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The Curse of the 500 Team

As franchises in the NBA, NHL, and European soccer enter the prime window for revamping both player and management talent - the offseason - the question from ownership that nearly always arises is, "how far off are we to being truly competitive?"

In most companies going through some form of transformation (defined by a deep change of direction at a strategy, people, process or product level) there is a down curve - or a J curve (one hopes) - before a rise to greatness occurs. The rebuilding mechanics of major hard-salary cap or even soft-cap sports is the perfect poster child for this type of case study.

The stages at a high level usually follow:

Stage 1: An acceptance that a culture and process ‘step change’ is required

Stage 2: Reallocation of resources, assets and opportunities to support this new direction

Stage 3: An often slow but methodical rise back through the arc towards being relevant and highly competitive again

At Sportsology Group we have lived through the ‘return to greatness’ arc with several of our clients across multiple global sports. What remains fascinating and largely consistent is the repeatability of Stages 1 & 2 above. Franchises in 90 percent of the cases, intellectually and operationally execute this play-book pretty well. The buzz words we hear inside the building during these phases in regards to culture, character, discipline and strap lines mediate a ‘build it the right way’ mentality. In teams hovering in the ‘by design’ win percentage of 300-500 there are multiple tomorrows to deliver greatness. Why microwave the process?

Onto Stage 3 in more detail. In our experience this is the stage where changes in behavior really kick in. Teams who lived with the mantra of ‘culture first’ can often pick up a new language centered on names of players (often with either very high salary demands, or histories of ‘quick fixes’). The curse of Jim Collins mantra “the enemy of great is good” now starts to pervade the corridors of practice facilities and arenas across the respective leagues. Gone is the pursuit of greatness and culture and in turn, this is replaced by a short term ‘win now’ mindset. This shift can often occur in a matter of weeks. 

So what is the solution? Building great companies, franchises or teams always comes back to 3 things:

1. Create a compelling ‘North Star’ vision for what you want to achieve

2. Build your people, processes and company personality to support this vision

3. Execute with conviction, but stay nimble in the inevitably required acute auto-corrections to drive high performance in the moment 

Leaders inside organizations and teams need to ‘stay the course’ in Stage 3 of the process. Getting the team to .500 - or getting “too good” in Jim Collins words - relieves the pressure on a temporary level, but is the first step to potential failure to achieve greatness. This is a real moment of truth. Stay the course; stay focused around your goal, but stay nimble in the execution of the small steps as you navigate the last strides towards the ultimate objective: sustained, roots deep, repeatable success.


By Joel Cohen


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