What Can We Learn from March Madness?
It's amazing that millions of dollars will be lost in business productivity during the College Basketball Tournament, otherwise known as March Madness. College Recruiter reports that one consultant estimates employers will end up paying distracted workers about $175 million over the first two full days of the tournament.
My good friend Ken Keller makes some astute observations on how things that happen in the tournament relate to business. I would like to share some of his thoughts with you.
The month of March means a lot of different things to people, but for some it is one of the best months of the year. Why? March Madness. Starting in March and ending on April, 65 of the best college basketball teams in the country will face each other to determine the winner.
Going to the "Big Dance" (the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship) is an honor that any team would like to have bestowed upon them. College basketball is fast-paced, exciting and filled with last second victories and crushing defeats.
In a previous tournament, UCLA had been in the top tier of basketball teams the entire season, the same could not be said for Weber State. The story of the Weber team is nothing short of a fairytale; more like the movie Hoosiers than one would like to believe. This was one of the opening round matchups.
Why, might you ask, is this turning into a sports story? Isn't this supposed to be about business? In many respects it is a story about business; it is a story of an organization that has transformed itself in less than a year. It is a story about new leadership turning around a tough situation, about new people being brought to a team, that team learning to trust and support one another, and goals being set and achieved. If this story sounds familiar, it is, because it is one that is taking place at many companies in the news today. Only the industry is different.
Weber State ended the season in February 2006 with a record of 10 wins and 17 losses. Despite hiring a new coach in less than a month, the media experts suggested that the team would finish seventh in a nine-team conference; the coach's poll of those same teams said that Weber would finish sixth. However, what polls and surveys indicate is not what always ends up happening.
The new coach had a team meeting within an hour of being introduced as the leader. One player arrived late, four team members left the team shortly thereafter and two were not asked back for the current season. This left the team woefully understaffed. No organization can compete if most of the team resigns or retires.
Despite this obstacle, the new coach indicated that there wasn't a lot of talent left to choose from, "so we really tried to put a premium on getting high-character kids with a little bit of toughness." He added, "And if they had the talent to go with it, that was a bonus, because there wasn't much there."
What the leader was saying in not so many words is that he wanted people in his organization possessing strong core values. More importantly, he wanted people to have the same core values. Reading between the lines, the coach was seeking individuals who had overcome some adversity in their lives; people who understood that if you wanted something, you worked for it, and you worked hard because that was the only way you know how to work.
The new coach set a lofty goal for the team to make the conference tournament. They did. That year the team ended the season with 20 wins and 11 losses, quite a turnaround from the year before. Not only did they make the conference tournament, they won it, in two close games against more seasoned opponents.
One of the keys to success this season had been that the team has been a culture of learning and not surprisingly, overcoming adversity. Starting out the season with a so-so record, the team never gave up. They grew together, understanding each other's strengths and weaknesses, gaining the trust and respect they needed to operate as a team.
Another reason for the change in outcomes is that the new coach focused heavily on execution. During a game, the Weber State team moves quickly, trying different offensive and defensive schemes, changing tactics to find and exploit the weaknesses of opponents. The team adapts "on the run" during each game.
It appears that there were no true "stars" on this team; the egos were shelved. The players expect each other to deliver, to help in whatever their roles might be to get the job done. In the end, the coach set the tone that this is a team: working, living and competing together; and if they are going to be successful, they have to do it as one.
UCLA won that game. Regardless of the outcome, the lessons learned and shared by the Weber State team this season can apply to any organization facing difficult times.
One of the best books on teamwork is Patrick Lencioni's "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team." It is an enjoyable, easy read.
We are living in challenging times and perhaps we can all learn something from what happens during March Madness.
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