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Review: Committed Teams – 3 Steps to Inspiring Passion & Performance by Moussa, Boyer and Newberry

committedteamsmockupThis review first ran in the Nov. 21 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Committed Teams: Three Steps to Inspiring Passion and Performance

By Mario Moussa, Madeline Boyer and Derek Newberry



Your organization has a problem.

You need a solution.

Your first instinct is to strike a committee and stock it with your best and brightest.

But should you trust your instincts?

“To committee, or not to committee, that is the question,” say Mario Moussa, Madeline Boyer and Derek Newbery.

Before firing off meeting invites, ask whether your organization needs yet another committee? Do your top employees need to spend more hours in meetings? Do they even have the time to spare?


“At worst, a committee can become the automatic default for decision-making – a collective form of punting the ball down the field when in reality an effective decision could be made through other means. As committees proliferate to review every initiative in the organization, it can get to the point where so many exist that people begin to despair at ever getting a proposal approved.”

Moussa, Boyer and Newberry wrote Committed Teams based on their work with the Executive Development Program at The Wharton School of Business.

They recommend asking three questions before striking a committee:

  1. Would the decisions made by the committee materially affect the performance and objectives of your organization?
  2. Is there an existing committee that could make these decisions?
  3. Do these decisions require diverse opinions and input from across the organization, or can they be made unilaterally?

If the answers are a resounding yes, strike away. But don’t assume that a room full of high achievers will automatically gel into a high performing team.

“Keeping the energy up on committees is rarely easy,” say Moussa, Boyer and Newberry. “How can you keep team members engaged when they are not required to participate and are likely to put their committee role at the bottom of a long list of priorities?”

Start by getting the right people in the room. “While the point of a committee is to bring together diverse opinions for a special issue, make sure everyone who is in the room has a specific point of view or level of expertise that will add to the deliberations.”

More may be merrier but it can also lead to what’s called social loafing. Studies show that less effort gets applied to a task as more people get involved. Six or seven members will get you the diversity you need while ensuring that everyone keeps pulling their weight.

Recruit team members who are well respected, trusted and connected across your organization. People with high social capital can win trust and lend credibility to the outcome of the committee.

Your committee needs clear answers to two questions before they get to work. What’s it in for me and what’s in it for my organization? Aim for a simple, unified purpose.  “To be successful, every team needs strong, collective goals that members can rally around.”  You don’t want committee members wondering why they’re there and if they’re making a difference.

Assign roles. Confusion over who does what will inevitably lead to stress, miscommunication and disengagement. “Research consistently finds that teams work harder and better when members have clear, interdependent roles that tap into their skills, expertise and sense of meaning.”

Set expectations with teeth. “We are generally not big fans of wielding the stick of accountability. But on committees you need to set clear expectations for participation and agree upon meaningful consequences for when it falls short.”

And finally, uncouple authority and seniority. “Sometimes it is the junior person who needs to take charge.” The authors also recommend establishing informal roles, including caretakers, coordinators and antagonists who guard against groupthink.

Whether it’s a committee, project team or leadership group, get yourselves organized, schedule regular times to check on your progress and adjust when necessary. And to keep your team committed, define your goals, roles and norms upfront. Know where you’re going, who’s doing what and how you’ll work together.

“Flawed or not, teams show no signs of going away,” say Moussa, Boyer and Newberry. “Being good at teamwork is synonymous with simply being good at work. The complexity of today’s world demands that organizations of all kinds seek out the synergistic potential of teams.”

@jayrobb works as the director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.



Review: If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy by Raj Raghunathan

if-youre-so-smart-why-arent-you-happy-0This review first ran in the Nov. 7 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

 If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?

By Raj Raghunathan

Portfolio / Penguin


A Bay Street investment banker from Ancaster is on vacation.

The banker is sitting on a dock and drinking a Modelo.

She offers a beer to a local fisherman and strikes up a conversation.

The banker quickly realizes the fisherman is wicked smart.

“You should consider working on Bay Street,” says the banker.

The fisherman asks why he’d want to work on Bay Street.

“Because you could make a fortune,” says the banker.

The fisherman asks what he would do with his fortune.

“You could retire early and enjoy the good life,” says the banker. “With enough money, you could even move to Mexico, settle down in a small village and spend your days fishing.”

And that’s when the banker realizes the fisherman is even smarter than she first thought.

Raj Raghunathan, author of If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy, tells a version of this story to his business students at the University of Texas and the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad.  He says the story underscores how easy it is for us to fall prey to the happiness paradox and confuse career success with life success.

“Although happiness is a very important goal for most people, they also seem to devalue it as they go about their lives,” says Raghunanthan. “People seem to routinely sacrifice happiness for the sake of other goals.”

Raghunanthan didn’t want his students to make the same mistake.

“I wasn’t sure that I was helping my students lead happier, more fulfilling lives.  If our education system doesn’t ultimately lead to a better quality of life for all concerned, how good is it? I doubted that my courses – or for that matter most courses offered at business schools – were helping students lead happier and more fulfilling lives, and this troubled me.”

So Raghunanthan created a course that takes a scientific look at the determinants of happiness.  He put his oversubscribed course online and also turned it into a book.

He’s identified seven deadly happiness sins and seven corresponding habits of the highly happy.

“The things that lead to happiness and fulfilment are the things that make us not just better – more kind and compassionate – but also more successful. The recipe for happiness is a win-win-win recipe.”

According to Raghunanthan, lots of smart and successful people tend to botch the recipe and willingly or unwittingly sacrifice our happiness for other goals like money, fame and status.

Some of us make that sacrifice because don’t have a clear or concrete idea of what it means to be happy. “We tend to devalue things when they are abstract, ambiguous or otherwise difficult to understand.”

Others of us have deeply held negative beliefs about happiness. We worry it will make us lazy since the only time we’re truly happy is when we’re on vacation, sitting on a dock and doing nothing.

We worry that prioritizing happiness will make us selfish although the research shows exactly the opposite happens.

And we lose sight of the ultimate goal of leading a happier, more fulfilled life and instead focus all our time and attention on pursuing the means to achieving that goal.  “People can get so caught up chasing money that they forget all about why they wanted the money in the first place.”

Along with explaining the seven sins and habits, Raghunanthan offers seven happiness exercises that make a strong case for why we need to smarten up and change our ways.

As Raghunanthan asks at the end of his book, “if you aren’t happy, how smart are you really?”.

Jay Robb serves as director of communications at Mohawk College,  lives in Hamillton, Ontario and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. He would happily move to a villa in southern Mexico.