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High Performing Teams

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November 6, 2007

High Performing Teams

MLE 605

High Performing Teams


The article I chose to review gives an overview of how IBM was able to create high performing teams that managed projects that produced results well beyond what was expected. The process to accomplish these incredible results was applied to 20 engineering projects at IBM. These incredible results are described as breakthroughs. Breakthroughs which originated in the mid-1980’s produced outstanding results for IBM as well as many other companies. The breakthrough methodology will be explained as well as what results IBM and other professionals can expect when it is used with high performing teams (Scherr, 2005).

Breakthrough Methodology

The breakthrough methodology started when an IBM leader noticed that another small, fairly new company was able to attain incredible productivity levels without compromising quality. The product, quality of work, and experience of this company was very similar to IBM’s. This challenged the IBM leader to ascertain how this company was able to produce these incredible results and bring the methodology to IBM. The methodology consisted of: breakthrough principles, commitment, teamwork, and critical success factors (Scherr, 2005).

A number of other professionals state that innovation cannot be intentionally planned. They argue that breakthroughs do not happen by design. Instead they occur by mishap, erratic, and unpredictable actions. This argument was dismissed by the IBM professionals involved in incorporating the breakthrough principles. The breakthrough principles implemented to produce incredible results for IBM will be discussed next (Scherr, 2005).

Breakthrough Principles

The breakthrough principles are the cornerstone needed to organize projects that consciously take performance beyond what has occurred in the past. These principles were initially used for engineering and programming productivity but have been used in other fields with successful results. There does seem to be a pattern to these breakthroughs including events the article describes as breakdowns (Scherr, 2005).

In the article breakdowns are described as situations where the circumstances and the predictable results that are achieved fall short of committed goals. This occurs when there is a breach between the committed result and the predictable outcome. In order to resolve a breakdown, the group must depart from the past and work on to an unprecedented breakthrough. It was also discovered that the extent of the breakdown depended on the extent of the breach Scherr, 2005).

One of the ways groups can overcome breakdowns is by refusing to see breakdowns as problems. A breakdown actually demands extraordinary action from the high performing team. The actual breakdown allows the team to see things in a different light and enables them to discern opportunities that would have not been considered without the breakdown. In the article there were two examples given which illustrated that until a commitment that effects a situation is perceived as a breakdown, productive actions will not be taken. The commitments needed to overcome a breakdown are described as authentic or genuine commitments that a team must make to overcome high risk situations such as breakdowns (Scherr, 2005).


Commitment was essential to the high performing IBM teams and was a critical piece of the breakthrough principles. Education was given to the teams for the purpose of setting a common ground for correctly communicating what commitment meant and the difficulties that can accompany if the commitments are not genuine. In the breakthrough methodology that IBM used, commitment was defined as being unequivocal and unqualified. The commitment of the team was not tied to a particular reason or result. The commitment needed to be unconditional and each member of the team had to be given a free choice to make the commitment. The IBM methodology gave each person on the team a chance to specify their personal commitment to the project first and then the group was able to express the overall commitment to the project (Scherr, 2005).

The IBM methodology used a form of commitment that was not tied to past. It was considered a declaration not an assertion. An assertion was defined as a statement in which the commitment conveyed was to provide evidence validating the stated assumption. A declaration was described as a commitment which will produce unprecedented results that are not bound to the past. A famous example described in the article is the declaration that was made in 1961 by President Kennedy. President Kennedy declared that the United States would put a man on the moon and bring him back by the end of the decade. At the time of this declaration there was not a plan to accomplish this or convincing evidence to support it. President Kennedy’s declaration did end up being an unprecedented breakthrough project. In order for an organization to achieve breakthroughs, the organization and the team must be able to recognize commitments as declarations (Scherr, 2005).


Scherr (2005) describes a team as a group of people who have common commitment. Each member of team needs to have a genuine commitment to the entire project. If one part of the project encounters a breakdown the entire team is responsible for coming up with actions to overcome it. In the article this is described as bottom-up planning that creates an illusion of safety for the team. Every breakdown should concern all of the team members. This allows for more people to focus on the solution in order to move forward to a successful outcome. Most people want to be committed to producing extraordinary results at work. What is lacking most of the time is not the commitment from the team members but the environment to express this level of commitment. Scherr (2005) describes critical success factors that are needed to have the environment that will result in successful breakthrough projects. These factors are described below.

Critical Success Factors

There are five critical success factors that are described in the article. The factors are considered conditions that have been observed



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