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Unstuck: A Tool for Yourself, Your Team, and Your World

Unstuck: A Tool for Yourself, Your Team, and Your World

by Keith Yamashita, Sandra Spataro, Sandra Spataro

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Getting stuck is an integral part of business because the most ambitious and rewarding work is often the hardest to undertake. The challenge is knowing how to get unstuck. In this dynamic and pragmatic handbook, Keith Yamashita and Sandra Spataro share the insights, methods, stories, and best practices of the extraordinary leaders they have worked with at business


Getting stuck is an integral part of business because the most ambitious and rewarding work is often the hardest to undertake. The challenge is knowing how to get unstuck. In this dynamic and pragmatic handbook, Keith Yamashita and Sandra Spataro share the insights, methods, stories, and best practices of the extraordinary leaders they have worked with at business giants such as IBM, Sony, Disney, HP, and Nike.

In immediately accessible terms, they identify the symptoms of being stuck, introduce readers to the Serious Seven states of “stuck”—from “Overwhelmed” to “Exhausted” to “Alone”—and offer dozens of in-the-moment tools, techniques, and examples to generate immediate ideas, whether you need to back up in order to move forward, motivate a struggling team, change your goals, or inspire yourself with a clearer picture of where you're headed.

With a handy trim size, a vivid two-color interior, and memorable images that speak louder than words, Unstuck is a book for anyone who wants to get themselves or their team motivated and moving in the time it takes to fly from New York to D.C. Designed to be flipped through, read in chunks, and returned to again and again, Unstuck is an innovation in business literature.

Editorial Reviews

Soundview Executive Book Summaries
Strategic change consultant Keith Yamashita and organizational behavior expert Sandra Spataro have created a book that offers usable advice about moving big projects forward and reinvigorating teams to perform better at crucial moments. Unstuck presents solid ideas about unifying teams and leaders around common goals, and highlights these ideas with examples from a variety of organizations. Although Unstuck has an unusual look and style, its business lessons are valid and specific. Copyright © 2004 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.28(w) x 7.36(h) x 1.12(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt


Behind every book is a story. This is ours. We are Sandra Spataro (a professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management with a passion for teams, diversity, leadership, and what makes organizations effective) and Keith Yamashita (a cofounder of a firm in San Francisco that works with CEOs to reinvent, rejuvenate, and recenter their organizations).

The idea for UNSTUCK came about when Sandy was teaching an MBA course at Yale and invited Keith to teach a few classes with her. The topic for the classes? How to flex leadership and communications skills in complicated times. In preparing for those classes, our ambition was to create a tool that would help the students lead their teams through times of change. We wanted to take knowledge from Sandy's research, other thinkers in the field, and Keith's on-the-front- lines work with CEOs——and bake that knowledge into a form that these leaders could use in tough situations to drive the right actions in their teams.

We soon discovered that while there are thousands of books published every year on leadership, management, and innovation, very few function as in-the-moment tools that let you take instant action. We ended up creating a set of flash cards, which we hastily named Unstuck Cards.

And an interesting thing happened. The cards were a hit.

The students demanded more of them. One student even remarked, “This is the stuff I came to business school to learn, wrapped up in a way that I can actually use.”

We were on to something.

Fast-forward a few months. Keith was invited by the editors at Fast Company magazine to speak about the topic of change at their annual RealTime conference. Rather than just create a standard presentation, we decided to create an entire experience——a book (a compilation of the Yale flash cards) and a room filled with activity stations and exercises to help conference attendees make change happen. More than 250 people participated. We heard things like “I get it. Finally, a way to get my team's head into the game again.” “This helps me think through why we're not making any progress.” “Hallelujah, there is hope!”

We knew we were on to not just a good tool, but a whole new way to help organizations get stronger and better at what they do. And the idea for the book you are holding was born.


1 ADMITTING YOU'RE STUCK. (Or how to recognize the symptoms.) BE HONEST. HOW IS IT REALLY GOING?
Stuck? Maybe it's only been for a day.
A week. Okay, a month! Get out a pen and write down some thoughts about your symptoms. Be open. Be truthful. After all, no one is reading your answers, and the person who benefits most from your honesty is you.

Just how stuck are you?

u-Describe the nature and duration of being stuck.

u-Write down (in full glory) what you're feeling, why you're stuck, why it seems you can't forge ahead.

u-Are you stuck on something? With something? In something? With someone?

Further things to write about:

u-What are you trying to achieve? (Don't just focus on the end goal. Think about your values.)

u-Can you identify the roadblocks? If so, what are they?

u-Is it just you? Or is your whole team in a funk?

Yet more things to write about:

u-Have you already tried to get unstuck?

u-Who do you have in your realm who can help you get unstuck?

u-Afraid to admit you're stuck?


It's okay. Really.
All great people get stuck at some point.
The trick is knowing how to get unstuck.


You've had some time to think about your symptoms, and you've taken an important first step: You've started to admit that you might be stuck. So, what do you do with that admission? How can you cut through the fog, the politics, the loss of optimism that comes from hitting a wall? How can you move forward when everything seems to be heading in reverse? Oddly enough, we find that moving forward often requires zooming out so you can see the bigger picture. Once you see the bigger picture, the actions you need to take become more clear.

You see, in working with hundreds of leaders, we've observed that there is a process they follow to get unstuck:

1. -They diagnose why they're stuck. Like great doctors, they look at the symptoms to determine what's ailing their team, their organization, and their company. (We'll teach you how to do that in step 2, starting on page 28.)

2. -They are systems thinkers. They get unstuck by rejuvenating different parts of their organization's system. This is about looking at your organization as a living organism that needs to be fed, inspired, protected, and nourished. To make a healthy organism, you have to put its fundamental systems into balance so the parts are working with each other rather than against each other. Organizations that are out of balance become stuck——unable to move forward. What's more, Darwin might have argued: Those organizations that remain stuck, become dead. (More about “systems thinking” in a moment.)

3. -They get wildly innovative and intensely tactical about activating different parts of their organization's system. The majority of pages in this book are dedicated to the methods great leaders use to get their teams unstuck. Some of these ways are quirky, while others are common sense. Some are inventive, others are basic. This book is a compendium of these ideas on how to get unstuck; each idea can be powerful if used at the right time.


Now you know a little about how great leaders get unstuck, and you're probably ready to charge ahead. But before you do, it's smart to learn a little more about systems thinking. That's because getting unstuck is not merely the act of treating the symptom of being stuck, but rather of getting to the root cause. Or even better, it's about trying to fix the whole system of your company, your department, or your team. To become more effective, you must master ways to help get the system back into balance.

To succeed as a leader (or, for that matter, as an individual), you need to unify:

-Your purpose. The driving ambition that shapes what you and your organization aspire to achieve and work collectively to make a reality.
-Your strategy. The smart way you go about achieving your purpose.
-Your people and the way they interact. The people that are assembled——and rallied——to execute the strategy, and, as important, how they treat each other to get the work done.
-Your structure and process. How the team is structured——who makes decisions, who is included and who is not, who has authority over whom, who is in charge, who has informal authority (not necessarily a title, but lots of influence). And the formal process (or simply the understood method) by which the team collaborates to get the job done.
-Your metrics and rewards. The activities and actions that get measured (or at least paid attention to) as indicators of whether your team or organization is delivering on its purpose. Once these are measured, your organization rewards those who've been part of the accomplishment.
-Your culture. The largely unwritten set of rules that govern behavior——or, as one CEO said to us recently, how work gets done when you don't specify how the work should get done.

It helps to create a visual model of these six elements, and use it to understand where you need to take action.


This diagram can help you think about what's going right, and what's not, in your realm. It's a picture of a healthy system——the team's essential elements are all in balance. When you're stuck, it's usually because one or more elements have gotten off track. How does this picture compare with what's going on with your team? Is your strategy in line with your purpose? Are you structured to deliver on that strategy? Do you have the right people——and do they work well together?

Is it clear what victory is——and do you know what the leading indicators of success look like? To move your team into the success zone, you need to put your system into congruence. That's the road to getting unstuck.

The inspiration for this model came from two primary sources: a classic Friday late-afternoon conversation with Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who is one of the more holistic systems thinkers we know; and from David A. Nadler and Michael Tushman, whose work in “A Congruence Model for Organizational Effectiveness” shaped our thinking. TO LEARN MORE, SEE OUR LIST OF SOURCES, STARTING ON PAGE 172.


These diagrams show just a few of the ways systems can get out of balance. You might see your situation in one——or even a few——of these. Or your situation might look completely different. Whatever the case, our goal is to help you train your mind to examine your symptoms of being stuck, and determine what might be out of alignment about the system of your team.

Does your organization value structure (hierarchy, titles, rank, who reports to whom) and process (“This is the way we've always done it.”) over anything else? It's protocol over substance. Think DMV.
-Is your organization high-performing but caught in a seismic shift in your industry? Your system may be aligned but aimed at the wrong task. Think Microsoft caught by surprise in the rapid rise of the Internet.
All the right elements are present within the system——even a vital and compelling purpose. But nothing pulls them together. Each element is working against the others, and the system is out of balance. Think about an organization going through a major restructuring, or two firms that have been recently merged into one.
-All heart, no action
Do you have an amazing purpose, but little means to act on it? Think about the not-for-profit with an important cause, but lacking the talent or discipline to execute it.
-All brains, no brawn
All strategy, but no ability to pull it off. Start-ups often suffer from this ailment.
-Stuck in your own lore
Do you have a culture so dominant that it has become impossible to innovate within it? Everything is about preserving what has been, not focusing on what could be. Think megacorporations gone complacent. Or cults, for that matter.

Meet the Author

Keith Yamashita is cofounder of Stone Yamashita Partners, a San Francisco—based consulting firm. He has worked with leaders at Hewlett-Packard, Apple, PBS, Sony, IBM, Nike, the World Bank, and others, and has been featured in Fast Company, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, and Harvard Business Review.
Sandra Spataro is an assistant professor of Organizational Behavior at the Yale School of Management. She held a number of management posts at Oracle before earning her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior at the University of California, Berkeley.

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