Pushing Back Entropy: Moving Teams from Conflict to Health
Restoration Publishing, 2014
310 pages, $19.95
Reviewed by Samantha Thompson-Franklin
Pushing Back Entropy: Moving Teams from Conflict to Health by Andy Johnson is a self-help book for business and organization leaders interested in developing healthy workplace teams within their organizations. Andy Johnson is an executive/quiet leader coach and team dynamics specialist with Price Associates, a leadership performance and conflict resolution consulting firm in Boise, ID. Johnson is also the author of The End of Conflict: Resisting False Utopia in the Hope of True Restoration. Prior to joining Price Associates, Johnson was an architect, a business owner and a therapist. He is a licensed professional counselor in the state of Idaho.
Johnson describes his book as a “field manual” for preventing and reducing conflict and developing healthy workplace teams (31). Organizations and teams, according to Johnson, do not naturally move toward harmony and health but instead gravitate toward conflict and disorder. This tendency, he states, is due to the principle of entropy which he defines as “things neglected [and] not maintained through the addition of outside energy tend toward disorder and disintegration, not toward order and harmony” (28). This principle can be seen in the natural world, in relationships, and in the life and health of organizations and teams. Workplace teams, according to Johnson, can become healthy and successful by proactively resisting this tendency. Investing in team health is difficult; however, Johnson believes that by following the principles outlined in his book, drawn from the assessment model he uses in his related work with clients, teams will see the benefits of pushing back entropy. His passion is to help teams work through their conflict and move from chaos and entropy to developing team health – “the glaring imperfections of dysfunctional organizations and teams ignite a passion in me to want to do what I can to help things move toward renewed health, vitality and holistic results” (271).
Pushing Back Entropy is divided into two parts. Part One, entitled Moving Away from Conflict, examines how people are different, the premises behind conflict, what causes conflict and how it inhibits teams, and strategies for conflict prevention and conflict resolution. Part Two, entitled Moving Toward Health, looks at what a healthy team is, how to develop workplace health, the characteristics that make up a healthy successful team, and principles on how to defy entropy to build and maintain a healthy team while keeping conflict to a minimum. Johnson also explores the patterns of behavioral styles (the how), the core motivators (the why) and the emotional intelligence factors that he believes are important to understanding interpersonal conflict and healthy team development (32).
Johnson’s book provides practical and specific advice on how to achieve conflict prevention and resolution. He views communication as the key and feels that the better the communication, the more positive the outcome and results for team health (262). One example he gives on how team leaders can achieve and maintain better communication is to incorporate ongoing performance evaluations into their work culture. This allows for helpful feedback and continuous improvement, rather than the once-a-year formal evaluation which Johnson believes does not result in improved performance (259-261).
Johnson’s passion for team building, along with his experience in leadership counselling and conflict resolution is evident throughout his writing. Although his book sometimes reads like you are participating in a seminar, it is well-researched, well-organized and clearly written. Detailed footnotes along with an index, a glossary of terms, four appendices and a “Team Health” self-evaluation checklist round out the text. The target audience is primarily organizational and team leaders, however, any individual seeking to improve their communication skills and workplace relationships could also benefit from the concepts and principles defined in the book. I would recommend this book for public libraries looking to add to their business collection on organizations, workplace teams, or conflict prevention and resolution.
Samantha Thompson-Franklin is the Acquisitions and Collection Development Librarian at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston.