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Clear Expectations

As I have alluded to before in other blog posts, one of my daughter’s favourite past times is playing basketball. She started playing on a team/in league last year and has thoroughly enjoyed it ever since. Now that we are ¼ of the way into the new season, it has become obvious to me what the differences are between the team she was on last year vs. this year – and it is astounding. In fact, I can compare it to what you often see in the workplace when it comes to teams, leadership and performance expectations. Here is what I am getting at:

Last year, the team she was on had a fair amount of talent. That is, the majority of the players had a certain skill level (high) when it came to their ability to shoot and dribble. They understood the game, the concepts, how offence and defense was supposed to work, etc.; however, they were a very dysfunctional team. No one wanted to pass, everyone wanted to make the highlight real shot and there was a poor team dynamic on the bench. Players fought, ostracized weaker players, formed cliques (yes – on a 12 person team!) and generally did not enjoy themselves. In fact, it is probably fair to say that the team didn’t improve much over the year and realistically, they probably got worse as other teams in the league got better over time.

Performance ImageOne of the root causes was the leadership of the team. Now please don’t take this as picking on volunteer coaches as I realize they have a tough job to do (I do it myself) but this is an HR blog so I need to make a point here! The coaches of the team traditionally coached higher level and older boys’ basketball teams. So while the coaching principles and approach they utilized with sixteen year old boys worked; the same approaches did not work so well for a group of 10 year old girls. The teaching approaches and methods weren’t tailored towards the skill level of all the girls on the team. For example, high level concepts were introduced before the team had grasped simpler (basic) concepts and while the coaches stressed the importance of passing, there was never a focus on training in this area and certainly no reward/recognition for those that bought into the concept, nor was their “performance management” (i.e. less playing time) for those that refused to pass.

In short, there were no clear performance expectations of any type set by the coaches so week in and week out the girls just showed up, played the game and went home. In the absence of team expectations, or unclear expectations, the girls set their own expectations which, in their minds, were basically to score as many baskets on their own as they could. It ended up being a recipe for a frustrating and underperforming season; one in which my daughter didn’t learn as much as she could. You see the same thing in organizations that don’t focus on setting performance expectations with their employees. The staff show up, put their time in and leave – and the organization underperforms.

Fast forward to a year later and things are markedly different. Each practice the coach sets out clear expectations for the team and players on what they are going to do and learn during the practice. He selects 2-3 focus areas to work on and works with the girls to make sure they understand the concepts and how to apply them in the game. His feedback is instantaneous as he will stop practice to run a drill over again or to simply provide feedback to the team. Every player knows how they are doing and they understand what the coach expects of them. They are now getting to the point where they are seeking out feedback on their own to improve. The coach also sets clear expectations for each game in terms of where the girls need to play, where they need to be positioned on defense and who is inbounding and carrying up the ball. Everyone knows their role for each shift they are on. The girls are also encouraged and rewarded for team play. There is a focus on teamwork on the bench during the game and the girls are recognized and rewarded for supporting their teammates. All the girls know what the team and individual expectations are and they have demonstrated this through improved performance each game over the first part of the season. My daughter has learned a lot and it is due to the strong leadership she receives and the performance expectations that have been set for her. She knows what she needs to work on and what she can control and this gives her a clear path on where to focus and improve.

It is hard to believe that the challenges of a youth basketball team can apply to the challenges of a workplace but the parallels are there:

  • Strong leadership is paramount for organizational/team success
  • This comes in the form of employees (and players) having clear performance expectations
  • In the absence of clear expectations you can expect dysfunctionality (and poor performance)
  • Dysfunctionality erodes at the very foundation of the team concept
  • The right behaviours and results need to be recognized and rewarded with your players/employees
  • Adapt your training style to suit the learning ability of your players/employees
  • What worked for you as a leader in one organization might not work for you in another – you need to adapt and modify your style.

By looking at this through the lens of a youth basketball team, you can see how setting clear expectations with your employees/team are so critical to your success as leaders, managers and as HR Pros. If we can teach/coach our kids by setting clear expectations, surely we can do the same at our workplaces? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of basketman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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