Who makes the team? Is it the players or the coach?

My commute home is about 45 minutes, I use the time to read, think and decompress from the day. It’s time I really value. In the craziness of the day, the monotony of my commute is something I look forward too. Recently, a question came to mind – where does success come from, is it the coach (manager) or the team (employees)? Is it as simple as A or B? Or a hybrid of each? What does it matter? If an organization is meeting goals, driving success, there is a great and healthy organizational culture, maybe it simply does not matter? To help me think through, I put the analogy into a sports context – being a NBA fan, I wondered:

If we placed Phil Jackson, one of the greatest coaches of all time, as head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats (21-61 last season), could they compete?

The classic conundrum of mistaking cause for correlation comes into play. Let’s say the Bobcats miraculously win the championship – was it because of Phil Jackson’s Triangle Offense? Did Kemba Walker suddenly become Jordan, James, Bryant all in one? Or were there other compounding factors that let a mediocre team win (injuries to other teams superstars or maybe David Stern made a few phone calls). Regardless, the question is clear – who makes the team? Is it the players or the coach? What does it matter if the desired outcome is achieved?

More than anything, the question is an intellectual exercise on organizational theory and management. For me, the answer is for sure a hybrid, and yes – the answer does matter. Here’s some of my rationale, please share your comments below:

  • Success comes from effective leadership and management. Good leaders know how to inspire their employees and max out their productivity. Great leaders know how to do the same, but place it in the context of the overall mission and goals of an agency. We’ve seen it thousands of times, smart, well-educated and driven people not fitting or working out in positions. Leaders need to map individual skills to organizational need. It’s basic, but can be challenging to communicate these needs to employees. Also, the distinction between a leader and manager is important to remember – an effective coach/manager excels at both. You can’t expect someone to magically excel, they need mentorship, guidance and then given an appropriate level of autonomy.

  • Managing up makes the manager better, more proactive and makes employee the linchpin of success. This can lead to stronger organizational outcomes and improved communications. Here, the employee is responsible for the team success. Maybe the manager is too busy to focus on programs, overworked, or possibly just removed and uninterested in leading – the employee will make the team, not the manager. In these cases, driven, motivated and passionate people excel. We’ve heard stories of people innovating in the most unusual places, leading changing from all levels. It’s just a reality, some people excel when there is a vacuum in leadership, elevating their peers and managers.

  • The coach or the team distinction philosophy matters. This can define a culture, an environment and an organizations ethos. I’m not convinced one way or another is the “right” way – but for employees and managers, they need to have a sense of the environment they are operating in. If you think you’re this great leader responsible for driving success, and your employee thinks they are the superstar – you’re bound for conflict. Everything we do boils down to building positive relationships.

Again, the common theme revolves around building positive relationships with employees, peers and the team. I still don’t have a great answer if the coach makes the team or the players, best I can say is that it’s contextual and both feed off each other. The silver lining here is that whatever case you find yourself in, you can be the positive change in your organization. We’re all empowered much more than we think to drive our agencies towards achieving missions and reaching organizational goals.

If you’re a manager, be one with confidence and lead your team towards success. If you’re an employee with an apathetic manager, work hard to be the positive change, lead by example and learn to rise above the challenges you face. Maybe I am hopelessly optimistic, but as I quoted John Lennon in a post last week, “there are no problems, only solutions.” Work hard to identify the solutions, create an action plan and positive change will come- from whatever role you play in your agency.

What do you think? Does the players or coach define success? Does it matter?

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Stephen Peteritas

To keep the sports analogy going I think the game will always be played by players and won by players. The place where the coach comes in is before and after those wins or loses and provides a framework and culture that players either buy into or don’t.

A coach’s job is most motivational and less tactical (for the most part some exceptions apply). Where am I going with that – a lot of great teams don’t do anything that crazy they just do what they do really well. For instance man to man defense anyone (athletically inclined) can play this but there’s a reason teams coached by great coaches play it better than others – because the players are bought in, believe in it and have the will to play it. Playing tough defense isn’t fun but getting people to play it wins games.

Ultimately when a great system works the coach’s coach for the players and the players play for the coach. Coach K love him or hate him always has his players telling you how great of a coach he is and he is always telling you how great his players are. Neither party really ever takes time to give themselves a pat on the back because they know their coach will be there to pat it for them a visa versa.

I don’t think I arrived at a definitive answer either Pat but those are my thoughts.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Great post, Pat. I’d say it’s always “both / and.” Coaches without players won’t get much done. Players without coaches can self-organize, but at moments of decision, someone’s got to make a call. Sometimes that could be a ‘captain,’ but the coach has the unique vantage point of seeing the whole game.

Keena Cauthen

I have to say adamantly that it takes both to really be successful over time. For short time-spans, a team can promote itself past the level of the Coach, but like Andrew stated, the Coach should have the vantage of the big picture and without that, the Team won’t stay in synch forever and thus not continue to thrive without that Coach.

I feel I am probably working at an equivalent of the Charlotte Bobcats, and have been with them each year as our season stats have dropped. I can say that our Coaches are the driving force behind our ongoing losing streak. Without them properly handling the team, kicking butts when needed and praises as appropriate, putting everyone through their paces every day, the morale of the team takes a hit. The team is only as good as the weakest link, so if you don’t help that link get better, then you start to degrade all of the links, till your team is barely held together at all. That’s the Coach’s responsibility, to ensure that doesn’t happen. Likewise, the Team should take some pride in their game, strive to improve and continue to do their best, no matter what that weakest link is doing. So that is where the Team can be affective. But again, the Team can only do so much, for so long, with a Coaching staff that works with them. The Coaching staff and the Team must all be in agreement of the direction the team needs to go, and how they will get there. If Coaching staff requires extra practices every night for the entire season, and the Team doesn’t buy into that need and solution, then those practices won’t amount to much, and will do more harm than good. Likewise, if the Coaches and Team are in agreement, working together, then those extra practices could be exactly what is needed to turn the Charlotte Bobcats into the next National Champions. (sorry NBA is not my sport… but I think you can see where I was taking it)

My team has been doing extra practices every off-season for years now, and it hasn’t helped us a bit. Why? Because the team hasn’t bought into what the Coaches are saying. And the Coaches aren’t changing their way of presenting the issues and the solutions, or how they are managing the players. So for now, I’ll continue to play for the Bobcats, and hope to some day be traded to a team where the Coaches recognize that without the players they have no reason for being, and where the players realise that the Coaches are trying to help them succeed (and they really are!).

Dick Davies

The answer is yes, it takes players and coaches to make a success. It also takes the two working together effectively to succeed.

I’ve seen great performers miss recognition and great coaches unable to pull of a sequel or a prequel.

Kathryn David

This is a great post. It definitely got me thinking about how important a good manager is in the workplace. Also, it gave me some interesting insights about how to win the GovLoop fantasy football competition!

Scott Kearby

Here’s what the Bear had to say about it …

“I’m just a plowhand from Arkansas, but I learned how to hold a team together. How to lift some men up, how to calm others down, until finally they’ve got one heartbeat together, a team. There’s just three things I’d ever say: If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, then we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you.” Bear Bryant