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New Players = New Employees

As many of you know by now, I like to draw a lot of comparisons from my basketball coaching experiences to what we see and experience in the business world. My most recent team experience has highlighted a major need that business leaders today can focus on when it comes to their leadership traits. That is, the need to provide clear direction for your (new) employees – not earth shattering I know, but very relevant and needed.

Basketball CourtWe have just started our basketball season and this year half of my team is new to basketball – we are talking about 10-12 year old girls that have never played before. So never mind skills development, they need to learn the rules of basketball! Regardless, they are a group that are hungry to learn and eager to work hard and do well – as is your typical new organizational hire.

In preparation for our first game of the year, as a team, we focused on some simple messaging during our initial practices. Each girl needed to know where to go on offence when she didn’t have the ball, what was expected of them when they did have the ball and they needed to know their positioning and role on defense. Pretty basic stuff, but a lot to take in, especially for first year players who only had two practices under their belt!

On game day, all things considered, things went quite well. The girls responded well to the instruction they had been given and showed a good sense of team cohesion in a short period of time. So what are the lessons learned here and why was our first game successful?

First off, as previously mentioned, teams need a clear sense of direction from their leader. The leader needs to remove confusing messaging, eliminate noise and distraction and provide its team/employees with a clear sense of direction. We didn’t over complicate things for the players – i.e. there was no work on screen plays, setting picks, fancy offensive plays, etc. We stuck to the fundamentals and made sure the players understood their individual roles and how that connected with what we were trying to do as a team. When it came to eliminating confusing message and noise, we had a parents meeting beforehand where we outlined expectations with them – parents parent and coaches coach. The only voice the players should hear during practice is that of the coach.

In the business world, good leaders do that too. They eliminate the distractions, provide their employees with clear performance expectations and they are able to connect that with what the team/department/organization is trying to accomplish. They make it clear to their (new) employees where their direction comes from and they focus on ensuring proper communication channels have been established.

A second link here is to make sure you set up your new/inexperienced players (and employees) for success on Day 1. That is, you need to place them in situations where you know they can excel when they first start out with you. The players that we have that struggled with dribbling and ball control were not asked to do so during the 1st game (practice will get them there.) Likewise, with new employees, it is all about placing them in situations that will leverage the knowledge, skills and abilities they are bringing to your company. If you hired someone to be a Java programmer, don’t ask them to administer an Oracle database their first day on the job!

Finally, it is all about the environment/culture that is established by the leader. For our girls, at the start of the game, we let them know about the expectations for the game. They were to try their best and always hustle, they need to try and apply what we taught them in practice and they needed to know that we were there to have fun as a TEAM. We weren’t worried about mistakes or doing things “wrong.” It was to get some playing experience as a team and learn from what we did during the game.

The lesson learned here? Once a leader establishes team norms and expectations and eliminates the fear of failure, they have set their team up for initial success. Our team is expected to complete to win (like any good business would do) but they also do so without fear of failure. There is no “punishment” for failing or not being able to do something. They are encourage to step out of their comfort zone and try to do things they did not/could not do before so they can grow as players. Just because they didn’t do it right (i.e. inbound the ball correctly) doesn’t mean they don’t get to do it again.

The same goes in the business world, good leaders need to provide a safe environment where their employees can take risks so they can grow and develop. As leaders, we need to provide them with opportunities where, if they fail, they have not taken a step back in their career. In fact, we need to look at these “failures” as learning experiences from which they can grow and become better team members/employees. This is the only way our employees will grow, develop and prosper. Bottom line – the leader has to establish a “winning” culture.

Finally, as leaders, we need to remember that it isn’t always about us teaching our employees (team members), we can also learn from them. We do so by listening, observing and adapting how we interact with our players/employees. Our own leadership style grows and improves as we learn to work with players/employees with different backgrounds and learning styles. That is how we grow as leaders…and as coaches! As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of artur84/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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