Book Reviews: Managing Einsteins and leaderless teams

Computerworld (US) reviews some new tomes on how to motivate and lead whiz kids, guide a “conductorless” IT team and manage projects.

Leadership Ensemble: Lessons in Collaborative Management From the World’s Only Conductorless Orchestra, by Harvey Seifter and Peter Economy with J. Richard Hackman (Times Books, 225 pages, US$25)

On the surface, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in New York appears to be leaderless. There is no conductor keeping tempo with a baton to signal crescendos from the strings or decrescendos from the brass. Yet the orchestra is far from leaderless, as Hackman learned from studying how each member takes responsibility for ensuring that musical passages are cohesive and that no single section drowns out the other.

There’s a certain kind of democracy demonstrated here from which IT managers and technicians alike can draw lessons. Just as members of a project team can, Orpheus musicians recognize that there are differences among players in their experiences, musical perspectives and abilities. In Orpheus, a player’s input in a musical decision isn’t based on age, gender, position or how loudly he speaks. It’s determined by what he has to offer to the music.

Seifter, the executive director of Orpheus, and Economy, the author of Managing for Dummies, do a deft job of drawing analogies to other companies, such as New York-based J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., which grants employees wide-ranging autonomy to pick and choose from the company’s many products and how they’re presented and sold to clients. There are plenty of practical tips on how to foster “horizontal teamwork” and deal with issues such as aggressive employees who “hijack” the team process.

– Thomas Hoffman

The Project Manager’s Partner: A Step-by-Step Guide to Project Management (2nd edition), by Michael Greer (Amacom Books, 192 pages, $24.95)

The recession has put its share of pressure on IT organizations, especially in the form of requiring more disciplined project management. This, Greer’s third book on the subject, is especially focused on rookie project managers.

The book covers project management from soup to nuts and is dotted with several easy-to-understand forms and tables that can guide you through a project. It also offers questions for readers to answer in order to determine whether a project has passed certain checkpoints.

Don’t skip the introduction: Reading it can help you pick out the parts of the book you may feel you need to read, given your project management experience or lack of it. Also, check out Appendix E, which outlines six guidelines that can help you decide whether to kill a project. After all, if a project merits a death sentence, there’s no sense in wasting your company’s money today.

– Rick Saia

Business Is a Contact Sport, by Tom Richardson and Augusto Vidaurreta with Tom Gorman (Macmillan Publishing USA, 256 pages, $24.95)

As youngsters, we were always told by our parents to play nice with other kids.

In business, it still turns out to be good advice.

To be successful, you need to get along with customers, suppliers, vendors, employees and competitors, be aware of their needs and serve them fairly to maintain those relationships.

That’s the premise of this book, a how-to guide to improving your business communications with others through effective relationship asset management.

The problem is, it may not take a 256-page book to remind you of such basic ideas. The authors write as though they’re the first to realize that kind words and dealings do much to help keep business relationships sound. Even worse, the ideas are presented using deadly, tired football clich