the death of “swarm ball” and teaming together

“Today my job is to set the screen and then get to my open position for a pass.”  If you have ever been a parent who has mused at, and sometimes painfully watched, little kids play “swarm ball”, then like me, words like these are music to your ears.  “What’s this?!  They are playing positions, they are starting to understand roles and how each role fits together as team!”  You start to realize that perhaps some real play of the sport could be emerging and that they might stop stealing the ball from their own teammate.  (Am I alone in crying out “Spread out!” from the sideline?)


Watching this last weekend’s game and watching a team of 8 year old boys really make it happen on the court got me thinking about just how important it is to ensure every last player on the team, at every given moment, understands their role, what their job is, how they support each other, and that each of them is as important as the next.  These boys were rocking it – the Point Guard taking it down court, the other players getting into predetermined positions around the court.  The Point Guard calls out the play and the team moves into positions, giving and going, setting screens and crossing court.  The pass lands into the hands of the boy crossing and the Point Guard moves toward the basket and is there for the pass back.  He shoots.

And the point is not whether the basket makes it in (which it doesn’t more often than not).  The point is, they are working the play and taking the shots.  Even the fast breaks are orchestrated – while they may look like a one-man play, it takes the team drawing the defense away to make it work.   And it’s going well…  until it doesn’t.  The boys get caught up and the pressure builds and chaos takes over – positioning falls apart, passes aren’t landing, the boys lose confidence, takeovers increase and shots aren’t taken.

This 3rd grade boys basketball game becomes the perfect illustration of irrefutable laws of teams: everyone must have clarity of their role and the roles of others, every role is as important as the next, we must trust each other to deliver and it takes everyone to make it work.

Half time comes and the Coach reminds the team of their jobs.  They settle down and things start moving again.  The team plays beautifully.  They don’t leave the court with a win, this time (this is real life – we lose sometimes!) but when you consider the distance between this kind of play and “swarm ball”, you can’t help but mark the “win” in terms of teaming skills that will translate not only in their next game, but in life.

I think of all the times, including now, where I am part of a new team.  Forming, storming…  and how we, sometimes as players and sometimes as Coaches, are all called to drive clarity around our role and how we make an impact on our court.  It also makes me thankful that I have a group of Coaches with me who are as committed to running the plays as I am.  The more we practice working a team-based model, the more shots we take (and make!) together.

Go-ooooo Team!


the olympic spirit, as in life and business

Man oh man, I love the Summer Olympics. 

There is something about it that gets me all giddy inside.  I love the patriotism of rooting for our countrymen, but it’s much more than that.  The Olympics can be a reminder of what we can be and the spirit in which we can live in life and in business. 

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

So says the Olympic creed.  I’m reminded by reading this that we are at times overtaken by the taste of the win.  As is in the competitive spirit, the human spirit, we want to win.  And as shown through the newsworthy medal counts and graphics of how many gold, silver and bronze medals we have by nation – we want to win A LOT.  Who doesn’t want to be the Nation with the most medals, the Nation with the biggest bragging rights?  The glory is in winning – in standing on the podium and hearing your National Anthem and seeing your flag elevated the highest of all.  And still, the creed reads that the important thing about the games is really the play – the games themselves, the taking part.  It’s a reminder to the Athletes that indeed, you’re best to remember your moments of struggle, your journey both to the games and during the games, not just the win or loss at the end.

And so I take a moment to reflect on this as an athlete in my own games.  I’m not an Olympic Athlete, my shot-put is perhaps as sad as it gets and if you’ve ever seen me play beach volleyball, table tennis or soccer – you would be clear about my non-elite status.  Nevertheless, I’m reminded that in my own games, in life and in business, it is up to us as leaders and followers to purposefully take part, to keep our eyes, ears  and hearts open for the struggles, the work, the sweat and the triumphs of the journey along the way.  And in appreciation, note the new muscles that have been built, the learning we’ve done about our customers, what we offer to customers, and about ourselves.  

I’m also reminded, as the London Olympics opening ceremony closes after the Parade of Nations, how much more beautiful we are as a global team.  Despite our different flags, our different costume and language, we are all common in the spirit inside.  The spirit to play hard, to take part, to fight well, and to make ourselves and others proud – and, sure, to win.  And because of our differences, the stories, experiences and skills brought to the stadium are all unique and special – and never disappoint in making the games more powerful, more interesting and more compelling.  And you find yourselves rooting for not only your own countrymen, but for those in other uniform colors that have captured your heart.  (Read about a few, like Emil Zatopek, who was the first and remains the only, to win the gold medal in the 5,000 and 10,000 meter races as well as the Marathon in 1952 – Helsinki).

It’s simply a moment in time.  But as the world comes together on the London stage, it’s an opportunity to think of our great strengths as a global team, the strengths we have and the opportunity ahead of us to use them to the greatest power to tell our most compelling story.  The time being now for our regional teams to come together on a world stage and meet in the middle of an arena and dance, play, work, and build our most well orchestrated, inspired global story.  And to not forget about the play, the journey we we will be on to get there.

all ahead full

On March 23rd, 1848 the first emigrant ship (the John Wickliffe) reached the province of Otago, New Zealand.   The ship traveled up the harbor (known as Port Chalmers today) after a 116 day voyage, carrying 97 emigrants.  116 days at sea back in 1848 can easily be imagined as an arduous time and true test of character and spirit.  Moreover, it was only the beginning as their arrival marked the commencement of the work needed to build their settlement.

New Zealanders celebrate Otago, and all around the world we celebrate other stories of settlers on various days of the year – their strength, courage and conviction.  As we reflect, we’re reminded that to realize vision and new worlds we must forge ahead and never look back.   All ahead full!

don’t go it alone

I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” – Thomas Jefferson

All around the world this coming weekend people will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.  It got me thinking about a story I read about the kissing of the blarney stone, its tradition and a good reminder from story: don’t go it alone.

The Blarney Stone is a stone block that is built into the side of the Blarney Castle in Ireland.  Kissing the stone has come to mean over time that you could be bestowed with eloquence, grace and the “gift of gab”.  The ritual is not for the faint of heart – and not at all easy to achieve.  To kiss the stone, the puckering person must go to the top of the castle and lean backwards over the edge, risking life and limb.  To be successful, one lays trust in their compatriot, who is there to offer their strength and provide the assist.

in the presence of our customer – get humble

 Bouncing around on a trampoline last week, my team was reminded how quickly one can be humbled.  We booked an hour long jump session for our team to have a little fun and blow off some steam.

Just one hour, just sixty small minutes.

Within the first ten minutes, it’s suffice to say that we were out of breath, sweaty & exhausted – an accidental reminder about how important it is to keep a close watch out for complacency (and our customer fitness levels!).  As I reflect back on this, I think about our customer of yesterday, today and tomorrow and how important it is that we continue to be humbled by their presence, act with their superiority in mind and evolve our support and service standards as customers change.