Outside of a dog a book is man’s best friend. Inside a dog it’s too dark to read. – Groucho Marx
Essential self-help books must do more than inspire. The best ones also offer practical skills that anyone can learn and train themselves to master. I refuse to settle for anything less. Especially when the stakes are as high as team dynamics, team success, interpersonal skills and relationships.
The following books are ones I recommend consistently to clients and friends. I also turn to this set of books again and again in my work as a facilitator, to help ensure I can see the perspectives of the teams I work with. These books do not offer quick fixes. I can guarantee, though, that reading any of them will give you both short- and long-term gains.
Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, Second Edition, Patterson, Grenny et al, McGraw-Hill Education, 2011. Ideal for anyone who wants to learn more than simply how to speak up in anxiety-inducing situations.
For years, I have recommended this book more than any other. A VitalSmarts trainer introduced me to this book during a keynote address at a conference in 2005. It seemed like a classic to me; I had no idea it had only been published three years earlier. I immediately bought into the idea that I could develop new skills to become more reasonable, share mutual purpose and be a more effective listener, team member and leader.
The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything, Stephen M.R. Covey, Simon and Schuster, 2006. Trust-building skills are applicable to all sorts of teams, not just work. How many families, volunteer groups, and houses of worship could also use help building trust?
Trust often gets a bad reputation as a “soft” skill. Nothing could be further from the truth. Building trust is a critical skill because without it, you can’t build anything quickly and you can’t build anything that will last.
How do you know if you have a trust problem? If you notice gossip, people who refuse to follow directives or skip meetings, or teams who are engaged in power struggles or seem to be pushing personal agendas, it’s time to examine how you can build trust.
Visual Mojo – Express Edition, Lynne Cazaly, Lynne Cazaly, 2014. Literally learn to see and show things from a different perspective by taking visual notes.
Visual note-taking is a terrific memory aid, making good use of the way our brains are wired to help us sort and retrieve information faster and more accurately. It is also an especially engaging idea for folks who like to doodle in their notebooks!
Even though visual note-taking does not come naturally to me, and my own learning curve of this skill has been frustratingly slow, this has become one of my very favorite books. I will never stop trying to master these techniques.
The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition, Don Norman, Basic Books, 2013. This is a classic text for a good reason: other people will understand you and your team more clearly if you can learn to communicate using visual cues.
Think you can’t learn anything useful from studying how we interact with physical objects and digital interfaces? The psychology of how humans react to stimuli, and patterns that block mutual understanding, is a powerful tool. The principles of user experience design are easily applicable to team settings, and I challenge you to dig into this topic.
Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart, Haydn Shaw, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2013. A highly practical guide to the specific tendencies of different generations, including behaviors, preferences, and how and why they have trouble interacting.
Blaming generational differences has become a handy scapegoat for team problems. From communication to productivity and management issues, our society loves to point the finger at our age differences. Instead of settling for a tired excuse, you can take responsibility for understanding your reactions to team members from different generations.
Thanks for the Feedback: the Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen, Penguin Books, 2014. Feedback, both giving and receiving, is a skill that most of us can stand to improve.
Feedback is one of the most painful, necessary and common realities in our society. It is a current that runs through teams and every other kind of human interaction and relationship. In fact, feedback is present in our lives and work almost all the time (see Sheila Heen’s TEDx talk to learn more). Shouldn’t we give ourselves a chance to get better at handling feedback, and reduce the misunderstandings that so often go along with it?
Disclaimer: this article contains affiliate links, so I will earn a small commission if you purchase books using these links. However, I always recommend checking books out of your library before you buy them. If you, like me, find any of these books to be so jam-packed with excellent information that you feel the need to own them, consider purchasing a copy to share with your team.
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We want to hear from you! What books do you consider must-reads to improve team happiness and productivity? Leave a comment below. We pledge to provide you with insight and solutions to help you build success for every one of your teams.
A real book is not one that we read, but one that reads us. – W.H. Auden
Kay Coughlin, CEO, Facilitator on Fire, is passionate about helping teams turn roadblocks into ACTION and transforming teamwork into TEAMS THAT WORK BETTER.
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