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Coaching a championship team: success comes when management invests in people.

THIS TIME OF year is a favorite for me as the spring sports season is underway. It's interesting how sometimes sports are anything but. On the one hand, I watch my kids play in a variety of leagues where they are being taught skills, sportsmanship and how to have fun. On the other hand, I watch the big league teams who have no problem coughing up big bucks in an attempt to buy their way into a championship.

The big teams have the money to buy whatever they want. Sportsmanship means little; what counts is that you perform every day in everyway. The skills are assumed, spirit is expected and performance is demanded. And, if you have a bad month you are put on waivers or traded to another team.

Meanwhile, the league that children play in--often emulating big league teams with names or mascots--are comprised of kids of varying skill levels and interest who, in a short period of time, have to learn one or more positions and mold together as a team. Their leader is a volunteer coach, who often has minimal or no coaching experience and races home from his regular job to deal with the challenge of building a sports team. While both players and coaches want to win just as badly as they do in the big leagues, trades are not permitted and money can't buy a win.

Sometimes I wish that I could operate my business like a big league sports team; to be able to buy or sell talent as needed and invest in the latest and greatest technique/tool to get the upper hand on the competition. Wouldn't it be great, I often think, to put employees who continually ask dumb questions or won't get off their butts on waivers?

Early in my career I worked for a couple of what would now be categorized as "Tier 1" companies where resources were readily available to buy tools and talent needed to win market share and growth. Looking back, those where heady times where strategic planning and world-class benchmarking promised to lead us to ultimate success. Considerable time was spent recruiting the best people, teaching everyone the most advanced concepts. All employees were expected to recite the well-publicized vision statement and perform their duties in the spirit of the corporate values.

However, the results were mixed. In the trenches it seemed like the only vision that mattered was "Winning is everything," while the most prevalent corporate value was to circumvent anyone who got in the way of your next promotion. Camaraderie came from keeping score in the great game of corporate musical chairs, as one large corporation would hire away from another large corporation. As I look back at my time in the big leagues overall we all did okay, but high turnover rate led to change so that no one led the pack for very long.

Over the years of watching my kids play a variety of sports it has been interesting to see the results. The teams my kids have played on reflected the wide variety of players in the league--those with good, fair and poor skills. Ditto for work ethic and attitude. While a few kids had the latest sporting gear, many used marginal equipment. While none of my kids have been star athletes, each one has had the good fortune of being on a championship team--and each have been on teams that were anything but.

The teams that were the worst had a few things in common. First, the coaches played favorites. They either played only the best kids in the positions they wanted or let their kid play whatever position he/she wanted, regardless of skill. Second, the coaches looked at winning as everything. Each game was treated like it was the season championship with no margin for error and no excuses for failure. Finally, the coaches openly criticized the kids if they made an error and rarely praised them if they did well. Despite the fact that these coaches claimed to have considerable coaching experience, their teams had poor morale, little camaraderie and, regardless of how many games they won, they would inevitably choke.

More interesting--and fun--was watching the championship teams, which also had a few things in common. First, the coaches played everyone and showed no favoritism. Second, the coaches were not focused on winning but on having fun and the kids' constant improvement. The coaches did whatever they could do to eliminate pressure and build team spirit, regardless of how a particular game was going. Finally, there was no open criticism, just a lot of praise. During and after the games, even if an error was made, it was always met with "Good try, let's work on that after the game." Most interesting was that the coaches of the winning teams were always first-time coaches, and in one case the coach had never played the sport he was coaching! What they lacked in experience they made up for in attitude, support and enthusiasm.

We are in an industry that goes through ups and downs. It's interesting which companies have most successfully made it through those cycles. It seems to me that the companies that do the best in good and not so good times operate with the spirit and heart of a local championship sports team. While having the resources to attract the best talent and tools is nice, as is strategic planning and all that goes with it, maybe business success has more in common with sports success. Success is easier and lasts longer if enthusiasm, spirit and time is invested by management in the people you have so they perform like the champions we all want--and know they can be.

PETER BIGELOW is president and CEO of IMI ( He can be reached at
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Title Annotation:ROI
Author:Bigelow, Peter
Publication:Printed Circuit Design & Manufacture
Date:Jun 1, 2007
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