What Kind of Culture are You Creating?

In Adam Bryant’s book Quick and Nimble, he shares the following excerpt from an interview with Mike Sheehan, CEO of Hill Holliday advertising agency:

“I think that there are two kinds of cultures and then you can subdivide after that…One is based on a foundation of insecurity, fear, and chaos, and one is based on a firm platform where people come to work and they’re worried about the work. They’re not worried about things that surround the work are not important. If leadership doesn’t provide a forum for that kind of stuff, it dies quickly. People forget about it and they just focus on doing their job.”

chaos or clarityThis statement goes to the very core of what is happening in organizations. Organizations that have positive cultures focus on and celebrate “positive deviance”. These organizations hire with their values in mind and assure that those brought into the organization not only can “deal with” the values but are in alignment with these values.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, organizations with an average to subpar organizational culture suffer from shortsighted planning. They bring in people simply to based on their skills, without an eye to culture and person-organization fit. These organizations tend to give space for personal conflict, inevitably giving credence to chaos and dissension as they believe avoidance is the key to seeing problems go away.

Positive organizational cultures don’t simply happen by accident. They are the outflow of leadership and teamwork, cultivated with discipline, built through trustworthy consistency, and demonstrated by personal example. If you are uncomfortable with the leadership being exemplified in your organization look at the pattern being established by those in positions of leadership, it is likely that what they do, celebrate, or promote (implicitly as well as explicitly) is exactly what is seen within your organization.

Don’t believe me, look no further than the mess that is the NFL!

Teamwork Required: Expanding the Focus

Here at teamworkdoc.com, this has largely been a one-man show. How awkward, right? A website devoted to teamwork being run by a single individual. That is changing. Starting yesterday. Yesterday, the rollout for the change began – less of just me, more of us!

This website is all about how people work – together! The intention is to look at a part of the world that is often overlooked in our “me-centric” society and to shine the light on the strengths, shortcomings, and opportunities for the road ahead.

In order to accomplish this, new articles will be showing up targeting teamwork through the lens of sports, education, parenting, culture, military service, and a host of other avenues.

Again, this is about the “us” being more than the “me”. If you have suggestions or would like to participate as a guest writer, please contact me at todd@teamworkdoc.com.

Stay tuned as things grow!

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?