Friday, August 17, 2007

Sports Analogy week, day 5: shape your strategies to your talent

Here's a rule of thumb about the difference between coaching college sports and pro sports. Successful college coaches bring players in and ask them to conform to a system. Successful pro coaches adapt their systems to the talents of their teams.

This adage is most true in basketball. To the casual observer, Mike Krzyzewski's Duke team looks the same from year to year, no matter who's on the floor. Pat Riley, by contrast, has won with three markedly different approaches: the Showtime Lakers of the 1980's, the slow, defense-oriented Knicks in the 1990's and the Dwayne-Wade-led Miami Heat in 2006.

Riley adapted how he coached to the players he had available. Once he had determined an identity for the team, he filled in with complementary players who fit that identity (e.g., Lakers, Mychal Thompson; Knicks, Anthony Mason; Heat, Gary Payton).

In managing a group in business, the temptation is to be like Krzyzewski. After all, it's easier for a group of ten to adapt to one manager than for a manager to adapt to ten individuals, right? But the truth is, unless you're working in a process business where tasks are routinized and uniformity and consistency are the main goals, it's better to be Pat Riley.

Value in the future will be more determined by how well individual projects are done, not the efficiency of ongoing processes. (See this link for some background on that thought.) X-Teams use the strengths of the individual team members to achieve results, and rely on their creativity and engagement.

In other words, they're more like the Lakers than the Blue Devils.