Teamwork in Business, and the NBA Finals
“I love this series. It’s been a tremendous, tremendous series. It just goes to show you, you can have great athletes, but teamwork in the end is the prevailing theme.”
These were the words Bill McDermott used last night on CNBC Europe’s Squawk Box to describe how he feels about the San Antonio Spurs-Miami Heat NBA Finals. Fast forward a few hours to the waning minutes of a game that looked utterly hopeless for the Miami Heat, when head coach Erik Spoelstra went to the bench to put in his best three point shooters.
He needed shooters in the game to increase the chances for the Heat to tie the Spurs with just a few seconds left in the game. Seconds later a big time three-pointer from Ray Allen in the right corner brought Miami back to tie the game at 95-95. In overtime a big block from Chris Bosh forced a Game 7 in Miami on Thursday to decide the NBA Championship.
Neither of those two big plays included superstar LeBron James, but both were essential for the win. Even the greatest players need help from other great players to succeed. This truth runs parallel in business. Steve Jobs was great, but without Steve Wozniak and many advertising and marketing executives his career arc would have been quite different. Also, Bruce Wayne did take care of business, but he was clearly a mess without Alfred, not to mention Robin.
Team chemistry in business is essential for a fun and productive work environment. Allowing teammates or coworkers to gel is essential for success at the micro and macro level. Deciding who takes the floor for a Finals team is a demanding task for a head coach. In much the same way, an advertising director must decide who he or she will send into a pitch meeting, and a developer must decide who on his team will be the best to design or code product X.
The teams that perform exceptionally well together are often considered impossible to understand or replicate a serendipitous occurrence for a manager. But researchers at MIT have found a common rhythm among successful, prolific groups. The most successful teams communicate frequently, talk and listen equally, talk outside of formal meetings and engagements, and explore information and collaborations outside of the group.
The Water Cube from the Beijing Olympics is an example of a relatively new form of teamwork called “teaming,” in which dozens of diffuse workers from 20 different disciplines and four different countries work together on a specific project. The Harvard Business Review described it as “a pickup basketball game rather than plays run by a team that has trained as a unit for years.”
This approach requires a great deal of communication and professionalism. A tight deadline and global event are thrown in for good measure. When the stakes are highest, teams need to work together to define roles and communicate.
Peter Drucker has said that there are many different types of teams. For him they include baseball teams (employees with fixed positions working toward a common goal, like on an assembly line), football teams (the entire group works with each other in parallel as opposed to in stages), and doubles tennis teams (where one member of a team covers the other, working to help where another lacks and allow flexibility and motion).
I imagine a basketball team would be somewhere between the doubles tennis example and the football example. Workers are working parallel while still sliding over to help each other when they have troubles, and making big moves when a big event is coming up.
As we approach Game 7, the question asked by fans around the world will be: “Who has the best basketball team, the Heat or Spurs?” We’ll just have to wait until Thursday night to find out.