GUEST AUTHOR BLOG: Sport Fans Got It Wrong by Joe Frontiera, Ph.D. and Dan Leidl authors of "Team Turnarounds: A Playbook for Transforming Underperforming Teams."
When their favorite teams are performing poorly, many sport fans dream about taking over day-to-day management. Fans are typically adamant that they’d do the job better – they’d get their team back on the winning track.
If you press these individuals on how, exactly, they’d get their teams to improve, there’s a good chance that their first actions involve player personnel. We need a new quarterback, a clean-up hitter, a three-point shooter to space the floor, a dominant athlete.
But what if fans have it wrong?
While no sane person would deny that players are important, the sport landscape is littered with teams comprised of incredibly talented players that can’t perform together at an elite level. In our research with owners and general managers in professional sport, and leaders of businesses of all sizes, one thing became apparent: leaders that change the fortunes of their teams first transform the culture. The results will soon follow.
For a recent example, look no further than the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. Between 2003 and 2010, the 49ers accrued only 46 wins against 82 losses, and never had a winning season. Shortly after a disappointing 2010 campaign, the 49ers promoted Trent Baalke to the General Manager position. By all accounts, Baalke was incredibly hard working scout and an excellent talent evaluator. He quickly reached out to Jim Harbaugh, then the coach of Stanford University, with the hopes of filling the head-coaching void. Harbaugh was a former NFL player known as a “grinder” for his hard work and intensity, and three days into Baalke’s career as General Manager, Harbaugh accepted the job.
Soon, Baalke and Harbaugh looked to fill the holes on their roster. But they didn’t look for the best players available. Rather, they looked for the best players that shared their values – hard-workers who had a team-first mentality. Those two core values – hard work and team first – began to define the 49ers culture, and were preached and lived by executives and coaches alike.
Over the course of the season, the 49ers began to be known around the league as an intense, hard-working group that didn’t give up. Players at all positions contributed, and were quick to credit the entire team for any success. Players even began to wear blue-collar work shirts to the practice facility, symbolizing their new ethos, and quietly went about their workouts.
The 49ers competed, in large part, with the many of the same players that had been with the organization through its recent, darker days. The core group of players, the very ones who couldn’t put together a winning season in past years, went on to win 13 games against only 3 losses in 2011. The 49ers earned a bye in the first round of the playoffs, won their second playoff game in exhilarating fashion, and their season ended in the NFC championship game against the eventual Super Bowl champions.
Professional sport provides a clear window into business.
The product is the team, and a team’s performance is visible, exposed, out in the open for all to see. When poor teams focus only on personnel, they often fail to address the core issues. And instead address the symptoms. With underperforming teams, whether in business or sport, values have often been lost or become clouded, and as a result the broader culture is tainted. Employees know that they’re supposed to perform, but they have no guidelines for how they’re supposed to do it. Clear values provide those guidelines, and leaders who are adept at turning around organizations are both clear on their own values and how to effectively communicate them to the rest of the group.
In "Team Turnarounds," you'll learn from first-hand accounts of sport turnarounds, from the legendary worst-to-first sports stories of the Indianapolis Colts and the Philadelphia Eagles, to business turnarounds at Domino's Pizza , Juniper Networks , iContact, and the Broadway musical, Spider-Man, to government turnarounds like Michigan’s current drive to fix its ailing economy.
"Team Turnarounds" aims to show how any team can ascend to the top.
Joe Frontiera, Ph.D. and Dan Leidl are authors of "Team Turnarounds: A Playbook for Transforming Underperforming Teams."The are managing partners of Meno Consulting, a firm that specializes in team and leadership development. Based in Washington, DC, they are columnists for WashingtonPost.com and have PhDs in sport psychology from West Virginia University. For more details, go to www.teamturnarounds.com