosses (and Lazy Employees), Surrounded by Setbacks, Surrounded by Narcissists and Surrounded by Psychopaths.

Readers enjoy spotting the “colors” of various people in their life. It helps to explain the formerly unexplainable behaviors of the “idiots” surrounding them.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Tale by Patrick Lencioni

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team - A book on Team BuildingPublisher: Jossey-Bass
Year Published: 2002
Number of Pages: 229

It would seem that an organization with an exceptionally talented team and innovative products would have a leg up on competition.

According to Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, talent and innovation aren’t the pathway to success. Rather, it’s teamwork. Lencioni posits that a strong team could lead any industry and with his book, he gives a formula for creating one.

“Teamwork remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”

Similar to Stick Together, The Five Dysfunctions is a fictional story with a lesson. In the first 180 pages, the character Kathryn tells her story. As the new CEO of Decision Tech, she’s met with an unwelcoming team that challenges her to stretch and develop her team-building skills.

Other characters include Mickey, the Debbie-downer who’s also a top-notch worker, and Martin the engineer and developer who likes to work on his laptop during staff meetings.

Lencioni’s keen storytelling skills make it easy to get immersed in the struggles and triumphs at Decision Tech.

In the book’s second half, Lencioni breaks down the five dysfunctions of a good team: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, inattention to results. He also provides accompanying worksheets to help the reader incorporate takeaways into his or her organization.

Lencioni has written ten business books which have sold three million copies worldwide. He’s the founder and owner of the coaching firm, The Table Group, and teaches lessons to a variety of organizations and groups.

Readers find the story format makes the lessons easy to absorb. However, they believe he needs to provide case studies to back up his assertions about team building.

We’re All in This Together: Creating a Team Culture of High Performance, Trust, and Belonging by Mike Robbins

We're All in This Together - A Team Building by Mike RobbinsPublisher: Hay House Business
Year Published: 2020
Number of Pages: 208

Building esprit de corps within a group of people is no small feat. And it doesn’t take a whole lot of squabbling to upend all the hard work.

Take a remote team environment, for example. It’s easy to write something snarky and offensive within a communication platform that you’d never say directly to a person in the office. And it’s much harder to repair the damage on a video conference platform than at the water cooler the following day.

In his book, We’re All In This Together, author Mike Robbins talks about teamwork and the “fierce urgency of now,” echoing the sentiments of Martin Luther King, Jr.

So much in the work environment and the culture threatens to break down teams and upend unity. And so it’s more important than ever to apply tactics and strategies that bring teams together.

He conflates teamwork with workplace culture, defining it as: “Those intangible factors of a team that either brings them together or pushes them apart, as well as the quality of the relationships and the collective sense of the group.”

This book is great for a leader whose team lacks pizazz and connection, particularly in a remote environment. It offers actionable advice and takeaways, with exercises throughout.

Robbins incorporates the teamwork lessons he learned playing baseball as a boy, and later professionally for Kansas City.

The book covers four pillars of teamwork: create psychological safety, focus on inclusion and belonging, embrace sweaty-palmed conversations and care about and challenge each other.

Robbins is the author of four other books, including Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken and Bring Your Whole Self to Work. He hosts the Podcast We’re All In This Together.

His readers find that this book is another swing and a hit, and that the takeaways are easy to apply in a workplace setting.

Work Tribes: The Surprising Secret to Breakthrough Performance, Astonishing Results, and Keeping Teams Together by Shawn Murphy

Work Tribes - The Team Building Book by Shawn MurphyPublisher: Harper Collins
Year Published: 2019
Number of Pages: 272

When listening in on employees at work, do you hear a lot of first-person plural pronouns such as “we,” “us,” and “our”?

Team members who say things like “What’s going on with our project” and “Let’s get this done” communicate that they see themselves as part of the organization. It means they have a sense of belonging, which is a key component of teamwork, asserts Shawn Murphy, author of Work Tribes.

“Our human needs have one particular secret that shapes how we view ourselves and our place in this world, personally and professionally…it is belonging.”

“Belonging is beautiful. It is messy.”

Murphy pushes against an emerging trend of promoting diversity within a company. We need to stop focusing on our differences, and establish foundations on common principles and shared beliefs.

He provides an incisive definition of both “university” and “diversity” that gets down into the Latin root for each word.

Diversity emphasizes separateness. This value focuses on what makes us all different.

University looks to the whole, the universal. This value focuses on similarities.
Murphy communicates a clear and persuasive message with his book: by focusing on universalities and not diversities, a leader creates a culture of belonging where everyone participates.

He provides guidance on how a leader intentionally creates this sense of belonging, which includes being vulnerable and treating employees like people and not resources.

The book is written in three parts, and the third focuses on Unifying Your Tribe, with chapters on Feeling Valued, Wanted and Welcomed.

Murphy has led workshops on leadership for over two decades, and is also the author of the book The Optimistic Workplace. His readers totally buy into his message, and find that the book is well organized.

Quick Team-Building Activities for Busy Managers: 50 Exercises that Get Results in Just 15 Minutes by Brian Cole Miller

Quick Team-Building Activities for Busy Managers BookPublisher: AMACOM
Year Published: 2003
Number of Pages: 171

Have you ever heard someone audibly groan when it comes time for group activities at the office? Most employees show up expecting simply to work, so it can be a real challenge sometimes to convince them to role play and to share feelings.

Brian Cole Miller promises that none of the activities in his book Quick Team-Building Activities for Busy Managers get mushy, strenuous or complicated. Rather, within 15 minutes or less, each activity instills a valuable lesson into a team.

“Can you really get results in less than 15 minutes? Yes, as long as your expectations are realistic. Longstanding issues will not be resolved. Age-old antagonists will not emerge as best friends. Major obstacles will not disappear.”

What results can you expect? Breaking the ice, building rapport and creating a culture of camaraderie and trust within any group, including student organizations, church groups, and work environments. Plus, the activities are fun.

Miller has organized his book to make it easy to flip through for ideas.

The first two chapters are about setting the stage. They cover how to run a team-building activity, including selecting the right activity, preparing, explaining, debriefing and finally reinforcing the learning in the day-to-day.

The following chapters group the activities according to their objectives, which include: communicating, connecting, cooperation, coping (deal with change), creativity (problem-solving), appreciating and supporting.

Most of the activities don’t require any materials, and a few require things like cards, pennies, magazines and paper clips.

Each activity is presented with the same format, making them easy to quickly browse and understand. He also offers variations on each activity.

Miller trains managers and consults organizations at his company, Working Solutions, Inc. His clients include UPS and FranklinCovey. He’s also written two other books, including Keeping Employees Accountable for Results.

Although some find the exercises too simplistic, others feel it offers enough ideas for any situation or place. It’s also a good starting point for generating other ideas.

The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues by Patrick Lencioni

The Ideal Team Player BookPublisher: Jossey-Bass
Year Published: 2016
Number of Pages: 226

According to Patrick Lencioni, every team member needs to be hungry, humble and smart.

“During the past twenty years of working with leaders and their teams, I’ve seen time and again that when a team member lacks one or more of these three virtues, the process of building a cohesive team is much more difficult than it should be, and in some cases, impossible.”

The Ideal Team Player provides a leader guidance on who to hire and what to cultivate in employees in order to create a robust team.

In order to identify and build the right traits, it’s necessary to understand just what each of these three virtues mean.

Hungry: An autonomous and self-motivated employee who’s driven to learn, expand, and contribute.

Humble: An employee who appreciates that everyone has something to contribute, and is willing to listen to other perspectives.

Smart: Someone with a high emotional intelligence who “gets” different kinds of people and collaborates well with others.

Again, Lencioni’s gone with the format of imparting a lesson through fiction. In The Ideal Team Player, we follow Jeff Stanley, who leaves Silicon Valley to run a construction company in Northern California. Soon, he finds he’s taken on more than he can chew.

In the second part, Lencioni spells out the characteristics of an ideal team player, and fleshes out three three virtues in greater detail.

The Ideal Team Player is a top seller on Amazon. Readers swear by this book, and advise leaders to make it mandatory reading for everyone on staff.

Lencioni works as a consultant. He’s written several other books and enjoys using stories to illustrate important lessons.


Clearly, these books have a lot of wisdom to impart about team building. Many of the authors believe that teamwork is the key ingredient to success in any organization.

Of teamwork itself, they have a few things to say as well. It’s about collaborating and not competing. It means reading other people, appreciating their personality and style of communication, and morphing our own to complement it.

And best of all, it’s possible to instill these values with simple group activities.

What’s your next step to building a successful team?


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