Many corporations, in their attempt to create innovative products and services, have focused on the concept of building teams. While many groups fizzle, on rare occasions the members of a group will experience an extraordinary eruption of excitement, transcending an organization's rigid confines to achieve astonishing results. These individuals, say Jean Lipman-Blumen and Harold J. Leavitt, are lucky enough to be members of a "hot group," a phenomenon they lucidly and enthusiastically describe in their ground-breaking new book Hot Groups.
A hot group is not a name for a newfangled team, task force, or committee. Rather, a hot group is defined by a distinctive state of mind coupled with a style of behavior that is intense and sharply focused on its ultimate goal. Stretching themselves beyond their own expectations, members of a hot group plunge into enterprises that have the potential to change, even ennoble, their own and others' lives.
Neither trendy fabrication nor new management fad, hot groups have existed since the dawn of civilization, perhaps invigorating groups of cavemen to hunt together furiously for food before winter's approach. Today, examples of hot groups abound in territories such as Silicon Valley, where impassioned people have blazed paths through the burgeoning computer industry. Consider the hot group that created the original Macintosh and revolutionized the personal computer market. John Sculley, who joined Apple in the early 1980s, described a "magnetic field" that surrounded the Macintosh hot group members, and Bill Gates, Microsoft's mastermind, reported that a hot programming group to which he once belonged "didn't obey a 24-hour clock." Instead, they programmed for days at a time, pausing only to eat and talk about software with fellow programmers. Here also are examples of hot groups at work in other industries: the individuals that created the blockbuster TV drama "Hill Street Blues"; the Navy and civilian personnel that transformed a standard cruiser into a guided missile cruiser in less than 12 months; and even the ad hoc crisis management group advising President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile crisis. Indeed, the inspiring case studies found throughout Hot Groups illustrate that well-nourished hot groups can profoundly transform any type of organization.
Still, Lipman-Blumen and Leavitt recognize the risks inherent in loosening an organization's structural soil enough to accommodate these groups. Consequently, they address such issues as how to provide the kind of leadership required by a hot group, how to mesh a hot group with the regimented structure of the overall corporation, how managers can encourage new hot groups, and how best to cope with an overheated hot group.
Drawing on decades of research and experience with groups and organizations throughout the world, Lipman-Blumen and Leavitt have written an intensely engaging book about a phenomenon that will become increasingly important in our rapidly changing world. Expertly carving a path through this unmapped terrain, they lucidly demonstrate how managers and executives can ignite hot group sparks in their own organizations.
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You can't plan for a collection of employees to become a hot group. It's not a committee or a task force. Governments can't legislate them into being. Employers may not even want them around, since they tend to be egalitarian and disordered--the opposite of a hierarchical structure. A group of young computer programmers could get together and work for days at a time, both for the love of computer programming and because they feel they're on the verge of an important moment, and the result could be Microsoft. A collection of writers, producers, directors, actors, and camera operators could get hired to work on a TV show, realize that show has the potential to be something different and special, and end up with Hill Street Blues. A team of middle-aged white males in suits and starched military uniforms could gather in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis, ultimately preventing any missiles from being fired.
The authors believe that hot groups are the antidote to lumbering, inflexible organizations, whether they be corporations, military chains of command, or government bureaucracies. They're what gives individuals in those organizations a chance to find meaning and fulfillment in their work, and they're what breaks through logjams and deadlocks and achieves what others had thought to be impossible. Along with lots of examples of hot groups in action, the authors provide concrete steps employers can take to form, manage, and get the most out of them. There's also a valuable cautionary chapter on how the dynamics of a hot group can be changed for the worse--a change in management, or a disturbance in team chemistry with the addition or withdrawal of a member. The point managers can take away from this book is that once you get such a dynamic team going, you have to let it run. Hot Groups, as much as any book can, shows how. --Lou SchulerAbout the Author:
Jean Lipman-Blumen and Hal Leavitt have worked together for many years. Jean is the Thornton F. Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University. Co-director of The Institute for Advanced Studies in Leadership, she has served as Director of the Women's Research Program at the National Institute of Education and as special advisor to the domestic policy staff of the Carter administration. Her recent book The Connective Edge received wide acclaim. Hal is the Kilpatrick Professor Emeritus at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he directed the Stanford Executive Program. He has also taught at INSEAD in France and London Business School. He is the author of Corporate Pathfinders and Managerial Psychology, now in its 5th edition and 18th language.
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