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Books that help understanding and building productive teams

Apr 27th, 2020

A very dear friend asked me the other day - what is the best book you’ve read about building teams? I thought it best to take time to answer this. I am not an expert at either, reading books or building teams.

In the last 4-5 years, I have worked and managed teams that have been very productive and have been together even now. None of this is because of a book, or because of me. And no one book alone has helped me understand or improve my skills, but many. I list some below.

Principles of Product Development Flow

Reinertsen’s Principles of Product Development Flow helps you understand how product development really works, and what to look out for. It might sound orthogonal to “building teams”, but teams exist to build products, and good teams must learn to optimise the flow.

The Fifth Discipline

Senge’s The Fifth Discipline is another book that helps thinking in systems


and the accompanying Fieldbook is a great guide to apply theory to practice

Skin in the Game

Taleb’s Skin in the Game helps understand people behaviours, risk / reward models, pushes one to be invested in the team and the results, commitment not faith.


On treating people right (as adults, naturally), I got a lot of help from McCord’s Powerful, it’s one of those special books which either helped me learn something on every page or I nodded vigorously on the rest of them.

Difficult Conversations

Difficult Conversations by Stone et al, a very good help on the topic, and I keep going back to it trying to shed my judgemental self all the while. This stuff should be taught in school.

eXtreme Programming Explained

On to some software books, Beck’s eXtreme Programming Explained has you covered on process, and meta process, don’t need much else even at scale

Release It!

Nygard’s Release It! is a massive help for product teams to be ready and design for difficult situations. It’s almost like having a Principal Engineer in the team who helps you and your team as a guide.

On Writing Well

Communication is very important for teams, and getting better at writing is always advisable. Zinsser’s On Writing Well helps keep it pithy and warm. It’s a great teacher, this book.

The Innovators

Walter Isaacson’s two books that helped me understand craftsmen better, both rather less famous, The Innovators


Dalio’s Principles is a great book as well, with veritable advice and it’s just so direct and hard hitting and totally focused on getting stuff done. Period.

That is a long list. There are many others, some I forget, building teams is a lot about knowing people, and I must acknowledge many others have helped me grow up on that, from Wodehouse to Pirsig, Guha, Bradbury, le Guin, Banks, Harari, Rosling, Dickens and Nagarkar, Tolkein to Goodkind to Jemisin, from Parsai and Joshi and Manto and Sawant; Moore and Gaiman and Vaughan and Pran, Fowler and Hohpe and Evans and Cockburn, Polya and Rushdie; I am not an expert at this or that, but whatever I know, I know because I’ve met some great people and read some books written by wonderful and helpful souls.

These days, I am unable to find time to read books, but I hope some people do, it's a good time to read and skill up when you are stuck indoors.