Big Ideas

Team Players

Getting the win often means coaching talent through the ups and downs of the game.

by Aaron Lazenby

February 2014

If you follow me on Twitter (@alazenby), you know I love professional basketball. This issue of Profit coincided with the start of the US basketball season—at a time when Tyson Chandler (center, 7'1"), a key player for my favorite team (the New York Knicks), broke his leg during a game.


Chandler was a critical, top-performing employee whose services were suddenly unavailable to management. Indeed, his departure had a tremendous impact—the Knicks went on a losing streak that continues as I write this in December 2013.

It’s been hard not to see the Knicks’ troubles through the lens of the magazine’s focus on human resources. So what can management of my favorite basketball team learn from this issue of Profit?

Understand staff strengths and weaknesses. Chandler is a team leader and a defensive anchor. He also spent long stretches last season nursing injuries. Having a clear-eyed assessment of an employee’s liabilities can help HR develop a mitigation strategy. Essential to this is a complete, accurate view of what the employee brings to an organization, so management can understand the net-positive impact of the employee.

Management will need to embrace the strategies that build a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Develop a succession plan. In basketball, one common way to weather the loss of a key team member is to train a talented lieutenant to back up (and learn from) the incumbent star. This can take several seasons, especially if it requires the training of young talent. In business as in basketball, management is well served to have a succession plan in place for critical staff—before it becomes a necessity.

Focus on staff development. A résumé doesn’t necessarily reflect the extent of an employee’s potential. The right combination of motivation and capacity building can turn an untested employee into a surprise achiever. In the case of the Knicks, management asked Andrea Bargnani to step into a new role and expand his influence on the team—resulting in a significant increase in his performance across key statistics. Now it’s management’s job to translate that performance into wins. With luck, my basketball woes will be resolved by the next issue of Profit. But management will need to embrace the strategies that build a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Photography by Shutterstock