Book Review: Teams That Work: The Seven Drivers of Team Effectiveness

By | 3rd December 2021

Teams That Work: The Seven Drivers of Team Effectiveness

By Scott Tannenbaum and Eduardo Salas
1st Edition, New York, Oxford University Press, 2021
DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190056964.001.0001
257 pages, Hardcover £22.99, ISBN 9780190056964

Reviewed by Dr Andreas Xyrichis, King’s College London


I have been waiting for a book like this since I first got interested in teamwork over twenty years ago; and, I am especially delighted this has finally arrived by two of the most authoritative figures in this field. Packed full of tips and real-life examples, and supported throughout by the latest scientific evidence, this book deserves a permanent spot in the library of team scholars, team managers, as well as individual practitioners.

The book is structured in three parts, accompanied by a rich bibliography and an appendix of helpful tools for applying the wisdom shared in each chapter. Part I offers a very accessible introduction to the science of teams, which helps to frame the discussion that follows in subsequent parts. The seven evidence-based drivers of team effectiveness are presented, and the five most prevalent myths concerning teamwork are exposed. The myth-busting element of Chapter 2 is an essential read to help ‘unfreeze’ incorrect but long-held assumptions about teamwork, and enable a more evidence-based approach to understanding team effectiveness. I especially liked how the most frequently encountered myth is tackled first: we don’t have time for teamwork. Here, the authors make the important point that teamwork is not distinct from getting work done; rather, teamwork is about how the work gets done.

In Part II, the seven drivers of team effectiveness are tackled in turn: capabilities, cooperation, coordination, communication, cognitions, conditions, and coaching. In each chapter, a driver is examined vis a vis the existing evidence and explained using real-life examples from the authors’ rich experience from different organisational settings. In the different chapters, key points and takeaway messages are summarised in Tables and Figures. Tips and implications for team leaders are embedded throughout. I really valued the ‘thought experiments’, which introduce an important element of reflective learning while reading the book.

Finally, Part III brings home key messages from the preceding chapters with practical advice on how to foster the seven drivers of team effectiveness. Chapter 11 is a great, concise overview of all the drivers presented in Part II; well worth a read on its own. The remaining chapters 12 to 15 provide sharp tips for improving and sustaining high team performance directed at team leaders, members, consultants, and senior leaders. The appendix includes some great resources to help implement the learning and tips from the aforementioned chapters, including a great resource for team debriefs -key for promoting team learning, improvement and sustained performance.

If I have one minor criticism of the book is that it is both focussed and not focussed enough. The authors draw out overarching principles from team science that should be applicable in all sorts of organisational settings and team situations; yet, we know that teamwork can be influenced in different ways by a variety of social and structural conditions depending on context. At places, I found myself wanting more depth on learnings specific to health care. That being said, the book also offers a rich bibliography with over 120 citations to research on different organisational contexts so that avid readers can go on to learn more about the science of teams in whatever context is of interest.

This is a highly-accessible and exceedingly well-researched book on the science of teams and team effectiveness. Written in an inviting tone, and packed full of examples and illustrations, it will appeal to both new and seasoned scholars, practitioners, managers and leaders.