In the New York Times, Howard Beck reports, “Mike D’Antoni and the Knicks parted ways Wednesday—an event that seemed fated once the franchise acquired Carmelo Anthony, an immense talent whose individual playing style clashed with D’Antoni’s spread-the-wealth offense.”
I have to admit, after all the success the New York Knicks had experienced recently with Jeremy Lin and D’Antoni’s offense, I’m puzzled that the organization would choose to focus on a single superstar rather than winning games—but then I’m not the general manager of the Knicks.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest the project teams that rely on the efforts of one key player are less likely to succeed. Successful project teams seem to nurture and engage everyone on the team.
I work with a colleague, the manager of another team, who feels like part of his responsibility is to nurture the talent on his team. He consciously spends time helping them develop the talents they’ll need later in their career. He does this by giving them opportunities to stretch and take on new challenges. Although this might sometimes take a little more work, he (and I) think it’s worth it. Consequentially, he’s had some star performers on his team. Some are still there, others have moved on to new opportunities.
I’m convinced that there are some key elements to nurturing talent:
- Empower people with ownership and flexibility regarding their contribution to the team. Let them contribute to establishing benchmarks and defining their role. Give them some decision-making power about how they’re going to do their work. After all, those closest to the work understand it the best.
- Allow for mistakes. Creating an environment where people can learn and develop means you’ll need to create a safe environment for making mistakes and learning from those mistakes. Most skills can be developed with practice and coaching, but it might sometimes require some patience on your part. Fortunately, the rewards are usually worth it.
- Invest your time. I don’t think there’s any shortcut to spending time with your people. If you don’t set aside time for one-on-one discussion with the members or your team or the people that work for you, you should. You might be surprised at the things you’ll learn—including talents that you weren’t aware of within your organization.
- Take a risk now and then. It might not always pan out, but a willingness to give someone a chance to come off the bench during a critical project might help you discover a real gem. What’s more, you might find out that the people you thought would be star performers aren’t.
A colleague who knew I was writing about this today, just sent me an article written by Brian Koppelman titled Caremlo Anthony: Joy Wrecker. I think he sums up the situation for the Knicks and most project teams quite well. “The Knicks are a winning team without Carmelo, and a losing team with him. I can talk about shots per game, Mike D’Antoni’s offense, Amar’e Stoudemire’s conditioning, but what it comes down to, in the end, is that Carmelo Anthony, on the court, does not care about anything but Carmelo Anthony.”
In my opinion, that’s a toxic way to run a basketball team, a project team or an organization.