It’s up…it’s good! Lessons from the Madness
As March Madness extends into April Insanity (pardon the lack of alliteration), I can’t help but marvel at the excitement, teamwork, and competitive spirit generated by the annual college basketball tournament.
Cheering for Syracuse University is a personal passion. I am one of three Dulye family members to bleed Orange as a proud SU graduate and active alum. But, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a sports fan or graduate of a team in the Final Four, there are actions worth noting on the court that translate into best practices for teambuilding and communications in the workplace.
Get ready for an in-bounds pass—we’re going for a run down the hardwood floor of best practices for teaming and communication:
The best people. If you’re going to compete, you want the best players on the field. Some people are born with natural talent—both in terms of skills and leadership. Others work hard to develop their talent. Still others have a specific talent that make them valued role players—special-team contributors. Some individuals are starters and some come off the bench in relief. When and in what situation your mix of players are deployed will determine the effectiveness of the team.
Preparation. Having the will to compete is only part of the equation. If you’re going to take the field, you need to be ready to compete. Training is part of that preparation. Every team performs an individual SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) of their squad and focuses their improvement activities on those areas where they need to get better. Additionally, information about each team member—his or her personal strengths and weaknesses—are shared with teammates, broadening their knowledge of how to effectively blend talents and work together.
A good coach and strategy. You can’t compete at a high level without a good coach—a person who has the innate ability to assess his squad and the competition and adjust accordingly. A good coach is an individual who can motivate, while at the same time point out glaring errors that could cost the team the game, but come away with the respect of the players. A good coach usually has a good game plan and that plan changes based on a SWOT analysis of the other team. A good coach is the ultimate competitor with a desire to win that you can feel. A good coach inspires others and is someone you don’t want to let down by giving anything less than your best effort.
Good communications. Clearly communicating the challenge, the strategy to meet the challenge and how that strategy will be executed is key. While the game is where all the action takes place, time-outs represent the ultimate workplace huddle. The coach surrounded by the players. Everyone off the bench, everyone wanting to get their chance to be in the game. At times, the coach uses visual aids – such as a whiteboard – to ensure that the players are clear on their individual roles and responsibilities. When that huddle breaks everyone knows what they’re supposed to do. It’s time to execute.
Collaboration. The best teams work together as a team. The players take their position on the field and move the ball around until they get the best opportunity to score. Watch for the players that get the assists. Usually, they are the skilled players who can work the team into a good position and then dish the ball off to someone else to score. A great team has a high number of assists. Sometimes, a player fouls out—but there’s always someone else who can come in and contribute. Bench strength is just as important for your organization as it is for a successful team. Finally, a good team also fields a good defense. They understand that to win the game it’s just as important to prevent the opponents from scoring. They make the necessary moves to ensure that their team is in the best position to score more points than the competition.
Know the Competition. Teams spend days before games reviewing tapes about their next opponent. They study the moves of each player, as well as the collective work of the team. Their knowledge of the “other guy” reigns strong. And that’s true for the workplace. How well does each member of your work team understand the external competition? Do they read trade and business publications weekly about competitors’ moves—about their successes and failures? Do they share information from conferences and trade shows about competitors’ plans and marketing advances? Just like the basketball teams dominating the NCAA Tournament, teams in the workplace need to spend time talking about the competition and how they can beat them.
Learning from a Loss. Every team can’t win every time, so learning how to work through defeat is critical. Post-game team huddles raise conversations around the topics: What can we learn from the loss? How could we have done better? That’s why coaches and players watch tape from losses to reveal critical moments in the game when they could have turned the tide. Great teams have as great a desire to uncover and address their errors as they do to win. That same practice bears merit in the workplace. Unfortunately, all too often, contract losses or program failures aren’t discussed openly in a way that allows team members to gain new knowledge of what didn’t go well and why, and then band together through ideas on how to improve going forward. That is ultimate engagement—what Dulye & Co. calls a Spectator-Free Workplace™ dynamic.