What 3 Things Make A Dream Team?



My most eagerly awaited TV event this season is the new ESPN docuseries, "The Last Dance", about the greatest NBA team of all time-the 90's Bulls! I would say it is about Michael Jordan and the The Bulls, but they are doing such a great job of focusing on all the components that went into making that Dream Team-and it wasn't just MJ. Sure, Jordan was a force of unnatural magic. He could really fly! He was focused, relentless, and super gifted, but he did not win alone. It took a strong team and a masterful coach.


I was obsessed with the Bulls in the 90's, though at the time I lived in NYC. (Don't hate me because I rooted against the Knicks.) Watching those Bulls play in the 90's was so exciting-witnessing history in the making! I was amazed not just by Jordan's skill, but I was equally impressed by the supernatural connection of the team as a whole. They did what no other team had done nor has done since - 6 Championships - double three-peats!


This made such an impression on me that when I became a service trainer, I would always refer to the 1990's Bulls when trying to paint a picture of the true definition of a team. The restaurant I worked at had a team system where everyone was responsible for anything that needed attention, whether it was your table or not. If one server saw a new table that had not been greeted, it was his/her responsibility to immediately walk over, welcome them and take a drink order.


"So-and-so will be taking care of you but I will be happy to start you off with some beverages."


Hopefully, this would happen when you didn't already have a handful of dirty glassware, but if you did, the expectation was that you could slip that hand behind your back while you were connecting with the table - buying time, and trust that one of your teammates would spot you and quickly walk past behind, swiping the glasses right out of your hand, freeing it up for you to grab your pen and write down the order. To see it actually executed properly was a thing of beauty. To train new staff to be that aware and that graceful when they were trying to juggle 10 things at once was not easy. That particular restaurant executed so well that it was one of the top producing stores in a national group of over 50 restaurants.

The leaders of that particular store put a great deal of focus on training. I was paid a special rate just to come in early and conduct the training, coordinate the schedules and then give my honest input on each trainee - would they have what it takes to make the team? Some didn't make the cut. The standards were high.


But all the training and skill in the world still does not make a Dream Team.


The magic of The Bulls did not happen from just having one highly skilled superstar or extreme training. The team really developed to its highest form under the leadership of Phil Jackson, the Zen Master of Coaches, when he got them to combine forces and minds.


What did Phil know about making a team? What elements did he use in his coaching that brought out the best in each of the superstars he had under his wings and got them working so well together?


What only the greatest leaders understand and properly execute - He understood 3 major components of creating a true Dream Team, a team that inherently knows what the others are doing, senses their next moves, and then, like a perfectly choreographed dance, flows as one!


Those 3 elements are:


1- Pushing the Vision, a vision where everyone wins.

2- Leveraging the individual strengths of the team to help the whole.

3- Understanding and managing different personalities differently.


1- Pushing the Vision, a vision where everyone wins.


The 1990's Bulls were a motley crew, especially after Dennis Rodman joined, but they all had a common drive to win, and so they did again and again and again - Double Three-Peat!


The staff at that restaurant made excellent money, even during the recession. Everyone was working hard and everyone was winning. We had a shared vision of what a smooth-running, high producing team looked like and when we were ON, it was like watching an all-star basketball game.


2-Leveraging the individual strengths of the team to help the whole.


Phil Jackson pushed not only the vision of winning, but when he took the ball out of Jordan's hands to spread the work among the team, he had a hard sell. Jordan had been coached to do most of the heavy lifting by his predecessor. Jackson introduced the idea of making the WHOLE team work and grow. But the genius in that "sell" was the way he coaxed Michael Jordan to not just step aside, but instead be a part of the development process, mentoring and pushing his teammates to get better. Phil Jackson made Jordan shift his focus from being the Star Producer to being a better leader, one who helped others flourish. That was the magic and success of that team.


Initially, I was not interested in the extra hours and extra stress of training new servers. I was good at what I did, enjoyed doing it and that was it. My Service Manager wanted to leverage my abilities by making me the Lead Trainer. He knew I had to be coaxed into it. I had to be sold on the Vision - the vision wasn't the extra money for me - I could pick up an extra shift. The vision was that of having a hand in the newbies coming onto the floor with the right standards and helping them grow into strong team members I could count on when the shift got crazy. He knew what motivated me. I accepted. Eventually, I grew to really enjoy the process of training and mentoring. Long before I became a manager for the company at a Manager Training store, I had already earned the nickname "Mama Mitch." It was not originally my intention to go into management either - that looked like a terribly stressful and thankless job. Well, I grew into it, or some great GMs mentored and led me into it.


When I coach executives on their succession plan, I ask, "Are you grooming your high producers into your next leaders?" Sometimes they say, "Oh, those employees are too complacent. They don't aspire to go further up into management." Then I ask, "Have you painted the vision for them? Have you delegated some responsibility, asked them to help in mentoring or training other team members? If you can give them a taste of success in helping even one person grow, they will start to be more comfortable with the idea of leadership, even start to crave more of the same. That satisfaction of helping someone grow and win is like great ice cream, you can't have just one scoop."


3- Understanding and managing different personalities differently.


When I worked with Managers-In-Training, I would have them observe the different team members and ask them what they thought motivated them individually, what were their biggest challenges and what type of communication worked best with each. Today, I am a certified DISC practitioner and that has helped me immensely when it comes to behavioral prediction and how to adapt to each one. Back then, I had just worked in hospitality for so long that reading people and their needs came from experience. One of the biggest lessons I wanted to impress upon the new managers was that you can't manage everyone the same way - the expectations are the same and the consequences better be the same or else you have an unfair work environment, but the way you communicated and enforced the expectations with each had to be a little different, depending on their behavioral style. For some a very light touch was enough to get them back on the rails if they had slipped. For others a heavier and more direct approach was necessary.


Knowing what motivates each team member is essential in getting their best performance. This is one of the hardest things to mentor and teach and some people never quite get it.


Phil Jackson totally got it. He knew that he couldn't deal with Rodman the same way he dealt with Jordan or Pippen. He had an extremely diverse group of stars and somehow he had that sense and finesse to deal with each one in a way that kept them focused on the Vision-To Win as a Team.


To be a great leader, you need to quickly learn the individuals in the team, learn their communication styles and challenges, what makes them tick, then get them ticking together. You have to keep their focus on a common purpose - a shared Vision - and treat them with respect and dignity, especially when correcting them. This is a leader that breeds not just lone winners, but winning Dream Teams!



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