We are now ready to start on our way down the Great Unknown. We have an unknown distance yet to run; an unknown river yet to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls rise over the river, we know not.

—Major John Wesley Powell, in 1869, as the crew of explorers at his command descended into the unexplored Grand Canyon of the western United States1

Your team is expected to deliver—big. Like Powell’s crew nearly 150 years ago, perhaps you’re even embarking on an ambitious plan to do something that’s never been done before. Your Grand Canyon in front of you is deep and fraught with risks. And if you’re like most, you begin your journey amid swirling changes and scarce resources.

Even though you may believe you personally have what it takes to deliver on your responsibilities, you wonder: Is every person on the team truly committed and capable of bringing their best? Will the members of the team productively work together and become larger than the sum of individuals? And will the team be able to work its magic in a company culture that at times lacks alignment and is careless about valuing the people doing the work?

Does your team have a chance to succeed?

“I have no question that a team can generate magic. But don’t count on it,” observed renowned team dynamics expert and professor of psychology at Harvard, Richard Hackman.2 Volumes of research on the topic support his claim. As a sampling, consider that 70 percent ...

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