Why sometimes it takes pain to remember

So I understand that consistency is the key to blogging (and most anything that you do), but an interesting pain turned out to be a blessing for me last week. I was on a long overdue, and very much needed vacation with my family on the Outer Banks in North Carolina when the resort that we were staying at charged an arm and a leg for wifi. I was faced with a dilemma. I had brought my trusty (well, maybe that is an overstatement) laptop with me, had some good source material for research, and fully planned to blog each day holding to my plan. But I also tend to the thrifty side. So I balked at their price, never unpacked my laptop or many of the books I brought with me, and just enjoyed my time with family.

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What a weird concept! An actual vacation from work! This was the first time in many years I had done such a thing. Not a working vacation, not a trip to go speak or present somewhere, an actual vacation. And as hard as it was at first to cope with the idea of not having blazing wifi to do all of my normal tech-heavy functions, by mid-week I was downright liberated.

Today when I actually got down to really checking my email after the long break, I came across an email in which a friend mentioned a video that was quite powerful and challenging. So I watched, and I realized how often I am guilty of exactly the issue that he speaks of. Check this video out now.

So, my lesson learned from this vacation and video is that life must be lived, not virtually but in person – real people!

How might you alter your daily routines to actually engage the people that surround you, rather than simply living through the virtual setting of the Internet?

Just because you have a hammer, doesn’t mean the problem is a nail!

New feature here on TeamWorkDoc.com. Beginning with this post, every Friday will feature a “Coaching Corner” post for leaders in organizations (if you have questions that you want addressed, feel free to comment below). The first post in this series digs into two issues that are important to me: the myth of the magic pill solution and group development. Enjoy!

Too often as I look out on the sea of people discussing leadership, the answers are overly simplified. Many, even well-known writers, are presenting a one-size-fits-all model of leadership. This would be great if every problem and every organization was the same, or even on a scale to the original situation, but that just isn’t the case. Too often leadership approaches are based on a single way of approaching the world. When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. But obviously that doesn’t work in the real world. Things get bent and broken that way.

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Countless theories and approaches have been developed and all have their strengths and their pitfalls. The reality for organizations revolves around understanding that beginning the leadership process starts with owning your specific organizational situation/environment.

To illustrate this, I want to take a very specific situation, a leader seeking to accomplish group development in two different organizational environments, one stable and the other unstable (NOTE: Even stability itself is on a continuum, but for the purpose of illustration, we will use these two categories to display just how differently the role of the leader is enacted in the group setting. Please note, regardless of the specific place your organization is on the continuum, it is vital that you work to encourage, provoke, and sustain positive growth and development within the groups present in your organization).

Leader’s Role in Group Development – Unstable Organization

The reality is, every organization has groups and trust me, they are vital to your success. But what happens when you are given the challenge of developing a group in a situation that is already unstable? Taking Tuckman’s model of group development, the development of an existing group in an unstable environment most likely is going to start with the chaos of the storming stage. When groups are in this stage, particularly when the surrounding environment of the organization is also unstable, things can be tumultuous. Group members are likely filled with too many questions and not enough answers. They have expectations, but a lack of clear understanding of what their roles will be in the group.

Group development at its earliest stages seems about as linear as a white water rafting trip. Plans are often cast aside as realities are being shaped. It is important to remember in this space you are a guide holding the rudder, not a taskmaster with a whip! The leader (or leaders) within an organization experiencing change, play an important role in seeking to establish clear purpose, processes, and goals for the entire organization, including groups. It is within their purview to work with the teams to be certain that the plans developed meet the intended purpose of the group, and also that the group has the needed/appropriate resources in order to accomplish the task at hand.

In order to be certain of positive development in a group surrounded by instability, the leader needs to be clear and directed. This means that the leader will often be present with the group to recognize problems, needs, or questions. In this type of organization, and with a group in these stages the leader should establish clear goals that are attainable, providing incentive that clearly establishes for the group that these goals are in their (and the organization’s) best interest. This type of commanding leadership can help bring calm within an unstable environment and allow a group to focus on the germane tasks.

As the group shows improvement, and as the organization shows more stability, the leader may begin to show more supportive behavior. Using this style of leadership, termed – coaching by Hersey and Blanchard, the leader will begin to establish more of relationship with the group (and/or individuals in the group) in order to seek to encourage their growth by better understanding their needs, desires, etc. This movement in style signals to the group that positive change is recognized and that more of the development will be based on their input and interaction, rather than being simply handed to them by the leader.

Leader’s Role in Group Development – Stable Organization

Within a stable organization, group development likely will begin from the standpoint of previously established teams who are entering into or in the maintenance of Tuckman’s norming/performing stages. In these stages of development, the leader’s role is extremely important. The intended life cycle and purpose of the group will guide some of the development needs that the leader(s) will focus on.

For the leader that is outside the group, development will likely take a more hands-off approach, in which the leader serves in more of a delegating or supporting role. This leader should be less visible, providing the group with the opportunity to select their own processes, develop their own plans, and structure themselves accordingly to meet new and bigger needs.

The leader in this role, has the opportunity to encourage and promote growth and development within the group by providing consistent challenges that allow group members to move from areas of comfort into new and challenging tasks, skills, and processes. Further, in a stable environment, with a team that is already in the process of reaching the norming and performing stage, the leader through the supporting function found in Hersey and Blanchard’s model can serve as a mentor to the team, at large, and individuals, in particular, to make sure that they are personally having their needs for improvement met and are finding the group to be moving in the right direction.

In order to maximize the potential of a team, it is important that this leader encourages the group to set clear, consistent, and challenging goals. The leader will want to encourage the group to set their own challenging, yet attainable, goals and they seek to make sure that the obstacles are passable, in order for the group to find success.

Conclusion

The leadership styles needed in these organizations are as different as their situations themselves. As a group begins to become more formalized, and/or the environment becomes more stabilized, it is beneficial to slowly become less directive, and more supportive. This means being present and listening more than talking.

However, as the organization continues to stabilize, and the group reaches a heightened level of performance, the leader in order to encourage a greater level of development within the group, should step back – providing the group with a greater sense of autonomy. This movement provides the group the freedom to enact its own goals, processes, and plans. It invites them to take responsibility and be accountable for their actions, toward each other rather than toward some outside leader.

The group development process is certainly not a one-size-fits-all approach. Groups of differing purpose, tenure, and organizational environment should be led in different ways. The purpose in this case is to recognize the importance of approach when facing a stable, or unstable, organizational environment. Groups have the potential to accomplish great things when provided the needed direction and resources. It is imperative that leaders recognize that groups need varying amounts of direction and support based on their organizational environment and stage of growth.

Have specific issues you want to see addressed in the “Coaching Corner”?

The best laid plans…

You know that day when you get up early, you are raring to go and then…yep! Following my normal plan today, I got up early was ready for my day and then, well my plans went astray. My day got away from me and all of the writing that I had intended to do was no more than a blank page. But sometimes it is tougher than just a blank page, missed assignment, or a later start because of an alarm clock that didn’t go off. How do you deal with that?

Look, the reality is sometimes things are going to hit us like Alexander and Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day but it isn’t so much that it happens, but what you decide to do with it. Those days happen to us all. For some people, that bad day is a trigger for just about every bad habit in their book. For others, it is just a bump in the road that puts only the vaguest of imprints on their day. Plans are great, but they often will fail. The big question is how will you be ready to pick things up after they fall apart?

Success in life isn’t always the big things that we think they are, it is doing the small things well, even when the odds are against us.

How are you working to overcome even the bad days or the plans that have gone astray in your own life?Image

Speaking up.

Yesterday, I wrote in this space about the importance of not allowing a negative lens shape your view of others. In that post, I mentioned how it is our own thinking about others that often leads to conflict, rather than actual actions by that person. Perceptions, not reality. I believe that is very important for individuals to understand and live out. Today, though I want to look at the other hand of the conflict quarter and recognize its positive attributes.

Now, things can be categorized in two ways with this subject. The first is shown in the work of great activists like Dietrich Bonhoeffer have exposed that not standing up to speak against wrong, is evil – “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” This must be understood and embodied. Don’t say yes, by saying nothing and standing by. Sometimes confrontation is the only way to go – speak out against injustice and harm to others, don’t just stand by and let others be taken advantage of, and care for others in just the same way you would care for yourself.

The other way, is when people play the “yes man” role. This is the person who either is trying to get close to a boss or other person of influence and they feel the only real thing they can do is stroke the ego of that individual. We have all been around them before, right? One of the most telling caricatures of this archetype is Lefou in the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast. In that movie, Lefou plays the yes man (also sometimes known as a hype man) to Gaston the bully of the town. Gaston, as depicted in this movie, is quite full of himself and Lefou only serves to exacerbate that issue. He encourages the buffoonery and arrogance of his friend by failing to disagree or expose what are certainly ideas that can bring harm or are just plain stupid (seriously we would never had the terrible idea of kill the beast if at some point in time Lefou just told Gaston that he shouldn’t do something).

If you are connected to a person that only wants you around to confirm their ideas, opinions, and actions you need to find new connections. That is not healthy for you and it is not healthy for them. Don’t enable a person by letting them feast on their ego. You are worth far more as an individual when you learn to think for yourself and speak up based upon what you know (an aside on this, don’t let this be your license to act like you know everything – that is another BAD idea).

Have core values, stand for something, study what comes before you, and speak truthfully. Conflict may come, but it won’t likely be about personality (when you look at the good in others), but it will be based on ideas, processes, and evidence – discussion on these topics is positive as it causes each one of us to be improved. (Just don’t be this guy or the guy in this comic).Image

Think on these things

How often do we get that frame of mind when we are in the midst of conflict that the individual that we are “against” is just downright awful? When everything they do is just wrong, malicious, idiotic, etc.? How often do we judge and perceive their actions with a different standard than we apply to others? How many times have homes, offices, governments, etc. been destroyed by grudges, misunderstandings, unwillingness to listen, and closed thinking toward people and issues? Conflict is so rampant in our world (not that it is always bad, I contend along with many others that there is idea conflict and personality conflict, the latter being detrimental, the former being helpful) and it breaks down so many important relationships simply by the way we think about people.

There is a passage in the Christians Scriptures in which Paul, the Apostle, writes to a group of Christians who are in the midst of conflict (hold-out here if you don’t identify as Christian or religious, this is all about relationships). He identifies that conflict has been part of the framework of this group, and the particular conflict that they faced stems from selfishness and an unwillingness to think about others in a way that makes them an equal and valuable to the group.

Paul first shows examples of those that have been proven to be honored in their group through their selfless actions (as an aside, this is written into a collectivist culture, so honor and shame would be the primary factors for thinking about how people function according to accepted norms). This is intended to point people to a better way of living selflessly, then toward the end of his letter he says this:

“8 And now, brothers, as I close this letter, let me say this one more thing: Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned from me and saw me doing, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:8-9, TLB)Image

What would happen if we framed our thoughts about others from what is good about them (and in them) as opposed to the negative? What would happen to our homes, neighborhoods, businesses, government, etc? Can you imagine not looking at someone with a negative label? What if, through looking at, and for, the good in them you were able to totally reframe your relationship? Are you willing to take the step?

Start looking for the good, true and right in others. Find out what makes them who they are. Ask questions, be empathetic, and care about them.

What’s Your Story?

It is funny how many times in the last few weeks I have come across books that are all about story. I have I presently have two books on my desk about telling stories (see here and here), just finished an audio book about leadership via story, come across a few national organizations focused on telling stories (see here and here), and even recognized the growing TED talk channel devoted to storytelling, not to mention the oft-mentioned importance of the organizational narrative (see #5). So besides just the confluence of singular subjects that seem to find me, what is it about storytelling that seems to be making such a push recently?

Organizations that tell their story (both good and bad) and can connect past to present seem to be leaders (seriously, Apple’s story is one of the most compelling things about their entire brand). People that know how to communicate their story are often those that are in high-demand. Presentations that share a memorable story are much more likely to be remembered than those that simply present raw data. Why?

I believe that in our tech-heavy world in which the average attention span is somewhere between 15 seconds and “squirrel”, we are finding relief and release in returning to the use of story to connect. Story puts us in touch with something that is greater than ourselves. Regardless of how we view religion and spirituality, at our core we all crave something that is bigger than our limited existence. We want to feel connection, existence, struggle, success, fear, failure, and joy. We crave the opportunity to empathize, embody, and empower.

Story gives us a platform to do just that.

What stories are at the center of your world? How are you sharing them?Image

Sports: Where I First Fell in Love with Teamwork (Part 5 – The Fab Five)

Mergers and acquisitions don’t work. Statistics show that between 70 and 90% of them are categorized as failures. This seemed to be the case when a massive merger brought together a veteran squad of players and five young, highly touted men to the University of Michigan in the 1991-92 season, until they figured it out.

Long before Kentucky made a surprising run in this years’ NCAA Tournament where their group of Freshman led them to an almost National Championship, a group of Five, the Fab Five, fought even greater odds to fall short, just short (well they made it to the title game but were blown out by 20 points, so call it what you want). This was one of the most amazing seasons for any team as chemistry, leadership, and style of play were part of an ongoing battle for which identity would shape the team – from the moment the five youngsters made it to campus.

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While I wish I could tell the whole story, there is no point of trying to hit more than a few high points, if you don’t know the story or were too young read Mitch Albom’s The Fab Five (not only is the greatest chronicle of the team, it is one of the greatest basketball books in history – in my opinion). The story of recruitment, practice, transitions, and coaching are amazing. An overly confident, highly skilled group of players met with resistance and won (mostly).

Given that this is a blog about teamwork, I want to point to some things that I learned from The Fab Five:

Find people who believe in the mission.

It was Jalen Rose that made this team happen. Really it was. Once the Detroit native had committed he did everything in his power (no money jokes here MSU fans) to bring together the rest of the class. Growing up in Detroit, the son of a famous basketball player (though he didn’t really know his father till later in life), Rose loved Michigan. His friend and Detroit rival, Webber was stuck between Michigan and Duke. Howard, a Chicago native was a big catch, as were Texans Ray Jackson and Jimmy King. He was a recruiter and champion for the Michigan brand (and still is).

Rose bought in to the possibility that they could do something amazing. While most people look at Webber as the leader of that team, it is without a doubt Rose that set the tone for the swagger, confidence, and “us against the world” mantra that made the Fab Five what it was. He believed that it could happen and frankly he helped make it happen (well, almost).

Conflict can be tough at first, but often it can bring about a positive outcome.

If you read the story of what happened when the five freshmen first got on campus for basketball practice, you will understand this one. The 1988-89 team riding the wave of interim coach Steve Fisher, pulled off a major coup by winning the National Championship behind star performers Glen Rice, Rumeal Robinson, Loy Vaught, and Terry Mills. In 1989 most of the team returned except Rice. By the 1990-91 season all of the stars of that magic year were gone and a batch of players who had grown up under them underperformed and fell to a sub-.500 record. Even though they had solid players like Eric Riley, Michael Talley, Rob Pelinka, and James Voskuil who had all played big roles in earlier teams, the Fab Five came in with expectations for themselves to make their own mark on Michigan basketball.

Albom chronicles how the youngsters challenged the older players to a scrimmage early in the season, but the coaching staff was hesitant. Talley, Riley, Pelinka, and Voskuil could have (and all did at varying points in the season) started. But the brash youngsters pushed them hard and thus the team experienced a great deal of conflict.

It wasn’t until later in the season that it became apparent that the freshmen were all ready. Webber started every game, Rose started 33 of 34, Howard 31 of 34, King 21 of 34, and Jackson 15 of 34. When the momentum had swung to the younger guys the team truly gelled and began rolling. As they went 11-4 with the Fab Five starting together, the team began to embrace each other (even the former starters) and recognize the potential they could have when they were all moving in the same direction.

Establishing a consistent identity is of extreme importance, even if getting there is hard.

Often times, when people write about identity, they make it seem easy, however anyone who has agonized through a branding process knows that this is a very challenging issue. The Michigan basketball team that year had three separate identities. First was the coaching staff’s idea of the team, second was the veteran players’ idea of the team, and finally the freshmen’s idea of the team.

Ultimately this team is best known for its baggy shorts, black socks, and cocky attitude. Yet it was a merging together of the three ideas of the team that made them successful. Players like Riley, Talley, Voskuil, and Pelinka after struggling initially (as described in the previous section) ultimately embraced their roles and the minutes they received and played major roles in minor opportunities during that first run to the NCAA Finals.

Success brings buy-in.

When you win, people get on board. When you lose dissension can easily creep up. Michigan had a tremendous amount of talent that year, but it is likely that the internal squabbles early in the season actually brought the team together to the point that they could succeed as the season went along. It is said that girls have to be friends to fight for one another, but guys have to fight one another to be friends – that was exactly the case with this team. As they battled each other early, then battled other teams, they began to recognize the value and they became a team.

By the time the 1992-93 team took the floor, there was no doubt that this team was going to be good! Through the battles of the previous year, and the successes they found in them, all the players began buying in, not just to the Fab Five, but more importantly to the image of team that Coach Fisher was preaching. All total during the 3 years that at least 4 of the 5 guys were on campus, the won a total of 80 games and brought about a change in the way that Michigan was thought of in regards to basketball (sadly the Ed Martin scandal also tarnished that image leading to a long string of sub-par records before the recent uptick under John Beilein).

Maturity is important, even when the immature are the star performers.

The Fab Five were brash, overconfident, and really good. But it was the upper classmen who helped settle them down and give them perspective. Many times when individuals come into an organization as hotshots, they have never experienced failure. It often takes someone older and more mature to put failure in perspective. That is exactly what occurred as the older guys who had experienced both the great year of 1989-90 and the very poor season of 1990-91 were able to do.

They may no longer have been the stars, but they understood that they were being called on as mature mentors to help guide the process. This is an important and often undesirable position for people who have themselves enjoyed the spotlight. Rather than passing on the torch and helping to bring about a new era of success, they often balk at the chance and keep their learning to themselves. Talley, Riley, Pelinka, and Voskuil taught some great lessons during that time, cementing themselves as part of two of the most amazing seasons in Michigan basketball history. (Side note, Talley is now a teacher and coach, Pelinka is one of the top agents in the NBA, and both Voskuil and Riley had solid careers overseas).

So many other stories that could be shared, but these lessons are of tremendous value!

Sports: Where I First Fell in Love with Teamwork (Part 4)

It was the early 90s and Emilio Estevez was gracing the big screen as Gordon Bombay, the redeemed lawyer turned pewee hockey coach. Hockey was coming in to the collective conscience of the average American for the first time since the 1984 Miracle on Ice. The NHL was packed with stars like Gretzky, Lemieux (the good one, not Claude – the despised one), Messier, LaFontaine, Hull (Brett of course, not Bobby), Roenick, Jagr, Bure, Mogilny, Borque, Sakic, Oates, Robataille, Coffey, Belfour, Roy, Brind’Amour, and many others.

A generation of young hockey fans were being turned on to the sport that had long been housed only in the ice rinks of cold cities of the North and Europe with the emergence of the in-line skate as a recreational endeavor. During that same time span, the Detroit Red Wings were beginning their streak of making playoffs (1990-1991 season) that is the longest such active streak in sports.

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In the late 1980s, “Stevie Wonder” or “Stevie Y” had already emerged as a scoring sensation, but the team found itself quickly bounced from the playoffs and then alternating years in, and out of the playoffs (28 of 30 seasons in the playoffs, yep that is why they are widely considered to be one of the top organizations in all of professional sports), before Jaque Demers was canned and Bryan Murray was brought in with the expectation he would right the ship.

The organization took a major step forward heading into the 1991-92 hockey season as they added the tough, scoring winger Ray Sheppard to the already potent roster that included Sergei Federov (who prior to coming to the NHL played on a line for CSKA Moscow with Alexander Mogilny and Pavel Bure – amazing!), Shawn Burr, Vlad Konstantinov, and three young players Keith Primeau, Slava Kozlov, and Nik Lidstrom that would go on to have great careers. That year a young Tim Cheveldae minded the net with the team winning the Norris Division and having the 2nd best record in the NHL.

While the Mighty Ducks movie franchise was the inspiration for young players to get out and play street hockey, it was the teams of the time that sustained this interest. The top of the leagues were full of amazing combos, I remember watching with amazement at the way that Jagr and Lemieux confused defenders and crushed goalies, how Robitaille, Kurri, and Gretzky made up one of the most prolific scoring lines in NHL history, how Roenick and Chelios somehow made the Defenseman and Center combo work so well, and Messier, Leetch, and Gardner flooded the stats sheets. But it wasn’t these lineups that inspired me (well ok I did want to be like Jagr and Lemieux), it was Yzerman, Ysaebart, and Sheppard, that got me hooked.

Over the next few years as the Wings would gain steam, their team became a who’s-who of the NHL. In 1993 the ineffable Scotty Bowman (was that a bit too much, not when you think about what he started) manned the bench as the Red Wings looked to be on an upward trajectory. By 1992, Paul Coffey the amazing Defenseman from Pittsburgh had joined the mix, as well as the veteran grinder Dino Ciccarelli (who would serve as the hero for every kid who couldn’t skate well but clogged up the area right in front of the crease). In 1993 a young kid named Darren McCarty would break through the ranks, alongside the newly signed Kris Draper.

In 1994 things would really ramp up. That year, during a lockout shortened season, Mighty Ducks 2 was released and the Red Wings made the Stanley Cup Finals only to be swept by the NJ Devils in what would turn into a major rivalry for the next few years. The following year, the Russian Five (or the Red Army as they were sometimes called) would grace the ice together for the first time (Federov, Larinov, and Kozlov as the scorers with Fetisov and Konstantinov manning the blue line). This team would win the President’s Trophy but fall short of the ultimate goal by losing in the Conference Finals.

It was the 1996-97 season and the early seasons acquisition of Brendan Shanahan that finally turned Detroit into Hockeytown. From top to bottom this team was amazing. Stevie Y, the Russian Five, Shanahan, a resurgent Mike Vernon, old faithful Larry Murphy (another former Penguin defenseman), Lapointe, Lidstrom, Kirk Maltby, Tomas Sandstrom and others brought about a great mix of toughness and scoring that propelled the Wings to their first of back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships.

While I could go on forever about the masterful work done by Ken Holland (GM since the 1997 season and Assistant GM prior to that), focusing how he has been able to maintain excellence in the organization through two lockouts, the implementation of the salary cap, the retirement of star Captains, and the change of many of hockey’s rules; the key thing that sticks out is the way that they as an organization have been able to create identification with the people of Michigan.

A largely foreign-born, Caucasian group of players have held the interest of Detroit fans for over two decades. They have been recognized by various groups as the most professional organization, most fan friendly, best managed, and best scouting of any team in the NHL and even professional sports. The legend continues today as the Red Wings made the playoffs while playing much of the season without a smattering of their current stars including Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Stephen Weiss, Daniel Cleary, and Daniel Alfredsson.

The organization has been amazing in understanding its identity and creating a collective identity, all the while they have gone from being a Canadian heavy team, to a Russian heavy team, to a Swedish heavy team and on down the line. They have won with Demers, Murray, Bowman, Dave Lewis, and Mike Babcock as coach. They have 4 Stanley Cups championships, during the present 23 year streak, they have also won the President’s Trophy six times, and a division championship 13 times.

Stong leadership and vision at the top make the Red Wings a model organization for examination if you seek to establish a strong company culture, with continuity, and a shared identity. From the longtime owner, Mike Illitch, through the GM Ken Holland, and down to the various coaches and players that have shaped the image of the Wings for the last two-plus decades, the Wings are prime example of how a strong culture creates winners, and winning helps maintain a strong culture.

What other organizations in sports have been good models for our examination of leadership, teamwork, and culture?  

Sports: Where I First Fell in Love with Teamwork (Part 3)

Thirteen years ago, still reeling from the departure of the “next Michael Jordan” (honestly weren’t there about 6 or so of Air Apparents?) the Pistons made a bold move to go back to the red, white, and blue branding that had been so central to their back to back championships. With the former Finals MVP as the architect, the Pistons began a transformation project that early on look more like a reclamation effort than a restoration effort. They turned the reigns of the team over to former Boston player, who had most recently been an assistant with the Indiana Pacers.

This hire, along with the introduction of new Pistons, Chucky Atkins and Ben Wallace, brought about a change in identity to the Pistons. After seeing the Bad Boys era wane, the Pistons had embraced the MJ era of the NBA by trying to win with a team built around finesse and scoring. They had also recognized the value of rebranding and embraced a totally new look that fit with the wild color schemes of this era. Both decisions proved to lead to mediocre results.

In 2002, after a their first 50-win season since 1997, the Pistons brought in Chauncey Billups, traded their star Jerry Stackhouse for Rip Hamilton, and drafted a skinny kid from the University of Kentucky named Tayshaun Prince and an unknown Turkish Forward named Mehmet Okur. These moves bolstered a roster that also included veteran players with smarts and toughness like Clifford Robinson, Jon Barry, and Corliss Williamson.

Following another Central Division championship, but a tough playoff sweep to the NJ Nets in their first conference finals since the Bad Boys era, Dumars (now both President of Basketball Operations and GM) fired Carlisle and brought in the mercurial, but successful Larry Brown. As this team came together in 2004 the team boasted the same core, but also had added more fierce defenders in Darvin Ham, Mike James, Elden Cambell, and the newly returned Lindsey Hunter. The culture and attitude of the organization appeared set.

The season progressed with the Pistons inevitably coasting to what they hoped would be another 50+ win season, when on the NBA’s trade deadline, Dumars swung a deal to get Rasheed Wallace (who had just been traded earlier that week to the Atlanta Hawks). This deal created such a strong shock to the system that the Pistons went on a 20-4 run to finish the regular season. The era of Goin’ to Work had begun!  

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This Pistons squad would go on to win the 2004 NBA Championship, would lose in the 2005 NBA Finals, and in total would make the Eastern Conference Finals 7 straight years before eventually bottoming out. This rebirth of championship basketball in the D was built on an understanding of culture, fit, and teamwork.

When you examine the players that participated on this run, they largely bring with them a chip on their shoulder and a strong commitment to defense, instilled by the coaching of Rick Carlisle and Larry Brown. While most teams were trying to figure out how to bring together as many stars as possible, a la the Shaq and Kobe Lakers, the Pistons brought together castoffs who understood how to play a role and commit to being good teammates. They passed well, rebounded well, and certainly defended well, all while being tough and truly having great chemistry.

I remember living in the Suburban Detroit area during this time (where most of the Pistons players actually lived), it was not uncommon to see members of the starting five out together on the weekend hanging out, playing with their vehicles or going to their kids events. These guys truly enjoyed one another.

This group of players was one of the most enjoyable and frustrating groups I ever had the chance to witness. For all of their early buy in to culture and team, a few of these same players would ultimately bring about dissension, backbiting, and hostility that ended championship basketball in Detroit. For those that work in organizations, it is important to recognize that thinking a strong culture will lead an organization on its own is absolutely false. Culture is simply the outgrowth of leadership and teamwork. When these two areas lack, the wrong lessons and narratives will be cemented and things will inevitably fall apart.

The exciting, enjoyable, yet sad story of the Detroit Pistons (and I said it all without dealing with the pain that is Darko)!

Sports: Where I First Fell in Love with Teamwork (Part 2)

Yesterday, I opened this week long series on what I learned about teamwork from sport growing up in Southeast Michigan with a view on the Detroit Tigers magical run in 1984. Based on the conversations that arose from this post, I wasn’t the only one touched by this amazing team, manager, and season.Image

Today, the focus shifts to a team that was either loved, or hated, no in-between. If you were a fan of the Bulls, Celtics, Lakers, Bucks, 76ers, Bullets, Cavs, Hawks, or Trailblazers during the late 80’s and early 90’s you absolutely hated the Bad Boys. What is really odd about that statement is that this team had some really likeable people that were major contributors, including Chuck Daly who is one of the most respected coaches in NBA history (remember he was the coach of the first Dream Team), and Joe Dumars who was such a good example of sportsmanship that the NBA named their sportsmanship award after him.

How does a team with such highly respected professionals like Chuck Daly and Joe D become known as the Bad Boys? Recording fines from the NBA triple the amount of the next most fined team sure does help, especially when they come because of Bill Laimbeer, Isaiah Thomas, Rick Mahorn, Dennis Rodman, John Salley, and to a lesser extent Mark Aguirre and James “Buddha” Edwards. This team was the most physical, defensive-oriented team in the league for 1987-1991. Back when the NBA let teams play defense, and by defense I mean the no-blood-no-foul days, the Pistons were masters. They regularly agitated teams to their breaking point and caused retaliations by some of the league’s most notable players (i.e. Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge, Charles Barkley, Bill Cartwright, Brad Daugherty, and nearly the rest of the Eastern Conference).

This team personified the spirit of Detroit (as did the later Goin’ to Work Pistons which I will post on later). They were tough, blue collar in their approach, sometimes undersized (starting backcourt of Isaiah and Joe D was pretty short even in those days, add in Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson coming off the bench and they were pretty short, but boy were they good), and downright chippy! What was amazing was that while they were so different as people, they all rallied around the team identity to the point that they were able to take on one of the best archetypes for any epic “us vs. the world” and they were able to go out and win!

What amazed me as a kid was how even though Isaiah was a great player, and Joe D. was a Hall of Famer, it was the amazing ability for every player on that squad to play an important role.  They had six players in the 1988-89 season (this includes Dantley and Aguirre who were traded for one another halfway through the season), and every player that played real minutes on that team averaged at least 7 points a game. Even though they were known for their defense, their team FG% was .494 and they were a collective .769 from the Free Throw line. The following year the numbers were very similar. In both seasons in which they won the NBA Championship though, their numbers were league average in most categories. How did this team win?

The takeaway from the organizational perspective is that you don’t have to be the biggest, most expensive, flashiest, or most highly recognizable to be a winner. This team defined its purpose, recognized its goals, embraced their individual roles, understood who was leading them, and lived out their culture to great success. They were not the most loved, appreciated, or understood group, but they were a team that functioned together against the odds to become a historic team that is now remembered in documentaries.

Do you know your team, purpose, role, culture, and leaders? If not, don’t expect to succeed even with more money and flash than others.  

What did you learn from the Bad Boys?