The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

The pyramid

The Five Dysfunctions is a business fable, which while it sounds cheesy (and maybe it is), the story really helps the message stick. I’ve read a few books like this and I’m starting to prefer the format to any other. Humans are hardwired to enjoy stories; it feels like a natural way to learn.

There’s a lot written about this book elsewhere, so I won’t try to do a full summary, but here are a few of my takeaways:

  • A management team should establish a common goal and a shared commitment to it. Emphasis on the shared–all departments should have buy in and be committed to it. Marketing should be committed to goals that are primarily engineering oriented. Product should commit to a goal primarily focused on the support team.
  • As a manger, the team you put first is the team of your peers. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s the only way to have unity as a whole business. When management is on the same page, the big problems can be solved as a team. The the team that works for you is obviously important, but as rough as it sounds, it has to come second.
  • Have healthy conflict. Conflict shouldn’t be avoided. When it happens, if the team trusts each other enough to have intense disagreement and still not lose sight of the fact that everyone is going towards a common goal, it’s a sign that the conflict is healthy.
  • Holding people accountable is almost never comfortable, but learning to do it anyway is a requirement for a leader.

Better Design for Developing Markets

There’s a new (to me) trend of companies that are making extremely well designed products that are inexpensive and are selling really well here in the US, but that are also created to help impoverished people solve major problems.

Awhile back I read a design manifesto about this, one that I wish I could find again online but I’ve searched everywhere and can’t find it. The gist of it, as I recall, is that design for charitable purposes often suffers because the designer is focusing too heavily on making a product that will solve the basic need (food, water, education, etc.) but is not designing for elegance or any of the things the market in a developed country would want from a product. These designs often fail because, while they accomplish the task at a superficial level, they are often deficient in important factors like usability, durability or practical considerations.

Here are three companies that seem to be doing a great job at addressing the needs and wants of both audiences.

Their products are marketable in developed countries, but are inexpensive enough to mass-distribute in places where people are unable to purchase them. I’d love to know more about this business model and about similar companies. If you’re familiar with these types of companies, please comment!

Biolite – They make stoves powered by twigs or small, burnable item. You can cook over them but the cool thing is that they also charge a battery that can be used to power small electronics. I’ve used mine several times and it works very well.

Sawyer – Their simple water filters are inexpensive and easier to use than competitor’s products that are much higher priced. I bought a couple and they’ve worked flawlessly. I’ve even seen young kids using them with no problems.

Lifestraw – This is another take on water filtering. You stick it directly into the water source and drink. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

I love these companies not just for their products, but for what they’re doing to improve the world. They seem to be the perfect mix of capitalism and humanitarianism.


How to Create a Creative Cauldron

A couple of days ago I finished the book Creativity, Inc. One section in particular stood out to me:

[Ivan] Sutherland and Dave Evans, who was chair of the university’s computer science department, were magnets for bright students with diverse interests, and they led us with a light touch. Basically, they welcomed us to the program, gave us workspace and access to computers, and then let us pursue whatever turned us on. The result was a collaborative, supportive community so inspiring that I would later seek to replicate it at Pixar.

One of my classmates, Jim Clark, would go on to found Silicon Graphics and Netscape. Another, John Warnock, would co-found Adobe, known for Photoshop and the PDF file format, among other things. Still another, Alan Kay, would lead on a number of fronts, from object-oriented programming to “windowing” graphical user interfaces. In many respects, my fellow students were the most inspirational part of my university experience; this collegial, collaborative atmosphere was vital not just to my enjoyment of the program but also to the quality of the work that I did.

Reading about that group and the environment created by Sutheland and Evans made me feel a twinge of jealousy. How awesome would it be to find yourself in an environment like that? How awesome would it be to create one?