On management: How to get into the Final Four of business

Even a part-time basketball fan like me had to get excited by the prospects for the big game last month between Duke and Butler. Part of the excitement had to grow out of the drama created by the entire series of events leading up to the “Final Two.”

A truly David vs. Goliath struggle. Butler almost won the game and in many ways did win more than Duke. The Bulldogs won the hearts of the fans, and perhaps there will never be a more popular underdog. According to the Washington Post, the inquiry lines for information about Butler University were out of service because of too many inquiries on a site that usually gets about 15 inquiries per day.

Duke, as everyone knows, whose basketball program spends about $17 million per year, managed a 2-point win over Butler, whose program spends only $1.4 million per year.
Both teams radiated a sense of “team” that got them to the final and helped them both play an epic game that would have been one of the best ever, whoever won. But how is it that when this capability of team presents itself, everyone recognizes and admires it, but very few know how to describe how it came to be or how to replicate it?

Literally since the beginning of time, men have been trying to make highly functioning teams out of groups of men (and women). Ghengis Kahn led tens of thousands of men to conquer huge armies with only the human voice to communicate with all those people. He was the first manager to understand the power of span of control. Nobody in Kahn’s large army had more than 10 people reporting to him, while together, they conquered more of the world than has ever been conquered since.

Through history, teamwork has been accomplished with trickery, as with Sun-Tzu, the great general who said, “Treat your warriors as you would your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys!”

The Indians living in what is now Guatamala played team games in which the losing team would be killed! An extreme effort to motivate.

But what was visible during the final game of this year’s edition of March Madness was confidence in self and confidence in teammates … from both teams. They supported each other, trusted each other and fought for each other.

How can we get the same kind of teamwork in business as these fine coaches get from those really competent young men?

Know your business. Self confidence is born of knowing that you know how. In college basketball it might be a 3-point shot; in business it might be a presentation to the most difficult non-customer you have. In each case you must know all there is to know about the situation, and you must have the skills well in hand required to accomplish the goal. The leader’s job is to train and instill these skills into the team members so they will be ready individuals when the team is put to the test.

Know your team members. Team confidence is born of knowing that your team can accomplish much more as a team than as a collection of individuals. Every team member must trust and depend on every other team member. They will have to push each other to their limits in order to excel as a team. There will be failures when people try to excel, but the right team forgets quickly and tries again.

The team leader’s job is to get every team member to believe that the strengths of others will make them able to accomplish as a team what they never could as individuals.

No surprises. Everyone knows everything about everything. No secrets, no special members; nobody is a more important part of the team than somebody else. Have a team leader who helps everyone learn that dependence on everyone’s performance is the only way to get the maximum out of a group.

Although there are managers everywhere trying to make it happen all the time, a truly great team only comes along once in a while, when all the team members and the leader are just right. I’ve been in business for some 50 years and have been part of what I thought was an unbeatable team just three times.

But there is nothing like it when it happens. And it makes all the near misses very good indeed.
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