point to the passer

by mch on November 19, 2008

Building effective teams can be difficult in any business.  Developing a culture of unselfishness can be even harder.  Both of these cultural dynamics are important to promote if you’re trying to build an environment in which the business’ success is more important than the success of each individual.  Whether in a mission-based organization or in a booming profit-driven business, teamwork is essential to galvanizing a group and moving them towards success.

But how do you build a sense of team in a hierarchy?  One department head or one lead salesperson might bring in the majority of the profit or have the most public success.  Similarly, in sports, one player might score the most points and be deemed the most valuable player.  

Dean Smith, head coach of UNC’s basketball team from 1961-1997, saw the same challenge in building his basketball team.  In the book The Carolina Way, coach Smith emphasizes the importance of the contributions of all players of the team.  He writes:

In basketball, it’s not unusual to praise the leading scorer and all him the game’s most important player.  It’s easy for anyone to look at the box score and say “Wow, John scored twenty-eight points.  He was great.”  Well, somebody had to throw John the ball, set screens for him to get open, play defense so he could get the ball back, throw the ball inbounds for him.  John gets credit for points scored, but how about the others who made it possible?

Coach Smith goes on to describe how, early in his career, he wanted a visible indicator that UNC’s coaches and players recognized and appreciated a good pass that led to a basket.  They asked the players who scored baskets to point to the player who made the pass that led to the basket, “to show appreciation for the unselfish act that helps the team.”

Coach Smith believes that helping everyone feel appreciated for his (or her) contribution makes for a stronger team.  I agree that it does, and it fosters everyone’s commitment to the success of the whole group or team because it satisfies each contributing individual’s need for personal gratification.  Rewarding our top players or top performers certainly supports them in their continued success, but how to you build a network of successful performers at all levels (not just the top of the hierarchy) if you don’t identify the array of contributions that lead to success?

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Sachi November 22, 2008 at 7:19 pm

Every blog needs a UNC reference. :) Great post. An opinion coming from a project manager who was always “passing” to salespeople who got all the rewards, and I do mean All. I never expected recognition from the sales group, but I did expect salespeople to treat those who worked on my projects, from which salespeople directly benefited, with respect and a bit of gratitude. It rarely happened.

No one realized how much harder that made it to get a group to do great work again. And so…a less-productive culture is reinforced.

It’s interesting to think about what an occasional Thank You, at all levels, can mean to future performance.

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