Building Your Own Olympic “Dream Team”
The opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games takes place this evening, kicking off more than two weeks of exciting competition involving the world’s best athletes. As an avid basketball fan, I am most interested in seeing if the U.S. Men’s basketball team can win a third consecutive gold medal. With NBA stars Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving on the team, the United States enters the Olympics as one of the most heavily-favored teams in any sport.
It is easy to take this level of success for granted. In the 2004 Olympic Games, a U.S. team comprised of future NBA Hall of Famers Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Tim Duncan failed to make the championship game after an upset loss to Argentina in the semi-finals. This loss forced USA Basketball to make wholesale organizational changes. One of the most critical changes was hiring legendary college basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski in 2005. According to many current and former players, Krzyzewski’s leadership skills and coaching acumen are responsible for the gold medals won in 2008 and 2012.
Krzyzewski wrote a book in 2010 (The Gold Standard: Building a World-Class Team) that explores the leadership choices and challenges he faced when rebuilding the U.S team. In reading this book, several pieces of advice resonated with me and my own work in organizational teams:
- “You do not select a team; you select a group of people and then work together to develop into a team.” Leaders must take the time to figure out which experiences and expertise is needed on the team. However, even with the right people identified, it takes additional effort to form a cohesive, effective group.
- “Whether your team’s mission is preceded by failure or success, you have to have a complete comprehension of your current situation before you can improve upon it.” Many teams are formed in response to organizational failures or gaps. However, even teams with a long history of success must have a shared understanding of past performance in order to set goals for the future.
- “Communication brings about trust. One facilitates the other.” Having open communication is crucial to the development of successful teams. Teams must have time to form a common internal language and identify standards for how teammates should communicate with one another.
- “When leaders make clear their willingness to change, it establishes an environment in which everyone can be comfortable adapting.” Krzyzewski was a championship coach before accepting the U.S. job and could have easily forced his new team to accept his normal leadership style. Instead, he tailored his coaching style to accentuate the strengths of the individuals on his team. This flexible approach gave him real credibility with his players.
A common theme that emerges from these quotes is that building successful teams takes time and attention. Simply having the patience to allow relationships to strengthen over time is a critical leadership skill that is often overlooked.
Enjoy the Olympics!