March 22, 2022
Metaphorical illustration is used not only in coaching, but by many of us in attempting to connect with others. For example, in the case of communicating with a musician it can be useful to describe a work team as being in rhythm, not unlike a well-tuned professional orchestra. Someone who appreciates a fine wine might also relate to how scientific discovery also takes years of work, precision, and time to come near to perfection.
Recently I was working with a client, who like me, is very much into sports and in particular basketball. As so many of us are now enmeshed in the March Madness of college hoops it provided an outstanding opportunity to draw parallels from the hardwood and apply them to what we experience occupationally, even if the worlds in which we operate have little connection with athletics.
We discussed job roles. If we are part of a team at work, what does our job description require? Are we the CEO, who is like a head coach in that she will ultimately be responsible for directing the game plan or strategy, reaping the rewards of “brilliance” in the instance of a success or “win” or face blame when there is failure and sometimes even an embarrassment?
The top salespeople in an organization can often be like the leading scorers. If they are “off” giving a sales pitch then no matter the quality of the product, the team can’t thrive without a close. In the instance of those “losses,” what adjustments need to be made so that a better outcome can be achieved in the future? Like studying up on an opponent, that may include going back to the drawing board to determine buyer tendencies, or the salesman practicing his presentation, much as a basketball team will study game film and plot out a new strategy aimed at more favorable results.
Preparation, even when considered by others as silly, can reap great reward. Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden would have his star athletes remove their shoes and socks on the first day of practice. Coach would then speak meticulously about how pulling on socks without wrinkles and tying sneakers snugly so that that there was no room for the shoe to rub or the sock to bunch up was critical. Because, as coach said, “if there are wrinkles in your socks, or your shoes aren’t tied properly, you will develop blisters. With blisters, you’ll miss practice. If you miss practice, you don’t play. And if you don’t play, we cannot win.”
What is the personality of your team? Does it tend to be risk adverse and traditional, based on a consistent formula of taking the time for a high percentage shot from close range and then relying on a strong adherence to fundamentals? Or conversely is your team more bold and flashy, unhesitant to launch three point shots attempts and accepting that converting one out of three from long range is just as effective as one out of two from near distance? A fast break, much like instant revenue, can be exciting, but does your team have the wherewithal to recognize if it “has numbers” and if not to pull back and engage in a more set pattern.
How well do you anticipate events that may happen? As an opponent comes to set a screen while you’re playing defense, do you feel for that pick and either fight around it or switch off with one of your teammates? How well are you communicating with each other not only on the court, but on the shop floor? Might that screen be tantamount to a slippery, greasy spot in a work area. How ‘bout a heads up to the Client Services Manager that a less than happy customer wants to talk. And should things not be going so well, how effective might it be to “call a time out,” take a deep breath, settle things down, and reset?
With so much focus on the present, what preparations are being made for the future? Your organization has a strong staff now, but is there bench strength to ensure you stay on top? These past couple of years of Covid exposed many organizational shortcomings and resulted in retirements and departures of key personnel. Like a basketball team, who is being developed and groomed for the seasons ahead?
During March Madness the stakes could not be any greater. Lose one you’re done, and you return to your college campus to consider what might have been. Some may have completed amateur eligibility and are off to the pros or more likely to become a professional in another field outside of competitive athletics. For many, however, there will be another season in less than a year and an opportunity to try again.
What lessons can you glean from basketball, your own athletic career, or another competitive pursuit to where you are now in your occupational profession?
The Seed Sower