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The Power of Michael Jordon
By: Bruce Piasecki


It’s hard to believe, but the great Michael Jordan turned 50 this past weekend. When you recall him soaring (and scoring) again and again—as effortlessly as breathing—it’s not hard to see why millions of fans revere him as the greatest basketball player of all time. What is interesting is not Jordan’s sheer athleticism and many victories, but what Jordan in context can teach the business world about teamwork.
“It was pure pleasure for a decade to watch how Michael Jordan fit his court family, which was deep and full of different personalities like the quiet Scottie Pippen and the very outrageous Dennis Rodman. The beauty of this team was that its members worked together in a way that allowed everyone to learn together where they fit while working for the common good.

Similar dynamics play out on the “courts” of the business world every day. And when teams are well constructed with the right mix of talents and personalities—and well governed by leaders who recognize the most important capabilities in their people and facilitate them for the good of all—companies achieve, grow, and prosper.

Teams are more important in a global economy than they’ve ever been before.” Standing out in a crowded marketplace takes constant innovation and the ability to get fast results. With the complexity of today’s workplace, even the most brilliant individual is not likely to have the skill set to take projects from start to finish. The ability to collaborate is everything…and that requires high-functioning teams.

Lessons on teamwork leaders would do well to heed:

Fierce individualism has no place in teams. We don’t think of the Chicago Bulls as “Michael Jordan’s team” despite Jordan’s superstardom. Contrast this with, for example, our propensity to use the phrase “Lance Armstrong’s teams”—as if the disgraced cyclist’s entire team (Team RadioShack being the most recent) was there only for him. When we pin all our hopes on a single individual and ignore the context in which he or she operates—and especially when we allow MVPs to bully everyone else into submission, as too often happens—we are doomed to be disappointed.

“Youth and ability have a way of fading over time.”  “Youthful arrogance, due to its fleeting nature, is no foundation on which to build a future. We need the shoulder strength of teams to keep us competent. And as leaders we need to be always on the alert for MVPs who might be losing sight of the team that gave them an identity—the group with whom they worked to produce the fame for which they are now known. It is in such situations that workplace ills such as favoritism, sexism, and even criminal activity like embezzlement tend to flourish.

 Seek to hire ‘coachable’ individuals rather than individualist-minded high performers. Do everything possible to promote and reward teamwork rather than individualism. Whether your efforts are centered on pay structure, group incentives, verbal recognition, or some other technique, seek always to send the signal that it’s strong teams (not strong individuals) that make up a strong company.”

“Michael Jordan was quoted as saying, ‘to learn to succeed, you must first learn to fail.”  He is not alone. The great CEOs, the well-compensated doctors, the best in hospital administrators, and the legendary leaders of colleges are not people known to expect ceaseless victory. They are great competitors because they come to accept that we cannot always win. Indeed, only through loss can we grow and improve.

We have many ways to create bonding experiences in business. There is nothing wrong with off-site team-building events or weekly social gatherings—the more people are together the better they get to know each other—but there is no substitute for ‘real-world’ work. Bring people together often so they can share their progress, brainstorm ideas to keep projects moving, and generate the synergy needed to move from being a collection of individuals to becoming an interconnected, mutually dependent team. Great teams mourn losses together. They celebrate success together. Always, they share information and hold themselves accountable to the team.”

The right “captains” can help us build powerful teams. Definition of a captain is someone who can rapidly recognize the key capabilities of their team members. They are able to see the capacity for harm and evil and quickly disarm it. And on the other hand, they recognize the capacity for generosity and quickly put it to use in building up other team members and generating momentum.

“Captains also treat their team members with a kind of fierce immediacy, and they achieve team coherence and team integrity in the process. Captains do not take the time to—as I heard from several military sources—‘wait for solutions.’ Instead, they seek possible solutions and test them on the fly.

Invest in your captains. “Choose them well and use them wisely. Give them authority to align and make accountable those capable of evil, harm, and generosity. They will bring the results and the profits you are looking for. And along the way they will empower your people to extend their wings and soar—yes, much like Michael Jordan himself—in the magic that only teams can generate.”

Bruce Piasecki, author of the book Doing More with Teams: The New Way to Winning,