Few subjects inspire as much bad writing as teams. These days, innumerable companies claim to organize their work in teams--and hordes of consultants are eager to aid the process. Beyond the hype, the truth is that small companies often can't function without good teamwork. But just because teams make intuitive sense doesn't mean they're easy to implement. So we've put together a guide to help you find good material on team management--and avoid the bad. We've rated each item on a scale ranging from five stars (we love it) to zero stars (we hate it).

Save it

Why Teams Don't Work: What Went Wrong and How to Make It Right
Whether you're considering teams or already using them, this book (from Peterson's/ Pacesetter Books, 800-338-3282, 1995, $14.95) is a great resource. Authors Harvey Robbins and Michael Finley, a psychologist and a business journalist, respectively, have managed to pen a tome that's breezy and amusing as well as practical. Sure, the conceit of the book is that teams have many pitfalls, but the authors also discuss very pragmatic ways to avoid them. For instance, Robbins and Finley suggest various approaches for dealing with a "team jerk" (that is, a crew member with essential knowledge but no social skills), including ways to gently ease the offending party elsewhere: "Set him apart from the core team, as a valued resource member....Give him an office in a separate building, or on a separate continent, even. Buy him some bunny slippers and make a telecommuter out of him." ****

Skim it

The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization
This book (from HarperBusiness, 800-242-7737, 1993, $15), by Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith, is certainly a worthy treatise, but it's pretty darn dry. There's some good stuff here, however, if you hunt. Check out chapters 6, 7, and 8 for useful checklists about building team performance, leading teams effectively, and overcoming team obstacles. ***

Corporate Culture/Team Culture: Removing the Hidden Barriers to Team Success
Not so much a step-by-step guide to making teams work as it is a first step, this book (from AMACOM, 800-538-4761, 1997, $22.95) focuses on whether a company has the culture to support teams. Consultants Jacalyn Sherriton and James L. Stern have limited the scope of the book: it doesn't address team setup or management. Worth a glance if you're wondering whether your company's culture is conducive to teams; the information in chapter 4 on making your company more team friendly is especially helpful. ***

Work Teams That Work: Skills for Managing Across the Organization
Author Anthony R. Montebello includes more graphs, diagrams, and flow charts in his book (from Best Sellers Publishing, 612-888-7672, 1994, $24.95) than should really be allowed by law. Still, chapter 14 is worth a skim if you're looking for information on appraising team performance. And you might want to take a peek at chapter 6 if you're at all curious about how a "zest" goal might improve performance. **

Skip it
This Web site is the on-line version of Quality Progress, the magazine of the American Society for Quality (ASQ). There's a charge to receive the articles: typically $15 per article for nonmembers, $7.50 to $10 for members. The available team-themed articles aren't bad. But at $15 for a four-to-six-page article, your money is more wisely spent elsewhere. *

The Tao of Teams: A Guide to Team Success
From the mind of one Cresencio Torres comes this dreadful volume (from Pfeiffer & Co., 800-274-4434, 1994, $12.95) of teams-related aphorisms and poetry. Yes, poetry. We predict that you'll find this book as pointless as we did. A sample: "When evolved team members put themselves last, they will be first. When they put themselves outside, they will be the first to be brought back inside. Position in the flow occurs without force, and it endures." Puh-leeze. Zero stars --Christopher Caggiano