What Does It Take to Build a Great Team Year after Year?

People & Strategy, Spring 2018 | Go to article overview

What Does It Take to Build a Great Team Year after Year?


Sports metaphors get overused in business. Further complicating matters, we often draw the wrong lessons from sports: that a good halftime speech can overcome poor fundamentals, a toxic culture, or a lack of clarity. At the same time, high-performing athletic teams do offer strong parallels to high-performance business teams, and sports is also a business. What are the most applicable lessons we might draw from those whose careers have been spent grappling with what fit means to build and lead great teams? Executive Roundtable Editor David Reimer and colleague Sonja Meighan recently posed that question to five successful coaches and leaders from the National Football League, Women's National Basketball Association, American Hockey League, as well as a legendary high school basketball coach and author.

Participants

Roy Sommer

* Head Coach, American Hockey League's San Jose Barracuda

* All-time AHL winningest coach with over 700 wins

* 2017 AHL coach of the year and 1996 ECHL coach of the year

Cheryl Reeve

* Head Coach, WNBA's Minnesota Lynx

* Most coaching wins in franchise history, including guiding the Lynx to their first championship ever

* 2011 WNBA coach of the year

Gus Alfieri

* Noted sports author and former high school basketball coach

* Authored definitive book on NBA great, Joe Lapchick

* Coach of two-time New York State basketball champion teams

Amy Trask

* Former CEO ofNFL's Oakland Raiders

* Currently a host on CBS Sports Network

* Author of the book You Negotiate Like a Girl detailing her experience as an executive in the NFL

Bob Wallace

* Former EVP and General Counsel with the NFL's St. Louis Rams

* Worked for three NFL teams over 35 years

* Partner of the law firm Thompson Coburn LLP where he chairs the Sports Law Group

Kevin Warren

* COO of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings

* Worked in the front office of the NFL's St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions

People + Strategy: How important is having a system for building a successful team?

Cheryl Reeve: I think it's more than a system. An identity is what I tend to move toward. You need to be clear in who you want to be on the court. Many times I watch teams play and I don't know what their identity is. The most successful teams are clear in how they define themselves.

Roy Sommer: I'll build on that. The system is one part of helping the players form an identity. Our identity is our fore-check, and we get pucks in behind. We are tenacious down low, and we have really good goal tending. We have learned to play a scrappy game as opposed to being a skills team.

Amy Trask: Ultimately, a system should never trump the people who are part of the team. It is a constant source of irritation and perplexity when I see a coach force his or her talent into a scheme for which the team is not suited, as opposed to building a scheme that best maximizes the talent he or she has that will put the talent in the best situation to succeed.

Roy: It is critical that your system be flexible. I have had to tweak my system to match the players I have in a given season.

Bob Wallace: I always go back to Don Shula of the Miami Dolphins. When he had David Woodley as quarterback, they played a pounding run game. However, when he got Dan Marino as quarterback, he realized he had a special thrower. He adapted his system and rebuilt the offensive scheme around the talent. This is how you build consistency. Don't get so stubborn in your view and force-feed it to your players.

Amy: The best coaches best position their talent to best maximize their skills. This also applies in the business world. Look at your talent and do what is best for the people in your organization to maximize your talent, while also seeking people who have the talent you need. …

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