No Splash? No Problem.

If you ever wanted to see the difference between a high performing team and a collection of high performing individuals,  you got your chance last night at Oakland, California. Game 1 of the NBA finals between the reigning champs Golden State Warriors and the reinvigorated Cleveland Cavaliers revealed the stark contrast between the two teams.

Cleveland on the one hand, a team built around 3 superstars (aka the big 3) playing isolated basketball for the most part, that has been frequently reshuffled (or re-orged to use the corporate jargon), in search of the right mix. On the other, a seemingly naturally formed team of compatible players, working together for the past 5 years or so.

And herein lies the difference.

When things flow naturally on one side and feel forced on the other, even the best players in the world would find it hard to square a circle.

With a little help from my friends

Going into this game, it was anticipated that any one of the ‘Splash Brothers’, the warriors’ MVP Steph Curry and the 3-point contest winner Klay Thompson, would have a significant contribution to their team. Against all odds, they both had an ‘off night’, delivering just 20 points combined. Their lowest contribution for the entire season!

When the two main stars of the team don’t show up to the game, you could easily call it a night.

However, the adjustment in mentality of the rest of the warriors team, picking up the slack and turning out a win, provided great insights for both sport and business.

Team continuity

In a league where big money and players move all too often, the benefit of team continuity is frequently overlooked. As highlighted by HBR’s article ‘the secrets of great teamwork’, with the right mix and balance of skills, the team can improve and ‘gel’ over time, creating a whole which is far greater than the sum of its parts. The ultimate goal of any group.

Fit over individual competence

Scott Page from the University of Michigan says The best people don’t mean the best teams , stressing the superiority of team fit over individual competence when creating a high-performing team. Pound for pound, Cleveland would probably overtake Golden State in terms of raw basketball talent. But in sport, as in business, it’s the team that counts. Without the right pieces, you may end up with an incomplete or a faulty assembled puzzle.

Organic growth

You can’t force anything on anyone and expect it to stick. It is true with changing behaviour as it is with devising a strategy. For things to really work, continue and improve, there needs to be organic adoption. Team members need to cognitively see the value and choose the team path. A path that may require them to lose some of the short term glory for the ultimate gain of the team. A benefit that eventually would return to them in the longer run.

That takes time, culture and having the right people in place. With no immediate fix for time, how can Cleveland rebound?

Mind over matter

In last year’s challenge, the Cavaliers missed two of the their ‘big 3’ players due to injuries, adapting their game to a limited depth of players and rotations. Despite that, or some would argue, as a result of that, the team competed throughout the series, losing game 1 only in overtime following a last second miss by Iman Shumpert. It was perhaps a sense of urgency and an underdog status that created the camaraderie within last year’s Cavaliers. A spirit so important for team culture that almost handed them the first game win, and a consequential 2:1 advantage shortly after.

Road ahead?

While this was only game one (out of the best of 7) and things may ultimately change, the importance of teamwork could not have been better portrayed than in last night’s game. As I constantly say, the team, and not the individual, is the basic unit of any organization, sport or business. Having that mindset makes all the difference when building a team, planning a strategy and executing to win.

Or as Golden State moto states – there’s Strength in Numbers.

This message was delivered loud and clear last night.


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