Team Work : Taking the team to glory – lessons from the don

How many coaches can say they have coached the side that won two world championships in row in sport where major powers, such as Japan and the United States, compete?
Don Tricker, former coach of the New Zealand Black Sox softball team, is one of New Zealand’s living gems who, whilst acknowledged by his colleagues at SPARC and the softball fraternity, is little known in the business world. Yet his methods, if applied, would take any team to glory.
Here are some of the tips about building ‘team to win’ gleamed from conversations with him.

Strategy In Tricker’s world strategy can be boiled down to four things:
• What do we want? (What is the performance goal?)
• Which athletes will deliver the performance goal? (What are our critical success factors [CSFs]?)
• What will the athletes need to deliver the performance goal? (What do we need to do to constantly perform well in our CSFs?)
• What could bugger it all up? (What are the obstacles/constraints to realising the performance goal?)
We can apply this simple view to the business model (see restated points in brackets above) and it will make strategy lot clearer to staff and management.

Leadership Tricker suggests that CEOs who do not share, or who are not open to change, are typically those who are under performers. Successful CEOs want their staff to stand-up and say what they think.
He believes that senior players are not automatically good leaders and in the business world how many times do we see this mistake being made? Leadership needs to run right through the team. Leadership means team members challenging the way we have done it in the past.
If we look at the trends in professional sport, it could be argued that athletes are conditioned not to think – with minders telling them what to wear, where to be, as well as organising their daily routines. It is important in any team that has to function well under pressure, that they are making daily decisions and thus are equipped to function well when the pressure is on.
Tricker further believes that it is alright to leapfrog yesterday’s heroes and select young talent that has gift for leadership.

Empowerment We need to ask ourselves why do we want empowerment in organisations? Surely we want the group of individuals who can coach themselves. In the sporting sense, we want athletes to be the architects of what they do. Thus, this leaves the coach with the simple task of asking the right questions. coach therefore is in the self-esteem business; their tasks are to raise awareness and then transfer responsibility – with the deliverable being self-belief.
Tricker tells this story about his daughter.
One day, she came up to him and said, “I’m really ‘sucky’ at doing handstands. Can you teach me how to do one?”
He asked her to do handstand, and when his daughter collapsed in heap on the floor, he said, “Okay, let’s do another one, but this time tell me what part of your body feels sucky?” After the second attempt she replied, “My arms”.
So Tricker said, “Do another one, but this time I want you to focus on your arms and tell me, out of 10, how sucky they are, with one being really sucky and 10 being not sucky at all.”
With his daughter concentrating on her arms, she proceeded to do much better handstand, and popped up saying her arms were “a five”. “Let’s do another one,” said Tricker. This time, the daughter completed the handstand. “Nine and half,” she exclaimed. With which she said, “I did it all by myself,” and marched off.
It is so easy as manager/coach to refer to your own extensive knowledge and spend lot of time talking about what you know. Instead of Tricker reverting to his days as teenager and remembering all the techniques he used to do handstand, he transferred responsibility and raised awareness in his daughter in what part of her body was failing her. Using her language, he got her to concentrate on this point of weakness. With the result that she left the room smiling with self-belief that she did it herself.
As manager and leader, can you shut up enough to allow your staff to tell you what they want?

Planning for three-day week Over the years Tricker had become increasingly frustrated with sporting organisations promising more than they delivered. Then one day he made simple observation. In reality you do not have five days week to do tasks in sport, as sport is about people and by default issues that emerge are typically people issues that take time to resolve. Therefore when planning, make the assumption there are only three days in the week, with the remaining two days being taken up by some form of fire fighting or unplanned activity.
Tricker now plans all projects on the basis that full-time means three days week. He has found that projects now are completed on time and he has given himself space to think strategically.

Handling specialists Tricker points out the need to celebrate specialists and notes that sport historically has been very good at this. Yet in the business world these individuals are often overloaded until they start under performing and lose their credibility. Instead, with these specialists, businesses should ask, “Where are we going to get the best out of Pat Carruthers” and then remove him from all other less important activities.

Integrity to honesty He also points out that many organisations have the word integrity or honesty in their values and wonders what applies in practice.
He asks the question, “When was the last time you had challenging conversation that caused pain?” In other words, giving reprimand, warning, or dismissal.
In high performance sport, there are winners and losers, as in the business world. We thus need to be more honest with non-performers – in sport the one thing that we cannot afford to burn is time.

Use your critics Tricker believes you should find your greatest critics in your organisation and get them involved in the planning process. They obviously see the world differently and may stop you making the same mistakes you have made in the past.

Organise team overnight activity at an outdoor pursuits centre One of Tricker’s team-building exercises was to leverage off the New Zealand Army. His rationale is that the military have been in the business of building teams for generations. Therefore their environment is conducive to building teams and not filled with anti-social devices such as Sky TV. As he says, “Put four men in hotel room with Sky and the conversation will stop once they have sorted out who has the remote.”
“We wanted our players to talk to one another – to leverage off each other’s knowledge and experience. We also wanted them to share experiences that they wouldn’t normally have in the city.”

A winning coaching style
Tricker’s coaching style included the following:
• It is not about the coach, it is about delivering quality service to every person, therefore, find out what makes each of your team members tick – view the world through their eyes.
• Keep your messages positive – emotional scarring can take lifetime to heal.
• Ensure that performance goal is owned by the team.
• Focus on shared leadership – be facilitator ensuring the right questions are asked.
• Team building is vital – take your team out of their comfort zone and get to situation where no one cares who gets the credit.
• Be excellent at doing the basics – key tasks must be easy to understand and be able to be performed when under pressure.
• Clarify role definitions of each team member – ask your team members individually “What do you want from me?”
• Be accepting of mistakes and analyse the decision making that led to the mistake; both the coach and the team player will learn something.
• There is no room for excuses.
• Have fun and ensure you celebrate success.

David Parmenter is managing director of Waymark Solutions.

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