Why Unstructured Time Might be the Best Thing to Happen to Your Organization

ImageFrederick Taylor and Henri Fayol each were responsible for developing a new way forward for labor. Fayol and Taylor were both responsible for much of the improvement in thinking about how work was accomplished in late-1800s through the mid-1900s. Many of the improvements for organizing a workforce into producing consistent, replicable work in industry can be attributed to their improvement of Henry Ford’s assembly line. Both of these engineers developed new concepts for management, of which some still can be found in operation today.

Why the history lesson? Today’s worker is all too often bound to a physical building, desk, or even phone by many of the management improvements of an era 80 to 150 year old. We still have the concept of the 40+ work week, time cards, and even office management that was perfect for industry but is largely out of place in the present technological, mind-oriented work world.

One of the saddest by-products of this overly rigid, out of step with what should be reality, work existence that many people live is that we constantly face burnout, disengagement, and apathy. One suggestion that seems to present an alternative to this chained-to-your-desk, time-card-punching functioning of previous generations is the institutional embrace of unstructured time.

You can read about the concept and its effects here, here, here, and here. The reality is that this unstructured time rather than being responsible for Facebook wandering and blog-rolling is often responsible for tremendous innovation in organizations. When you give people autonomy, resources, and support, it is amazing what they can come up with.

How would unstructured time impact your own workplace?

[Coaching Corner] Pay Attention to these 4 Gaps to Overcome Prolonged Organizational Ineffectiveness

Sitting at your desk, couch, table, or preferred reading spot, you probably find yourself like many others wondering when the economy will fully turn around. In fact, you, like many others in similar situations, might actually have just been thinking about the difference between where your organization exists now and where you know it could be in the future. The good news is, you recognize there is a gap between what is and what could be. What if the beginning of the end of this organizational turmoil began with examining how you recruit and retain individuals and how you plan for the future, today!

In the present extended economic downturn, all organizations are facing tremendous challenges, internally and externally. One primary area of discomfort resides in your human resource capabilities. Right now, you are facing stiffer competition for every job posting due to a flood of un- and under-employed workers. This has allowed you and your competition to the opportunity to overly specialize openings, as with a bevy of individuals, you can easily weed out the masses to fit your needs. In part due to these changes, as well as the greater availability of continuing higher education, more individuals are taking advantage of their lull in employment and accessibility of higher education to engage in programs of learning and development.

Sounds like a golden opportunity for organizational growth, right? Well if you don’t adapt your organizational practices, it may simply be fool’s gold! While on one hand this might seem to be the perfect storm (think – greater pools of candidates with increasingly better capabilities), the other hand might be hiding a great potential for continued organizational despair.

If you, and your organization, fail to enact new strategies to adapt to the new economic realities, better candidates certainly will not be the magic wand to cure your ailments. The pace of change in the present economy, make necessary that you conduct thorough and forward-thinking gap analyses, or else the hiring of new individuals could actually exacerbate your organization’s downturn by costing you more money to onboard, people that in the end will become discontented with stagnant or outdated strategies.

Think about it, presently you (if you are responsible for recruiting or retaining employees) probably faced with stacks of resumes and pages of emails with resumes and cover letters. Your job is to cull through the carnage to find the person that best duplicates what you lost when the previous employee left the organization. Yet, is that really the best tactic? Does filling a present need (or even a previous need, in some situations) really help your organization turn into an industry leader?

Noted scholars on organization diagnostics, Harrison and Shirom (1999) note, that when decisions are made regarding closing current gaps, such framework can be tremendously short-sighted and miss the future needs in the environment. Which really begs the question, do you want to go where you already have been, or do you want to lead the future?

If you want to lead, it is imperative that you engage your organization in preparation for diagnosis and dialogue. Examine your present and anticipated future. Ask members of your organization, including executives, what they see as a long-term destination of the organization and do this prior to enacting hiring practices.

So where do you start? HRD experts, Gilley, Eggland, and Gilley (2002) note that organizations should examine potential gaps in four places to best prepare for the future: need gaps, performance gaps, management gaps, and organizational gaps.

Need Gaps – In the present economy, many organizations easily fall prey to simply trying to ‘replace’ outgoing workers with those that duplicate lost skillsets. However, when organizations examine need gaps in their personnel, it will better allow for adapting to the present and future climate. In many organizations, this means a greater emphasis must be placed on training for new skills, knowledge bases and abilities for current and future organizational needs. It is expected when these needs gaps are analyzed and endeavors are created to close these gaps the organization will have organizational members who have expertise in areas of greatest importance to the success of the organization.

Performance Gaps – Your organization probably has experienced one of the realities of the open systems framework – loss of energy within the confines of a system. In most organizations, this loss occurs simply due to poorly developed or maintained performance systems. Such gaps in performance may result from poor job designs, salary and reward structures that don’t meet the needs of high performing organizational members, and even poor realization of barriers to performance (both internal and external) in a work environment.

Management/Leadership Gaps – While bookstore shelves are covered with books on improving management and leadership ‘techniques’ many organizations still suffer from gaps between expectations (or expectations for the future) and current management and leadership behaviors. It is no longer acceptable for managers and organizational leaders to lack the important ‘soft skills’ in this knowledge economy. Organizations must prepare for the future by hiring and developing individuals throughout the organization that communicate well, listen effectively, dialogue with individuals at all levels of the organization, and facilitate the development of others. This means that organizations must examine their investment in training and development of organizational members, as well as the examples set by those at the executive level.

Organizational Gaps – This may be the largest and most overlooked area of need in gap analysis. Many organizations suffer from misfit between personnel and technology, personnel and organizational structure, technology and environment, environment and strategy, etc. While obviously a potential strain on resources, particularly in the present economic slowdown, conducting a full organizational gap analysis can actually save time, money, key organizational members and stress and strain in the long run. Too often, organizations continue to function with low levels of adaptability and reflection even as the environment, personnel, product/service, etc. changes. It is imperative that organizations not only enact, but encourage a continual analysis of organization-wide gaps in order to stay prepared for the future.

Your organization cannot afford to simply duplicate past performances, nor can you simply replace outgoing employees in filling present and future job openings. If expectations exist for increases in future performance throughout the organization, a greater level of inquiry into the present and intended outcomes related to the needs, performance, management and organization must be conducted. Strategic preparation and design cannot be wishful thinking if growth and increased performance are desired. Begin to think big, be creative, and ask the tough questions of yourself and your organization.

If quick fixes worked, wouldn’t more things already be fixed?

Truth be told, they often make me laugh. Until they make me sad. Quick fixes have been the rage for generations. Think about it, if those get rich quick ideas actually worked wouldn’t more people be rich? If those weight loss programs actually helped people lose weight and keep it off, don’t you think more people would be slim and obesity wouldn’t be such an issue in our country?

It is attributed that Philip Stanhope, former Earl of Chesterfield, once said “anything worth doing, is worth doing well.” Yet, that bring so much of the quick fix, band-aid orientation of our present culture into question.

How many leaders are searching for 3 simple steps to huge turnarounds in their organizations? How many entrepreneurs are looking for the 5 things that will suddenly make them millionaires? How many church leaders have bought into the notion that these 7 things will suddenly transform your church into a mega-church? The answer is too many!

All too often we settle for easy when true success means extra work. We fail to ask the question behind the question. We aren’t willing to invest our time and energy in the things that really have impact and because of that we are constantly looking for the next silver bullet.

What goals do you want to accomplish this year? How are you working to meet those goals?


The San Antonio Spurs and the Myth of the Small-Market Loser

If you have been reading this blog for more than a minute, you recognize that this blogger loves teamwork, sports, organizations, leadership, and humility – and it is like my birthday when all of these topics collide!

As much as I wish I could say that this article was about the resurgence of my hometown Pistons, as they won the NBA Draft Lottery – oh wait, that didn’t happen. Well at least we kept our first round pick and will be able to still field a growing young team. Wait, that didn’t happen either? Well, at least the Cavs didn’t get to move up again. No? That did happen, they actually “won” the lottery for the 3rd time in 4 years (and this time with a 1.7% chance)? REALLY???? – sorry about that digression, it might be a little bitterness in my system this morning, ok enough about this, today I want to point out just how amazing the San Antonio Spurs are.Image

Within professional sports, one of the constant myths is that teams in the large markets are always the winner. This myth was largely built in the 1980s and 1990s when LA, NY, Chicago ruled professional sports. But in the present environment of league-wide TV deals, social media exposure, and salary caps (in all sports but baseball – though spending more money doesn’t even guarantee things there, just ask the Yankees, Mets, and Phillies of the last few seasons).

An amazing thing happened way back in 1987, the San Antonio Spurs, a team that was one of four ABA teams given “expansion rights” by the NBA to join their league only 11 seasons prior, drafted a 4-year player from Navy named David Robinson. The following year, the team added two assistant coaches to the staff of Larry Brown, R.C. Buford and Gregg Poppovich. In 1993 Peter Holt, the owner of the largest Caterpillar dealership in the United States came on as a part-owner (attaining majority shares of the team later). Then after a horrific 1998 season saw the firing of the head coach and the General Manager (Poppovich) stepping in as the interim coach, the Spurs won the NBA Draft Lottery and drafted Tim Duncan, 4 year player out of Wake Forest University. The primary pieces were in place to form one of the greatest most consistent franchises in all of professional sports.

These Spurs, with an owner who has made his mark with a values-based focus on business, a GM and Coach who have successfully built a roster and coaching staff with underappreciated names, who are well-trained, and fit their organization have become the standard bearer in the NBA. They have won 4 championships since 1999-99 season (the most by any team during this 15 year time frame), making the Western Conference Finals 9 times in that span, and never falling below a .610 win percentage each year (averaged 57 wins a season during that span), and never missing the playoffs. This is all being accomplished as the smallest of the three Texas cities represented in the NBA, and the 4th smallest market of any NBA franchise.

So how do they do it? They win as an organization! Name a player on the team that has ever established a me-first attitude during this era? When is Poppovich a distraction to the team? When does Buford blow a draft-pick (without at least flipping that person in a later deal), what free agents do they bring in that don’t fit? How?

Identity! They know who they are. They know what they want to accomplish, and they find players who fit that type of culture, regardless of personal background (last year they had 10 international players to start their season on a 15-man roster). They win, but they do it with class and with teamwork. If the Red Wings are the class of the NHL, the Spurs are certainly the class of the NBA!

Could 2014 mean another ring for this elite franchise?

Why do some organizations “get it” and others don’t?

What are the bedrock values in your organization? Do you hire based on values? Does everyone from the CEO through the rest of the organization understand these values?

3 Lessons I learned from packing: An exercise in the oft-overlooked portions of life.

In August of this year, my family will be making a large relocation for the second time in the last half decade. Five years ago, we made a move from the Mid-Michigan region to Richmond, VA (a place that I had never even visited prior to our move) for my wife’s PhD program at Virginia Commonwealth University. This place has become our home, our friends here have become family. Yet, the realities of crunch time have set in and packing has to occur.

I started thinking as I was filling boxes recently that packing brings about an interesting exercise in engaging some of the most overlooked portions of our lives. Packing causes us to do 3 important things.

1)      Remember – Looking through your closet, storage space, or any other location allows you to come across memories that are often hidden from the normal day-to-day activities of life. I know that every time I begin to pack the items I place into boxes carry memories with them. Some of them are joyous, funny, or even painful, but often times it takes something like packing to recall our own story.

2)      Be curious – As a child this was my issue. Every time I was told to clean up my room, it would actually lead me to play with the things that had just been lying around. As an adult, this same curiosity influences how I pack. Whether the item I see is a book I never got around to reading, a piece of technology that was packed away, or even something that had long ago fallen behind my dresser – packing affords me an opportunity to see what things are and how they function even if I don’t ever recall my original decision to purchase them.

3)      Downsize/Evaluate – Yes. This is the least enjoyable part of the lessons learned. Sometimes it takes moving a home, or even packing up after the loss of a family member to let go of the “things” in our lives. I have moved so many times over the past 15 years that I have some things that never make it out of boxes between moves. Do I really still need them? What about things that are of value to me, are they stored or on display? Packing is a great time for evaluating what is important in your life.

Image(funny, but true…)

These are great, but tough lessons that often times can only come from packing. They allow us to reflect, imagine, and evaluate how things are going in our lives!

Any interesting stories of things that you have learned through packing or moving? Any cool discoveries?

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.


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.


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”?

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 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.


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!  


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?