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  • Writer's pictureStephen Heusinger

Creating a Winning Team

“To be as good as it can be, a team has to buy into what you as the coach are doing. They have to feel you’re a part of them and they’re a part of you.” – Bobby Knight, College

Basketball coach (led teams to win 902 NCAA Division I men's college basketball games)

Would you have hired John Wooden, arguably the best college basketball coach ever, to lead your football team to the Super Bowl? What about Vince Lombardi or Don Shula, both Hall of Fame football coaches, to win the Stanley Cup?

I build winning teams. I built them for my startups and when I was an individual contributor at major international companies. They were completely different experiences. At startups, I needed to build teams that could hit the ground running and deliver instant wins. At established companies, it can be a longer process and the teams are very different.

What do sports teams have to do with business? Let’s say you have a start-up and want to build a team that will deliver a win immediately. If we go back to the sports analogy, you might think that finding the BEST coach would work. John Wooden, for example, had the stats to back up the claim to be one of the winningest coaches in the world . . . just not in football. What he could have brought is a culture of winning and leadership, bringing his old “playbook” from a different sport. What he couldn’t provide was on-the-field knowledge and strategies.

“It's the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” John Wooden, UCLA Bruins (10 National Collegiate Athletic Association championships in a 12-year period)

When building a team in business, it’s easy to hire a strong leader from another industry. Yes, they have the metrics to show they can lead. However, when it comes to providing feedback about the details, they can’t. Imagine a basketball coach trying to tell a football lineman that he needs to work on certain skills – skills that the coach has never learned or taught. The player won’t respect the coach’s words and buy into the message because the coach has never played that game. Sure, given five years to study football, the basketball coach might make a good football leader and be able to provide specific insights. That won’t work if they’re trying to WIN NOW!

“Coaches who can outline plays on a black board are a dime a dozen. The ones who win get inside their player and motivate.” Vince Lombardi, Green Bay Packers (5 Super Bowl wins in 9 years)

Back to business. The VP of Sales from a chain of car dealerships will definitely bring the data. However, when moved to lead for a completely different product, despite loads of experience and enthusiasm, he can’t really understand sales that take longer than an afternoon. Nor has he ever had to work with clients and engineers to customize products that fill their technology needs. Sure, he can tell you how to order a vehicle with specific accessories or color but, again, it’s a quick process. Mature businesses can afford relationship building that produce sales further down the road. Burn rates on startups simply don’t allow for that.

In the tech world, business truly moves at the speed of light. There isn’t a lot of time for steep learning curves. There’s no time for a coach to learn the game. That’s why hiring someone with direct experience in that space and a pipeline of existing prospects and relationships, achieves the “win now” scenario.

When I built teams for my startups, that is exactly what I did. I found people from the same industry, with the same customers with success leading smaller teams and promoted them to executive leadership positions that leveraged their existing skills and relationships on a broader scale. I needed them to lead from within, boots on the ground, able to assist at every step, and provide positive motivation. The results were immediate. We didn’t win the Super Bowl, but we built great companies.


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