In writing my newest series of books about why certain teams win championships in professional sports, I was blown away by the importance of one singular metric that was consistently woven throughout the locker rooms and front offices of every successful organization I researched: Chemistry. Sure, talent is important, but being successful over the long haul requires having a team of people who get along and can work together as a family.
We are constantly hiring employees to operate businesses. What criteria do you use in assembling your teams? Millennials, Gen-X’ers, Boomers—you have lots of different personalities all thrown into the same pot together and it can get dicey. In sports, it’s not always about getting the best players, but rather the right players. Big difference.
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The top coaches figure out which players get along well with others, and which ones create drama. Have any employees who create drama? Employees who cause drama will eventually contaminate your staff. In sports they are referred to as “team cancers.” Yes, the old cliché rings true: one bad apple will spoil the entire barrel.
To create the right chemistry on your team you need to move your people out of the building and onto “neutral turf.” Take them out for a team building exercise somewhere fun such as a picnic, bar, bowling, etc., and see who hangs out together. Observe who smiles and laughs and enjoys being around one another.
This was the tact taken by Scotty Bowman, the winningest coach in the history of the National Hockey League. Bowman figured out early on in his career that friends like to pass the puck to friends. He discovered that when people who liked each other and cared for each other played together on the same line, they were more unselfish and even found genuine pleasure in watching their pals achieve success. He had a whole line of Russians in Detroit and another entire line of Swedes. Needless to say, they just clicked. In a culture steeped in individual statistics and huge egos, this is rare.
A great example of a person who completely bought into this philosophy was Wayne Gretzky. (Full disclosure, I had a gigantic man crush on No. 99 as a kid … but I digress.) Gretzky is the NHL’s all-time leader in goals as well as assists, but he had twice as many assists than goals. I asked Gretzky about that, and he said, “A goal makes one guy happy, but an assist … that makes two guys happy.”
How cool is that? “The Great One” was a giver, not a taker—and that’s why he was beloved by his teammates. He made everybody else better around him because of his selflessness. Who are the givers on your team?
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Another big factor in creating chemistry on successful teams is having “plus players” on your roster. In hockey there is a little-known measurable called the plus/minus that might be the most important statistic in the game. Here’s how it work. Every time you’re on the ice during a game and your team scores a goal, you’re plus-one. Every time you’re on the ice and the other team scores a goal, you’re minus-one. At the end of the season, if you’re plus- 50, you’re a rock star and you’re going to make millions of dollars. However, at the end of the season if you’re minus-50, that means you’re a selfish one-way player who doesn’t want to sacrifice your body by playing defense—ultimately resulting in either a demotion to the minor leagues or worse yet, being cut. Ouch!
Bobby Orr, arguably the greatest defenseman of all time with the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks, won the plus/minus crown a record six times. Six! Orr was without a doubt the most respected player on his team because of his willingness to do the dirty work and be a two-way plus player.
Plus players create good chemistry, build team morale, and most importantly they deter drama. Plus players are infectious … in a good way. Minus players, meanwhile, are also infectious … but in a bad way. Leaders identify and get rid of your minus players. It’s not easy, but they’re dead weight and their negativity will eventually consume all your time and energy.
Here’s the bottom line for your team: you want to fill your roster with givers and plus-players—people who are selfless, willing to come in early, stay late, and lead by example. They will have a positive and nourishing influence on the rest of your employees that will ultimately allow you to focus on profitability and customer service. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what great team chemistry is all about?
Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the November 2021 issue of School Transportation News.
The best-selling author of nearly 50 sports books, Ross Bernstein is an award-winning, Hall of Fame, peak-performance business speaker who’s keynoted conferences on all seven continents and has been featured on CNN, CBS This Morning, ESPN and Fox News, as well as in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and USA Today. He’s spent the better part of the past 20 years studying the DNA of championship teams and his mission whenever he takes the stage is to get his audiences all thinking differently about what it’s going to take to raise their games to the next level. He opened last month’s STN EXPO Indianapolis.
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