Saturday, 12 January 2008

Speed Lead (Book Review)

I recently received a copy of the book Speed Lead by Kevan Hall (

This is cited as ‘The practical antidote to corporate complexity’. Hall is the founder & CEO of Global Integration Ltd ( . Hence this book incorporates the experience of ‘consulting and training more than 35,000 people in over 200 of the world’s leading companies in 40+ countries.’

The book explores four areas where simpler ways of working can speed up results:
Ø Cooperation
Ø Communication
Ø Control
Ø Community

The over-riding message in each of these areas is one of needing to ‘unlearn traditional management skills’. This includes:

Ø ‘deciding when not to be a team’
Ø ‘helping people communicate less’
Ø manager success linked to giving up control, and
Ø avoiding ‘too much investment in the wrong types of community’

‘We came to realise that the traditional line management skills that had made us successful early in our careers were holding us back in a more complex world. We learnt new skills ourselves and by working with hundreds of real teams, we evolved different ways of working to reduce and cope with complexity’

The book is indeed a collection of practical ‘common-sense’ (but often not ‘common practice’) advice, and the author highlights that ‘all of the value is in the implementation – it’s not what you know that counts in management, it’s what you do’.

Memorable descriptors and metaphors bring the concepts to life. In the chapter on Coordination, Hall talks about ‘spaghetti teams’ to illustrate the complexity of co-ordinating interconnected work involving eight or more colleagues. This complexity slows down co-ordination, vs. organising work using ‘star groups’ (in situations where interconnectivity of issues can be minimised).

For those seeking ideas relating to promoting increased empowerment within their organisation, the chapters on Control will be interesting reading. A powerful metaphor is offered for ‘breaking the chains of command’.

‘We use the metaphor of a waterline in working with teams to get them to diagnose the balance of control and autonomy that is right for them.’

On ships the waterline represents a clear point at which risk increases. This is variable depending on the conditions, for example: if the cargo is particularly heavy, or the weather becomes much rougher. Hence the point is made that ‘it is even more important to lower the waterline when you can than to raise it when you must.’

The section on Community covers several themes, particularly the balance of ‘loyalty to the centre’ vs. ‘loyalty to the local’; and also the impact of working with a mix of cultural values. Hall emphasizes that ‘understanding that community is different in complex companies can help you stop investing in unnecessary community and focus your time and effort on where it really adds value’.

My main criticism of the text is the narrow focus of the ideas explored in the section on Communication. In my view Hall rightly emphasizes communication as a ‘major time stealer’. As he states:

‘Communication technology has massively amplified our ability to miscommunicate and given us the ability to confuse far larger groups of people in more varied locations. Its immediacy also makes it too easy to fall into the trap of micro-management.’

Unfortunately the book focuses almost exclusively on achieving an appropriate balance between e-mail, phone and face-to-face communications. No mention is made of Web 2.0 technologies – and the speed advantages of appropriately using blogs, wikis, RSS readers etc. in workplace communications.

Given the breadth of advice being provided, I anticipate that all managers will find new ideas to implement within their organisations. The topic of ‘Speed’ is highly relevant in today’s workplace and the concepts presented are highly practical. The book describes the learning journey of the Global Integration Ltd consultants in their unlearning of (over-emphasising) traditional management skills to better cope with the complexity of modern multi-site companies. Consequently, this book will be particularly helpful for challenging the assumptions of leaders who have also relied on a mix of command and team-working in the past.