Divide or Conquer How Great Teams Turn Conflict Into Strength

Redefining teams as not a bunch of individuals but rather as the sum of their relationships, this book offers a step-by-step approach for understanding and transforming organizational and team relationships

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From the cover flap:

Conflict is inevitable. But whether it makes or breaks your team depends only on the strength of the relationships within it.

Ever been on a team where people can't get along to save their lives? Maybe the VPs of Sales and Manufacturing bicker at every meeting. Or your numbers-driven boss and a more intuitive colleague constantly talk past each other. Or a seasoned veteran and a rising young star jockey for position at every turn.

These relationships are corrosive not just to the people involved but to the entire group — and to their results.

In Divide or Conquer, Diana McLain Smith distills almost thirty years of experience studying and advising leaders to offer a new way to think about teams: not as a bunch of individuals, but as the sum of their relationships.

According to Smith, great teams don't assume everyone will get along. They anticipate conflict, and use it to strenghten their relationships. In constrast, dysfunctional teams avoid or work around conflicts, which only ends up harming their relationships and their ability to get things done.

Every team is only as strong as its weakest relationship. When teams neglect key relationships, they do so at their peril, as one infamous cautionary tale illustrates — the corporate divorce between Steve Jobs and John Sculley at Apple Computer in the 1980s. In just two years, Jobs and Sculley moved from idolizing each other to demonizing each other. By the time they finally discussed their differences, their views were so entrenched that they had to call it quits, nearly taking Apple down with them.

No relationship should end this way — or needs to. Relationships are not a matter of personal chemistry too mysterious to decode or too difficult to change. Through one engaging story after another, Smith shows that it's possible both to understand how relationships work and to change their course — before it's too late.

Divide or Conquer offers a powerful, step-by-step approach to building a team that's flexible and strong enough to master its toughest challenges. The ideas and tools you'll find inside are both practical and profound, and have been tested and honed in the real world for years.

Whether you're a senior executive who wants to inspire your team or a new employee who needs to start building relationships, Divide or Conquer will show you what it takes to succeed together.


"One of the most enlightening and useful books I've read about that indomitable, freighted four-syllable word that has the power to destroy dreams and lives — or enliven them: relationships. Smith has a unique style, smart and deft, coupled with a fresh sense of humor." – Warren Bennis, distinguished professor of business, University of Southern California, and coauthor (with Noel Tichy), Judgment

"Work relationships are like the weather — everybody talks a lot about them, but most think they can't do much about them. Such fatalism soon becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, resulting in mediocre and frustrating teams at all levels. A master advisor to teams, Diana Smith persuasively shows how those who truly care about performanceand relationships can simultaneously nurture both." – Peter Senge, author, The Fifth Discipline

"A rare book — sensitive in human terms, but also practical and hard-edged." – Lord Dennis Stevenson, banker, chairman, HBOS, plc

"Divide or Conquer is intelligent, riveting, and useful. Smith reveals a new approach to understanding how management teams work, what can go wrong, and what to do to make it right." – Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management, Harvard Business School

"Smith has written a masterpiece … for all leaders — from business to politics." – Jonas Gahr Store, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Norway

"An invaluable guide to a domain that's becoming ever more important, not only in business but across sectors. I wish I had had this book when I cofounded City Year twenty years ago." – Alan Khazei, CEO, Be the Change, and cofounder, City Year

Divide or Conquer Attributes

Author: Diana McLain Smith
Publisher: Penguin (2008)