— November 14, 2017
I admit it—I’m not a huge basketball fan. But as a manager, a coach, and a San Francisco resident, I can’t help but want to unpack the success of the Golden State Warriors over these last few years. Let’s face it, they’re unstoppable—a true force to be reckoned with and a jaw-dropping example of what I’d call a high-performance team.
And that didn’t happen by accident—far from it. Steve Kerr came in as a rookie coach with one singular focus: strength in numbers. “The reason why the Warriors were able to prevail and have reached new heights,” writes A Team of Leaders author Paul Gustavson, “is that they are a great team that is truly a team of leaders.”
How the Warriors are Changing—and OPTIMIZING—the Game
The end result? The Warriors fundamentally changed the way the game is played by optimizing for each individual position. Writes Gustavson, “Right from the beginning, Kerr emphasized the importance of teamwork and that the players would have to subjugate their own personal aspirations for the sake of the team.” And that meant the focus was “Not getting the maximum amount of minutes, not scoring the most points, not grabbing the most rebounds, not getting the highest paying contract…but winning.”
This optimization happens right down to the individual player and position. Adds ASU’s David Lee, the Warriors are “emulating the way basketball is played in pickup games in gyms and on playgrounds around the country,” rather than the “traditional” professional approach. “The Warriors utilize a center and four, highly skilled players who are competent at multiple positions and can adjust their role depending on the conditions of the game. While players still have specific assignments, they can all take the lead or drop into support as necessary.” This approach paired with their unparalleled technology and systems—everything from a six-camera motion-tracking SportVU to player-worn monitors that track pressure on their knees and ankles—has pushed the Warriors to an entirely new optimization echelon. And it’s paying off in a big way.
Be a WARRIOR in Business
Not only is it exciting to watch the Warriors in action, but there are endless lessons business leaders, managers, and HR insiders can draw from this powerhouse team. Right out of the gate, it’s clear the Kerr understands the different players on his team—and that he makes sure those players understand their role as well as the high-level objective they’re all focused on: winning—even if that meant “players would have to subjugate their own personal aspirations for the sake of the team.” (Gustavson)
It’s exactly what we do—or need to do—in business. We need to focus on optimizing our own players, creating high-performance teams defined by new and different skills that, together, make the cohesive unit competitive, knowledgeable, and uniquely skilled. That means digging into how they interact, complement one another, and move as a unit so they can leverage their ability and their teammates’ abilities to create winning combinations.
The team, then, isn’t an entity unto itself but, instead, the middle of the circle. And, as the manager, you’re managing the entire circle—the middle and all the individual players who surround it and feed into it. For me, that’s where the real meat of management comes into play. Because there’s nothing I love more than seeing how the full system works together. That’s where I see my opportunity for growth and my team’s opportunity for growth and, for me, it’s exciting—it’s exciting to see things taking shape as a team comes together and it’s exciting to personally be expanding into an area that’s evolving by the minute.
Managing Your High-Performance Team
Granted, having a high-performance team isn’t your permission to flip things on autopilot—far from it. These teams, often, require more hands-on support and guidance than “normal” teams since things are constantly in motion. Your job, then? Try to understand your individual team members’ values and motivators, then manage to those strengths.
The good news? There are plenty of tangible exercises to help you nail down these traits and behaviors. The Clifton StrengthsFinder, for example, is a popular one in the tech space. This simple, web-based assessment helps individuals uncover their hidden traits and talents—which, from a managerial perspective, can help you better motivate your colleagues and inspire them to that next level and beyond.
The Power of the Coach-as-Manager
It’s also important to take a page from the Steve Kerr playbook and not just manage but coach. The most successful teams have managers who “see coaching as an essential tool for achieving business goals,” writes Harvard Business Review. “They are not coaching their people because they are nice—they see personal involvement in the development of talent as an essential activity for business success.”
By coaching, you’re overcoming some of the most common manager/employee challenges. One in particular? Showing someone how to do something versus giving them the freedom to manage challenges and work toward goals. Too often, managers give their team goals and objectives, then walk them through exactly what they need to do to get there—as in, a step-by-step outline that leaves nothing to chance…or creativity.
While it’s good to share goals and make sure everyone’s moving individually and collectively toward them, it’s important to let your team figure out how to work through their own business challenges and objectives. A high-performance team can look at a problem or a goal in the distance and work through who has the capacity and capability to figure it out. And that’s what wins championships—or contracts or conversions or click-throughs…
It’s another reason the manager-as-coach approach is so compelling. Empower people to figure out problems on their own and they’ll naturally assume more ownership over the process and the results. In general, people are more motivated, work harder and produce better results when they’re engaged in this type of management process versus a more dictatorial or micromanaging process—a process where, sure, they might produce results but only because they’re following precise marching orders with no room for variation.
What’s interesting, though, is many managers think they’re coaching but, in reality, most tend to fall more on the micromanagement side. And it makes sense—it’s easier to simply tell people what to do and how to do it. It takes less time, it’s more likely to produce the results you’re looking for and you don’t need to invest much effort or energy digging in and working through the steps. Easier still? To jump in and try to do the work for them, especially if the process starts to slow down or break down. But it’s important not to—it’s important to remember you aren’t the only one who can problem solve, troubleshoot, and goal set. If you have a bigger objective to accomplish, there could be 10 different ways to get there. Let your team get there on their terms.
Whether you think you do or don’t, it’s important to take a step back and really assess your processes openly and honestly—even ask your team if you’re comfortable. Again, it’s easy to fall into the non-coaching approach but to think you’re coaching. So pump the brakes. Take a hard look at everything. Ask yourself if you’re micromanaging or dictating or, even, doing the work for your team. By understanding where you are on the spectrum and how your employees view your management and coaching systems you’ll be able to determine how to crank things up and drive better performance. In other words, how to achieve that high-performance team.
The Results of a High-Performance Team
Not only does this approach help overcome performance issues, strengthen top-down communication and boost productivity while reducing churn, it also feeds back into the point above—playing to employees’ strengths. There’s a natural empathy that evolves in a coach/mentor scenario and “this empathy allows the coaching manager to build an understanding of what each employee needs and appropriately adjust his or her style” (HBR). Again, it’s about understanding your teammates’ individual motivators and helping better inspire them toward success.
The results? With a high-performance team in place, they speak for themselves. Employees who are coached and who don’t just see but push toward the big picture goals—the team-first goals—have valuable skills they can apply to not just their jobs but their long-term career paths. And because they feel supported and heard by management, they’re more likely to hunker down and commit—commit to the team, the project, the manager and the company—now and in the future. It’s a win/win—the longer your team stays happy, productive, in-sync and in place, the better the performance, the better the results, and the better the overarching satisfaction on all sides. It’s the Warriors—just a little bit off the court.