High-Impact Tools for Teams by Stefano Mastrogiacomo Book Summary

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High-Impact Tools for Teams, A powerful toolkit to create alignment, build trust and get results fast. Rediscover the joy of teamwork… (The Strategyzer Series) by Stefano Mastrogiacomo, Alex Osterwalder, Alan Smith and Trish Papadakos


When work teams can’t meet reasonable performance expectations, the problem often turns out to be that the members can’t work together in honest, trusting collaboration. As authors Stefano Mastrogiacomo and Alex Osterwalder and designers Alan Smith and Trish Papadakos explain, teams are productive when their members feel psychologically safe and work cooperatively toward a common goal. To facilitate productivity, make sure your work-related activities align, so everyone knows who does what. This practical guide full of often amusing sketches and charts will help anyone who runs a firm, leads a project or works in a team.


  • Teams can’t perform well when their objectives are misaligned or their working atmosphere is emotionally unsafe.
  • Productive team alignment has four principal features.
  • Aligning a team’s activities requires a concrete plan.
  • Keep team members informed when you carry out a team alignment plan.
  • Leaders can apply a team alignment plan to meetings and to individual projects.
  • Trust and emotional safety are crucial for teamwork.
  • Establish and nurture clear, fact-based communication among team members.
  • People work better when they know their managers and co-workers respect them.
  • Poor conflict management can permanently damage teams.
High-Impact Tools for Teams Book Cover

High-Impact Tools for Teams Book Summary

Teams can’t perform well when their objectives are misaligned or their working atmosphere is emotionally unsafe.

Working in teams can be productive and happy or stressful and fatiguing. When work isn’t going well, team members spend half their time in meetings talking at cross-purposes. They have trouble juggling budgets and priorities. The stress and alienation make people unproductive and unhappy.

“Teams underperform when members work around each other and not with each other, something that happens when the team climate is unsafe and the team activities are poorly aligned.”

Teams perform poorly when their work tasks aren’t aligned, and they lack clearly articulated, shared goals. Symptoms of team misalignment include ambiguous division of assignments, shifting priorities and team members who work in unnecessary isolation.

Teams become unproductive when the atmosphere is emotionally or psychologically toxic. Such an atmosphere features a lack of trust, excessive competition and alienated employees. When people don’t enjoy working with their teammates, they underperform.

Productive team alignment has four principal features.

To achieve appropriate alignment, teams need a “Team Alignment Map” which accomplishes these four principal objectives.

  1. It clearly articulates the team’s goals – Goals bring the team’s larger purpose into focus. Create measurable goals to determine if the team and each member delivers the intended results.
  2. It assigns tasks and responsibilities to team members – Assign tasks and goals to each person. Have each team member – in front of the whole team – explicitly commit to achieving his or her particular objectives.
  3. It establishes what the team needs to achieve its goals – A lack of resources impedes a team’s progress toward its goals. The relevant resources could be anything from money to appropriate technologies.
  4. It assesses potential obstacles –  No one can undertake a project and achieve a worthwhile goal without confronting some problems along the way. Teams must figure out their potential obstacles, how likely they are to occur, and how the team can moderate or circumvent their impact.

Aligning a team’s activities requires a concrete plan.

With your Team Alignment Map in hand, create a concrete plan for moving forward. This is a two-phase process. Graphically, the Team Alignment Map is a grid with sections for each of the four principal features – goals, tasks, resources and obstacles – governed by the team’s mission and time-frame.

“A mission is the starting point of any collaboration, the glue that brings everyone together.”

Group planning is the first phase in formulating a concrete plan using the Team Alignment Map. Have team members articulate precisely what they need in order to work well together and achieve their goals. For example, a communications company team might identify its overall mission and time-frame as developing a social media approach within a month. The necessary resources may include specialized software and a database, and obstacles ahead might hinge on potential liabilities or inadequate client participation. A lack of resources or a recalcitrant client can prevent the company from achieving the related goals.

The second phase in formulating a concrete plan involves adapting to resource deficits and dealing with failure risks. This means making adjustments and adaptations in a “backward loop.” For example, you can ameliorate resource deficits and obstacles by changing goals and responsibilities to more realistically fit your resources and risk exposure. In a communications company, for example, you might deal with the lack of an appropriate database by assigning a team member to find an accessible, applicable database.

Keep team members informed when you carry out a team alignment plan.

Leaders can use the Team Alignment Map to conduct a three-step evaluation of a team’s capacity to execute projects. As a leader, assess whether the team is capable of preparing and following through on a project and deal with attendant problems. All too frequently, people start projects without sufficient preparation, and the team gets bogged down in triage.

“The Team Alignment Map can easily turn into an alert system that reveals blind spots and prevents the accumulation of small perception gaps from becoming big problems.”

The first step in this evaluation is for each team member to state what he or she thinks about each point on the Team Alignment Map. Each person’s analysis may differ. For example, one member might find that individual responsibilities are clear and adequately reviewed, but another might say they aren’t. Tabulate the members’ answers to bring potential team issues to light.

The second step is to determine the meaning of the team members’ assessments. When everyone is on the same page, the team is aligned and can move forward. If the team doesn’t demonstrate full alignment, pause for step three: getting everyone on the same page. This may involve changing or adjusting points on the Team Alignment Map.

Leaders can apply a team alignment plan to meetings and to individual projects.

The Team Alignment Map is a practical tool for improving team meetings and project performance and for addressing your organization’s alignment and functioning.

As applied to meetings, the Team Alignment Map can help the team move toward action, however you shouldn’t try to use it for exploratory discussions. Use it, instead, to orchestrate a meeting’s duration and structure – from presenting an agenda and discussing important issues to holding the wrap-up review and assessment.

The Team Alignment Map can also increase team members’ participation in meetings. For example, you can present defining the team’s goals as a question all members must answer. Evaluate the answers and use that assessment to bring the team together on an action plan. Orienting meetings toward action increases their impact. 

“Significant energy and resources are lost in projects when key stakeholders are insufficiently aligned. Information flows poorly and execution problems spiral.”

Conducting a Team Alignment Map discussion prior to launching into a project is a more effective and, ultimately, less costly approach. For effective teamwork, maintain the team’s alignment throughout the project. For some projects, you need to update the Team Alignment Map as you work or produce a new one if necessary to stay on top of evolving progress.

Trust and emotional safety are crucial for teamwork.

A team of highly skilled people who are suspicious of each other can’t work together effectively. The members won’t be able to confront difficult problems or unexpected obstacles and come up with creative solutions. A team full of people threatened by one another can’t grow together or feel safe pursuing innovative, risky solutions.

“To innovate together, team members need to feel that they can talk openly and candidly to each other without fear of judgment or reprisals. Such climates are described as psychologically safe environments.”

To create an emotionally safe work environment, write a “Team Contract” that describes appropriate and inappropriate team behavior. The contract states the team’s values and creates a social baseline for seamless cooperative work. It explicitly states the consequences of transgressing the Team Contract. When leaders overlook behavioral violations of the Team Contract, team members who routinely comply will become resentful, and that will undermine the team’s overall functioning.

To approach team contract violations diplomatically, remind team members of Team Contact terms, pay careful attention to all perspectives that relate to the violation under discussion and come up with a positive solution. A Team Contract makes it possible to turn problems into “learning opportunities.” When violations occur that prove too grave to resolve, reassign or terminate the team offending member.

Establish and nurture clear, fact-based communication among team members.

Proper communication and discussion within a team demand facts, presuppositions or subjective impressions. In discussions, people often leave out or distort information, thus impeding others from understanding or assessing their message. Communication traps, such as ambiguous factual statements, unjustified universalizing, insisting upon arbitrary limitations and options, or offering a purely subjective understanding of a situation lead to ineffective communication and, possibly, dysfunctional relationships. 

“Sometimes, it’s difficult to understand other team members and follow their logic.”

Turn to the “Fact Finder” tool to avoid communication traps. It helps members make their statements more concrete and grounded in facts, so the team gains more accurate information and can make better decisions.

Use the Fact Finder in two steps. First, reveal which communication trap a particular statement falls under, such as factual ambiguity, universalization or subjective impression. Next, ask questions drawing from the member’s statement to ground the discussion in clear, concrete facts. For example, if someone says, “Risks are high; everyone is so demotivated,” ask, “Everyone?” Your question undercuts the vague generality of the original statement.

Team members should grow accustomed to asking questions and shouldn’t feel the need to justify their queries. Justification wastes everyone’s time. That said, use the Fact Finder strategy only when you really don’t understand what someone says. Otherwise, you will seem obnoxious.

People work better when they know that their managers and co-workers respect them.

Showing respect for and valuing others facilitates an emotionally safe work environment, a team’s alignment and its overall functioning. With this in mind, use a “Respect Card” to send a message to new team members or other people as appropriate to show that you value them. 

“Lack of tact in interpersonal relationships makes teamwork slower and harder.”

To demonstrate respect, lead with questions. Acknowledge that you’re impinging on a busy person’s time, and suggest you are in their debt for their attention. Never issue commands or threats. To demonstrate that you value other people, express gratitude and ask how they’re doing and what they might personally need. At all costs, do not embarrass or criticize the other person. While you should consider expressing your respect before all important communications, written or verbal, do not use this tactic in emergency situations, which require direct, unambiguous language.

Poor conflict management can permanently damage teams.

Sometimes people disagree, even stridently. Expressing dissatisfaction has risks. When people hear something they interpret as criticism, they tend to shut down or lash out. With that in mind, the “Nonviolent Requests Guide” suggests a framework for making requests and expressing dissatisfaction that does not sound hostile, so you can have constructive discussions, resolve conflicts and reinforce an emotionally safe work environment.

“Poor management of disagreements can damage relationships and result in unrecoverable costs.”

In this context, “nonviolent requests” have four aspects. They begin with an observation related to the dissatisfaction, then they cover the way you feel and what you need, and they conclude with a polite request. Such an approach to requests in difficult circumstances doesn’t invariably work. You may need a neutral, third-party mediator. 

About the Authors

Stefano Mastrogiacomo

Lead author and management consultant Stefano Mastrogiacomo, a faculty member at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, designed the Team Alignment Map, the Team Contract and the Fact Finder. Thinkers50 Strategy Award winner Alex Osterwalder also wrote – among other titles – Value Proposition Design and The Invincible Company, both co-authored by Yves Pigneur. Osterwalder invented the Business Model Canvas, the Value Proposition Canvas and the Business Portfolio Map. Creative lead Alan Smith, a designer and entrepreneur, co-founded Strategyzer, where designer Trish Papadakos collaborates.

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