Giving Your Team Wings (Even if they don’t play basketball)

Written by Tim Waldo and originally posted on his LinkedIn Blog

Watching players on a basketball team jumping into the air doesn’t sound all that amazing nor the least bit inspiring. After all, that’s sort of what they do. However, if you’re a fan of college basketball and especially the University of Tennessee men’s team, you’ve no doubt seen the video “one fly, we all fly”. For the uninitiated, here’s the link - Head Coach Rick Barnes has fostered a culture that motivates his team to do some pretty amazing things. Perhaps there are some lessons that Tennessee manufacturers can take from his methods.

As a workforce development practitioner focused on manufacturing, when such a great team culture and excellent leadership presents itself, it’s an opportunity to ask, what can manufacturers learn from this? What are the parallels to leading teams of makers and are there new lessons to be gleaned? Although I work for the University of Tennessee, unfortunately I do not get to spend any time with the coaches or the team. So, these observations are my own, from a distance, as a fan. Feedback and input are welcomed.

BasketVol fans have watched with great interest the change that has come to the UT basketball program. The new viral tradition of ending pregame warm ups with a team dunk is just one example of how these young men have obviously bought into the culture that Coach Barnes and his staff have been building over the last three years. Their top 10 performance in national rankings, their individual interviews with the media and their exemplary behavior off the court are all indicators that these players are part of something that is about more than just winning basketball games.

No doubt, it starts with strong, consistent leadership. In his article, An inside look at the culture Rick Barnes has built at Tennessee, Grant Ramey quoted Tennessee Assistant Coach Mike Schwartz as saying, “I’ve never been around a more consistent person in terms of everyday expectations and a standard, and more importantly, holding the guys to those standards, than Coach Barnes, and that’s where that culture comes from. That’s every day, 365 days a year. There’s a standard that he holds others accountable to. He makes them feel it and understand it.” Schwartz went on to say, “culture is developed when players start to understand that, and understand why coach demands that, and this last season was a great example of that. I think it’s consistency and culture, and that’s what coach does with this team.”

Exceptional manufacturing leaders do this same thing. They set a standard and they maintain accountability to that standard. This is more than just a mission statement on the wall though. It has been reported that Coach Barnes has his desk right at the edge of the basketball court. Being with his team, one-on-one with his players seems to be the way he instills this standard to his guys. It takes consistency to build culture. Determined manufacturing coaches are the key to that consistency.

Never stop coaching. Watching Coach Barnes continue to teach his players, even when the game has been decided, is a key to the culture they’ve developed. Continuous improvement, learn from each mistake and fail forward. I remember an image of Coach Barnes on the bench with his point guard Jordan Bone after a game, when the arena was empty. Just the two of them sitting and talking. Only they know what was discussed. Maybe it was basketball, maybe not. Doesn’t matter because effective coaching means investing in the person beyond the task you want them to do. Coaches and leaders in the manufacturing world can build relationships and coach their people even after the game/shift has ended.

Develop your people. Plenty has been written about the fact that none of the current Tennessee men’s team were highly recruited. They were good players that loved basketball and were willing to learn. The coaching staff constantly works on developing the talent of each member of this team. It certainly seems to be a winning strategy. Grant Williams was just awarded the SEC Player of The Year award for the second consecutive year. Schofield, Bone, Bowden and Turner have been on awards watch lists and stand a good chance to win some of those. As manufacturers, what lessons does this offer about looking for the right talent?

Leadership development, communication skills and relentless study of their craft are other disciplines that seem to be a part of the culture development for this program. What else can we, as manufacturers, learn from this team?

We’re blessed to have a great sports tradition on Rocky Top. Watching this team fly, in unison, committed to a goal and to each other, is inspiring. There’s something about watching a whole team reach for a goal together. Watching a group of people rally around a purpose, embracing a standard that drives them to succeed. This can certainly happen in manufacturing realms too. Maybe some of our manufacturers can come up with a team video that mirrors the culture they’re building. Just be careful, wouldn’t want to increase the insurance costs from a motivated team of machinist jumping off their CNC machines! 

Tags Workforce Development