The Orange Revolution: How One Great Team Can Transform an Entire Organization

Image of The Orange Revolution: How One Great Team Can Transform an Entire Organization
Release Date: 
September 20, 2010
Free Press
Reviewed by: 

There are many ways to parse the sources of success in this world. In previous books, Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton have built the foundations of a mini-industry by attributing success to teams, rather than to individuals.

In this book, they build on that foundation, analyzing the results from a survey of some 350,000 people and coming up with six core traits that they say are responsible for the results posted by teams they characterize as some of the most successful in the world, including teams at, Pepsi Bottling Group, New York’s Madison Square Garden, American Express, and Nokia.

The traits include: sharing a dream or a vision, believing in your ability to realize that dream, willingness to take prudent risks, appropriate metrics, perseverance, and a narrative or story-line that captures people’s imaginations and drives extraordinary efforts.

But even those six traits may be too much for some readers. So Gostick and Elton boil things down even further, and list the bedrock principles of team success, which they call the Rule of Three: World Class Results, Personal Honesty, and Intra-Team Support.

But even these three rules could dumbfound some people seeking quick remedies to patterns of endemic failure, or even just limited success. So Gostick and Elton have created a nifty graphic and set of catchphrases that emphasize the differences between teams that win and teams that don’t: Wow, No Surprises, and Cheer.

The theme of this book is that successful teams feel “engaged,” which Gostick and Elton describe as a feeling of being “invested in their work and their team.” This “engagement” correlates extremely well with managerial behaviors they call the “Basic 4 + Recognition.” These include: setting goals, good communications, developing and being worthy of trust, developing and being subject to accountability, and appreciating others’ strengths.

That oft-mentioned 350,000-person study contains support for Gostick’s and Elton’s assertion that employees are most likely to say they feel “engaged” when they do the following: express job satisfaction, recommend their employer to jobseekers, recommend their employer’s products and services for purchase, keep their jobs at least two years, and willingly give some extra effort when asked. If this reasoning strikes you as somewhat circular, just wait. It’ll come around again.

To make their points, Gostick and Elton throw around a lot of words, tell a lot of stories, and lay out a lot of detail. There’s the story of Edison who—with the help of his team—invented the light bulb. There’s the story of the Australian submarine, Dechaineaux, which suffered a catastrophic failure at some incredible depth and took on so much water that the crew—de facto a successful team—had to put forward heroic efforts to return safely to port. There’s the story of Medical City Dallas Hospital, which fell all the way to a 36% vacancy rate before management—with the enthusiastic aid of a top-flight team called The Patient Promise Posse—resuscitated the hospital’s patient satisfaction ratings, and presumably other appropriate metrics.

But some of the stories don’t quite fit. For example, there’s the story of Commander Scott Beare, a Navy pilot who flew with the Blue Angels and also flew F-18s during hostilities in the Middle East. One day, we learn, Commander Beare was sent aloft with orders to escort and protect an “unmanned electronic warcraft plane (EP3)” as it flew a routine mission. According to the story, the routine mission became unroutine, then became routine again, as Commander Beare obediently followed the EP3. Not much happens in this story, and in particular Commander Beare doesn’t seem to implement any of Gostick’s and Elton’s six traits or three rules.

The inclusion of this story, however, is one of the most obvious signposts that The Orange Revolution consists largely of relatively simple, well-known concepts dressed to the nines like teenagers on prom night.

As for the research, it’s difficult to contradict a study of 350,000 subjects. But the results seem fairly meager for such a massive undertaking. For example, in laying out how the data regarding the “Basic 4 + Recognition” behaviors differ between top-flight teams and ordinary teams (as measured by their status on a Best Places to Work list), the authors proudly point to “a 15 point swing in recognition scores between organizations that made the list and those that did not—the largest delta on the questions we measured.” In other words, when asked if their organization practiced each of the Basic 4 + Recognition behaviors, members of “Best Places to Work” teams agreed at the following rates: 86%, 90%, 88%, 85%, and 84%, respectively. Teams that didn’t make that list claimed adherence to the same behaviors at lower rates: 73%, 76%, 74%, 72%, and 69%—hence the “15 point swing.”

Neither set of scores seem all that impressive, however, and the differences (on a par with the gap between a high “B” and a high “C” in most American schools) seem relatively minor compared with the major kudos that Gostick and Elton are ready to slather on one group and withhold from the other.

While the tips and techniques in The Orange Revolution make sense, the book is a better skim than a read. In fact, the very sharpest among us may well be able to extract most of the value just by looking at its graphics and reading its highlighted text—ten minutes, tops.

Reviewer Robert Moskowitz has written many books about financial planning, computers, and knowledge management. His articles have appeared in dozens of national magazines. He also won an Emmy for his writing and on-air work in KOCE-TV's series on personal finance: “Dollars and $ense.”