What can your company learn from the NCAA tournament?

BasketballOK, I admit it, I love NCAA tournament time and watching ordinary people rise to extraordinary levels of personal achievement. And, who doesn’t occasionally root for the underdog, sleeper, bracket buster, or Cinderella team?

They arrive, believing that there is nothing that will stop them from achieving the National Championship. Typically, they are scheduled against Goliath, the #1 seed. Do they stop believing or back down? Nope, they take to the court, calmly playing their game, signaling their teammates, passing the ball, and sharing shots.

It’s also very typical that the team falls behind by a significant margin at some point in the game, contributing to the suspense for millions of viewers. So – what happens when the coach calls a time out? A leader emerges. Could be a true freshman, could be a red-shirt, could be the senior captain of the team, or even the coach himself – but someone reminds everyone of how they got to “the Dance” and why they, as a team, are going to win this game. The time-out is over and a revitalized team takes the court, ultimately winning the competition.

I realized that there is a lot to be learned from watching those Cinderella teams take the court. We’re in a tough business economy populated by both Goliaths and underdogs, each playing their own game. The question that comes to my mind is, “What common trait is shared by companies in both categories?” Leadership? Teamwork? Shared Vision? No, when you think about that Cinderella team, the answer becomes very clear – it’s communication.

Throughout the competition, the teammates are communicating with each other. They communicate assignments when they sub in and out, they communicate coverage, they communicate about who to foul if time is running short, and in that huddle when a win is a Vegas long-shot, they communicate to each other their belief that they can get the job done. Successful companies communicate throughout the organization to ensure that expectations and goals are clear, and that each team member knows that their performance is critical to the company’s success. When times are tough, it’s vitally important to let each member of the team know that they are doing a great job. How’s your team performing?