Management success lies in being able to pull your employees together so that they work as members of a seamless, successful, powerful team that is more than the sum of its parts. It means that each member is able to rely on others' support and skill sets without feeling as though the give-and-take inherent in teamwork means relinquishing power. Gathering skilled professionals may be difficult, but it can seem simple in comparison to guiding them to form a group with this sort of natural ease. How can you guide your employees into forming this kind of team together?
There are some lessons that can be learned by comparing management of a business team and management of a sports team. Let’s examine some of the ways in which we can take lessons from the most successful college basketball teams in the country, and tuck their skills into your own management toolbox.
Focus on the team, not the superstar.
Here he comes: your best, your brightest. High-fiving everyone, smirking at those he’s battled in the realm of office politics: your star player. You can practically see the cameras flashing in his eyes.
It can be tempting to place all your focus, manly backslaps and important assignments on his shoulders. Yet rigidly competitive environments can leave your superstar burnt out – hard to remember when he’s doing such impressive work in the short-term, and is so skilled at keeping in management’s good graces. Meanwhile, the other members of his team may languish in obscurity, feeling unmotivated and under-appreciated. Your superstar gets better and better – at least, unless he goes supernova – while the rest of the team’s abilities grow rusty through disuse.
Iowa State, who was 9-0 at the end of 2015, was undefeated because of their incredible balance of power throughout the team. Rather than relying on one superstar, they had five different players who averaged 12 points or better per game, and five who topped 20 points in one game. They shot at 51% on average as a team. By ensuring that no one’s skills were neglected, Coach Prohm created a seamless network of sharp, agile players who learned to anticipate one another’s every move on the court.
The team can help improve individual skills.
Raw talent needs to be molded and shaped, which means pairing more experienced players with less experienced ones. Remember, that it isn’t enough to have netted a promising new employee; it’s part of your job thereafter to ensure that they have everything they need in order to be successful, or you can lose them just as fast as you found them.
When we look at the top scorers on the best teams, they aren’t all seniors about to graduate. Instead, you see two seniors and a sophomore, a senior with two freshmen, or two juniors and a freshman. It’s through watching these more experienced, more skilled players work, and through receiving their advice and mentorship, that the newest members of the team begin to excel.
When offering praise, remember to focus not just on great work, but on work that has dramatically improved. If you note a skill is lacking in a new employee, pair them up with someone more experienced in that arena who likes to share their talents and enjoys mentorship.
Emphasize resilience while building confidence.
Good management means rolling with the punches and ensuring that your team can, too. That means focusing on identifying the problem and addressing it with practicality and grace.
Some management strategies subtly emphasize not addressing failure at all, but identifying why a business practice did not result in the intended outcome. This can help your teams adjust their strategies for greater success in the future. Or, if the failure is honestly the product of your own strategy or advice, be willing to admit it and correct your course. Just as importantly, doing so can help your team see that failure is part of doing business, and correctable.
It is especially important to address mistakes without false lightheartedness or manufactured gravity. If it is a small mistake that's been repeated a few times, treat it as one; but address it, rather than letting it go as too tiny to mention. Dealing with these small errors can help your employees build resilience, reinforcing that a mistake is not the end of your faith in their abilities or your goodwill. If a huge mistake comes along, having dealt with these small difficulties in the past can give your employees the confidence they need to address it.
In 2005, Bob Rotella, a sports psychologist, gave a talk to George Mason University, where he held up a copy of USA Today. George Mason had not shown up in its pre-season rankings of the top 25 best college basketball teams.
Rotella used the paper not to point out that the team had a long way to go, but to mock those who had thought George Mason didn’t belong on the list. He praised the coach, Jim Larranaga, for being able to spot the raw talent that others hadn’t been able to see.
The next day, each team member jotted down their goals for the season, and the vast majority had stated that they would reach the Final Four. In every training session, Larranaga let his belief that he was leading an elite team of basketball superstars permeate his speeches and his advice. He told his team to show that the world had underestimated them.
And of course, George Mason University was one of the Final Four in 2006.
It wasn’t pure faith that brought them there. When they knew that success was possible, that their coach had faith in them, they were capable of incredibly hard work. They knew they were in it together and grew to trust in and rely on one another. If you can believe in your team like that, if you trust in your own ability to locate and nurture talent, the growth you see may be phenomenal.