Clever Teams and Clever Team Members

Every once and awhile I’ll actually read a ‘management’ book when it looks compelling enough from that back quotes. Usually I end up disappointed or struggle through the last chapters just to get it done. I’m thankful to say that neither of these is the case with the book ‘Clever’. (Written by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones)

Clever is a well written book that mixes stories about clever people, clever bosses and clever companies into a read that is quite enjoyable.

I usually read these books to try to glean a couple of ideas on how to improve as a team member on Agile teams. Now I’m not foolish enough to believe that I actually lead Clever people as a Project Manager. But I’m hopeful I can gain some insight as to how I can best support a clever team and move obstacles for other team members. That usually is my number #1 pet peeves with books of this type, that the poor ones actually try to sell you a bill of goods on how you can lead professionals and professional teams better. Usually the book ends up trying to tell you how you can better engage your team members to get more out of them. (i.e. efficiency)

I was relieved to see very early on in ‘Clever’ the opinion that one of the biggest mistake a company can make is thinking it can engage employees more by maintaining the same culture and changing other aspects. The level of engagement is really a function of the value proposition the company has for employees. If your employees are not being engaged, it is because of the company, not the employees or communication channels. You need to fix the company culture.

All companies state they want innovation, but can you really have material innovation without engaged employees? Can you really have engaged employees without the employees being able to lead company initiatives and speak their mind? So many companies are interested in innovation, but very few are committed to it. Through multiple stories, ‘Clever’, drives the point home that if you want high-performing teams you need create the right environment and company where they feel safe and can excel. Too often the blame is laid at the feet of the team members when we have a under-performing team instead of at the feet of the company.

The book defines characteristics of the following types of clever teams:

  • Techie Teams
  • Creative Teams
  • Professional Teams
  • Problem Solving Teams
  • Strategy Teams

The separate characteristics are very interesting, but early on they state some common clever team characteristics, such as:

  1. Clevers take genuine pleasure in breaking rules
  2. Clevers tend to trivialize the importance of non-technical people
  3. Clevers are sensitive to the projects they work on and will rarely agree to cancel their project
  4. Clevers dislike any review/evaluation process but are not interested in improving them

Interesting? Certainly I saw myself and some team members in this list.

The book also makes the point that leading clever teams is also different that leading other teams. After reading the book these are the points I took away on what may be different in leading cleaver teams.

  • The leader is really only the steward of the team. There is really no formal authority the leader has.  He or she must only influence.
  • The leader must have looser control on the team to allow them to be innovative and make mistakes.
  • The leader must be honest and be able to have honest discussions if a team member has made a mistake. It is very important to not ignore the mistake though.
  • The leader MUST have either business domain or technical knowledge to lead clever people. Without those skills, they will lack credibility with clever team members.

If these topics look interesting, I’d highly recommend picking the book up.


Author: Terry Bunio

Terry Bunio is passionate about his work as the Manager of the Project Management Office at the University of Manitoba. Terry oversees the governance on Information Technology projects to make sure the most important projects are being worked on in a consistent and effective way. Terry also provides leadership on the customized Project Methodology that is followed. The Project Methodology is a equal mix of Prince2, Agile, Traditional, and Business Value. Terry strives to bring Brutal Visibility, Eliminating Information islands, Right Sizing Documentation, Promoting Collaboration and Role-Based Non-Consensus, and short Feedback Loops to Minimize Inventory to the Agile Project Management Office. As a fan of pragmatic Agile, Terry always tries to determine if we can deliver value as soon as possible through iterations. As a practical Project Manager, Terry is known to challenge assumptions and strive to strike the balance between the theoretical and real world approaches for both Traditional and Agile approaches. Terry is a fan of AWE (Agile With Estimates), the Green Bay Packers, Winnipeg Jets, and asking why?

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