March Madness: 6 lessons from NCAA coaches to lead your team to success

coachingMarch Madness comes around once a year, often leading to office pools, water cooler discussions of colleges you may not have heard of, and long and oddly timed lunch breaks. With the championship game coming up, harness some of the lessons of NCAA basketball’s unsung all-stars: the coaches.

Your team may not be made up of 20 college athletes, but the best leaders in any arena share a few common elements to achieving success.

1. Focus on fundamentals

A good player makes baskets. A great player never misses. A great coach knows the fundamental skills—shooting form, boxing out, defensive stance—make a team consistently great. Fatigue and pressure don’t impact muscle memory. To apply this in the workplace, give employees the resources to develop basic skills— effective computer skills, giving a compelling presentation, utilizing industry appropriate Web resources—that will make larger tasks less daunting, whatever the situation.

2. Build team chemistry

Personal dynamics are a key component of any group effort. Whether your goal is to win the national championship or successfully launch a product, you need all of your players to put egos aside and work together. Never assume working together will in and of itself create a team. Take steps out of the gate to build trust and respect between all members so you don’t instead find yourself counseling teammates seperately during a high pressure moment.

3. Have a game plan but read the situation

Most coaches go in with a detailed game plan, matching their best defender with the opposition’s top scorer and planning the offensive strategy likely to have the most success. But when your thoroughly planned approach has you down ten points at half, it’s time to try something new. Set department goals and objectives, but assess the situation at important milestones and don’t be afraid to change course. Business isn’t static, and if your competition is suddenly unstoppable from outside, it could be time to switch to a full-court press.

4. Keep stats

Elite basketball coaches keep detailed stat sheets on their own (and opposing) teams. Any basic score box can tell you who a team’s high scorer is, but a great coach also knows which of his players has the most assists, forces the most turnovers, and will make the free throw with the crowd screaming to win the game. It is easy enough to observe an employee’s usual hours and deadlines made or missed, but a comprehensive understanding of team attitudes, willingness and ability to help out, and performance under pressure require more effort. But still, it’s important. Actionable insight can make or break teams and ensure your company is performing at its best.

5. Pick the right leaders

The best players do not always make the best leaders. More than being the high scorer, the captain needs to motivate teammates, inspire greatness, and mentor young players. In the workplace, look for connected influencers that get things done by gathering support instead of running through people. Avoid taking your top individual performer and making them your worst manager by looking for managerial characteristics in your leadership team candidates.

6. Learn from failure

At the end of the day, only one team will be named the national champion—which means 63 elite teams’ season ended with a loss. As the saying goes, there’s always next year. But only if you learn from the loss, dissecting where to improve and build, and taking that experience and drive to go out next year and do better. We learn more from our mistakes than our successes, in business as well as athletics. When your team misses the target, reset, digest lessons learned, and get back after it.

Did I miss any key lessons to be learned from NCAA coaches? Let us know in the comments below.