Players Trying to Block Shot

With March Madness in full swing, our office is in full-on sports mode. And while this time of year is touted as the least productive for business, we’re actually finding great lessons and real life applications as these basketball games unfold.

I had a conversation with my team in our New York office this morning stemming from March Madness regarding teamwork. It is easy to understand teams in the concept of a sport because they are working to accomplish a very clear goal – putting the ball through the hoop and winning the game.

It got us thinking, how do we think of teams in business?

We all have projects we work on together with endpoints, but is this team working towards a clear goal? And is that goal real enough? Tangible enough? It’s obvious when a basketball team is successful- the points on the score board increase. What type of action or goal produces an increase in “points” within the work that we do in our teams?

In sports, teams rely heavily on roles or positions to bring about their success. Coaches put players in positions based on their strength in that area. The point guard hands off the ball to other players on the team to exploit their skills in getting the ball into the basket. Ideally, every player is playing the way he or she can create the best performance personally and can bring the best results to the team.

Business teams should function much in the same way. But many times they don’t.

That’s because we focus too much on what people are doing and not how they can best do it. Just because a guy like LeBron James is tall, strong and powerful doesn’t mean he’s always down by the basket. He’s also an exceptional passer, which means if the situation is right, he’s the point guard. The team needs his strengths not his pre-defined position.

Just because Tom is the IT engineer on a project doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be working with clients to look at their pain points, if he’s a person driven by Social Thinking and is more Gregarious. That will help his work and the team even more.

How do you find out the way people work? Well, you ask them. In our case, it’s an assessment that shows natural thinking and behavioral preferences. We know what increased their level of engagement, and what gives them energy rather than draining it. By creating a team where expectations are based on positions instead of prescriptive roles you can play to make success happen.

Think of this as playing zone defense to solve a business problem.

Basketball teams sometimes use Zone Defense- players defend one set area of the court instead of always defending one person. They become experts in their part of the court, and are prepared no matter which player they’re up against.

Teams in the workplace can use this strategy too. Regardless of the role someone is assigned to play, when you know what they’re good at, the team can easily shift to confront any project or challenge. And this ability to shift can lead to innovation, the advancing of ideas, and a keener deployment of resources.

It happens easier on the basketball court than it does in real life. But, if we make our mindset about the team and its ultimate goal, we can find ourselves on the championship path. Don’t just work together. Work smarter and make the most of your assets.

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