The WNBA’s Seattle Storm, The NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, and The NBA’s Sacramento Kings deliver insights into building high-performance teams.
Whether it’s professional sports or in the boardrooms of the world’s largest companies, super teams set the example for high-performance. These team’s successes are held up by four pillars or key characteristics. They are:
- Technology Enabled
- Driven by Purpose
- Strategically Aligned
- Compassionate Leadership
In professional sports, common use of tech is video analysis and how they break down games. Teams dive deep into how their opponents play. How often do players go to the left? How often do they go to the right? What's their shooting range when there are five minutes to go in the game? How often do they have the ball in their hand? Access to the right tools and information enables them to better track what leads to the success of not only their team, but also of others. The better they know their competition’s strategies, the better they can perform against them. However, data can’t speak to everything.
Lisa Brummel, a co-owner of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm and former Chief People Officer and head of Human Resources at Microsoft, points out that “You can analytically assess the numerical things that players have done on the court. But what you can't assess is: Are they a good teammate? Are they organized? Can they get themselves to practice? Can they live on their own?”
These are soft skills that can’t be determined just by watching someone play. The same goes when hiring. There are a whole range of soft skills that are necessary for a proper fit that can’t be gleaned from a cursory skim — or even a deep dive — into a resume.
By approaching and evaluating players on both the technical and the more human (for the lack of a better turn of phrase), the Seattle Storm can identify the best player for the current team. It’s a bit of a puzzle. And just because one piece fits perfectly into one picture doesn’t mean it fits perfectly into another. There has to be an alignment of purpose.
Driven by Purpose
Take the Seattle Storm. Their mission is at the cross-section between sports, female empowerment, and social justice. “That has been in our mission from the beginning,” says Brummel. The Seattle Storm believe that their team needs to have a voice that extends beyond what they do on the basketball court. “We believe we’re a community asset, and we have always acted that way,” continues Brummel. “Coincidentally, the female athletes at the WNBA have also found their voice. We made it possible because we believed in it here. But separately, the WNBA Players Association and individual players have decided there are issues that they want to talk about, represent, and fight for…” This happens across professional sports.
Arik Armstead, defensive tackle for the 49ers and founder of the Armstead Academic Project, came from a family of compassionate people who believed in giving back and helping others. In 2019, Armstead founded the Armstead Academic Project in alignment to these values with the purpose to “ensure [that] every student, no matter their socioeconomic status, has direct access to a quality education through a positive learning environment and resources needed in order to thrive and be successful.”
“I felt that education and empowering young people would have the biggest impact where I’m from in Sacramento.” As Armstead continues, “athletes, entertainers, and celebrities have an even bigger duty to be socially conscious. It is our responsibility because the people listening care about what we have to say.”
A lot of good can come from reminding people to be socially conscious. For Armstead, corporations, as well, have a huge duty in helping even the playing field. They’re powerful and “when they say they want certain things to change, those things often get done,” says Armstead. “Education, the wealth gap, and corporations all go hand in hand. Students go to school to receive high paying jobs and create a life for their family. If corporations pour into young people’s lives and invest in educating them, it’s going to create a society that is evolving, and ultimately better prepared to make your corporation better in the future...different perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds are needed in positions of power...”
There is so much that can be gained from an organization actively seeking out perspectives from employees and executives from underrepresented communities. Better hiring is diverse hiring, and when one can overcome their unconscious biases even better teams, SuperTeams, can be created. There just has to be the drive and desire to do so. Thankfully, there are ways to do this. As Armstead puts it:
There are a few main root causes including first, communication. You know, it is a barrier when people in those hiring positions and those who run the corporations don’t really understand or come from the same places that a lot of minorities and those of different socio-economic backgrounds come from. There is a level of misunderstanding that is tough to break, but once it is broken, then the engagement changes to “I know who you are and I trust you.” Change starts with caring about helping to change. First, it begins in your heart and your mind, having a genuine care for the issue and then working to break down those barriers to entry. We won’t be where we could be as a country until those barriers are broken and we are all working together in progressing forward. The more things get mixed up and the more multicultural things become, the better we will be in the long run.
Setting a clear purpose for facilitating better communication during the hiring process (and once hired), can make all the difference and there are tech and tools available to help.
When you have a difficult problem, especially one that requires teamwork to solve, you can’t just throw the most qualified person on paper at it and hope for the best. There has to be a fit. Now, it would be great if every qualified candidate that came across your desk was the “perfect fit.” But there is no “perfect” candidate for any one type of job. What makes someone align perfectly with your company might make them incompatible at another. The right employee needs to fit within the company’s culture. Talent is important, but that talent doesn’t mean nearly as much if it isn’t complimentary with the strategies and ways your company operates. The better the fit, the better the strategic alignment, the greater the impact.
It’s the same thing on the basketball court. Each player enables the others to do their best. “You can’t just focus on one person and then expect to win,” Lisa Brummel shares. “[Y]ou have to really build a team, and that team has to have a mission. They have to have a culture and everybody has to believe in it.”
And culture can vary greatly company to company just as it does team to team. Richaun Holmes, currently a power forward and center for the Sacramento Kings, previously played for the 76s and Suns. Each had their own culture. “When I got to Philly…the culture was focused on going to the next level. [But] [i]n Phoenix, the team culture was all about proving you belong not only on the team, but the NBA as a whole...it fostered a very competitive team culture. And Sacramento reminds me of when I arrived in Philly — looking to take that next step and become a consistent playoff team.”
Even though, at the macro level, every team’s purpose is to win, each team’s purpose, strategy, and means of going about that goal varies. The fit is key, regardless of a player's skill in a vacuum. It’s the same in how Brummel approaches each year’s draft. “[I]f you decided you’re going to take a [particular] point guard, then you’ve got to be on the path that says, we’re going to use that point guard in a certain way because we’re going to run the team this way...you’ve got to decide what style, [what strategy], you want to play…[y]ou can’t just take a wing player and decide you’re still [going] to play like you pick[ed] the point guard.”
The best strategy is the one that uses the best of each member of your team when they are all working together — bringing everyone up to the next level. It’s not all about the “superstars” on the team. It’s about everyone, working together. That’s where the Super Team lies.
What is the mission of my team?
What’s the culture of my team that I want to build to achieve my mission?
These two simple — but not necessarily simple to implement — questions posed by Lisa Brummel encompass all four of these pillars. Your mission is your purpose. Achieving this mission requires strategy — the approach you’re going to take and the teams you’re going to engage to get this done. Once you have a plan, it takes leadership to follow through and technology to leverage and solve the problem in an efficient and impactful way. But even if all the other pillars fall in line, none of this is possible is without good people.
In order to identify a good fit, Brummel continues to ask questions such as “Who are the people we’re going to need to fit that culture to build that team to achieve that mission?” and “Who am I going to need to put around them to get that done? Who is going to be a good manager, [a good leader], to bring it all together?”
Whatever team is put together has to embrace a shared culture. Brummel has an enormous belief in the power of team versus that of an individual. And finding the right individuals requires transparency and for one’s own organization's or team’s values to be widely known. “It’s incredibly important to keep lines of communication open at all times,” Brummel says. “When people know what’s going on it builds trust [and]...they feel a connection with your organization...Having a regular cadence of communication helps people understand what your organization is experiencing and what you’re doing about it, while being open minded and listening.”
Now, it is necessary for this listening to extend internally to a team as well. “Everybody has their own struggle. You never know what people are going through off the court,” Richaun Holmes tells us. “I think something that everyone needs to keep in mind is when you are dealing with a player you may think is not being a team player is that everybody has their own struggle.” Just as, if you’re a recruiter, you can’t know what people are going through or have been through by a resume (or even a few conversations) alone. Holmes puts it best, “at the end of the day, we are all human and we go through different things.” And as a leader and mentor “The main thing you have got to do is to try to relate to them and hear what they've got going on.” “You can tell your teammate that you are definitely for them and, at the same time, tell them we have a job to do.” Compassion is key.
What’s in a SuperTeam?
Nowadays, a SuperTeam doesn’t just mean you’re a super team. There’s another definition of a SuperTeam as a group of individuals who are working together with artificial intelligence to better solve problems. That’s not to say AI will replace recruiters, that will never be done. But technology can help foster more fairness and efficiency in hiring, helping you form better teams while streamlining the process.
SuperTeams are in teamwork. They’re in collaboration. They are held up by people, technology, purpose, strategy, and leadership. They are held up by transparency. "When organizations value transparency, it creates THE possibility to build a Super Team,” says Lisa Brummel.
Humanly.io believes staying transparent with data helps create a foundation of trust. And as an agent to engage, simplify, and interpret recruiting conversation data, we allow companies to measure the quality in hiring — helping you build the best teams possible. Now, that is what’s humanly possible.