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Building a world class team, like the US Olympic team requires time.

Time to…

Time to Choose Your People

Jerry Colangelo: “Guys who play together can beat a group of all-stars on any
given night. Team over talent. Collective identity over individual ego.

Choosing your people is the first decision you will make as a leader. Take the
time to make it a good one.

Leaders sometimes get caught up too early in what the mission will be. And
the mission is crucially important. But your team’s people are the ones who are
going to accomplish that mission. Before you get into the details of your
strategy, your X’s and O’s, you have to decide first who is the X and who is the

For one thing, there is no substitute for talent. And while a great attitude and a
solid game plan will take you far, you cannot achieve at the highest level
without having some aptitude. We wanted to select those individuals who had
talent but who also had high standards.

Time to Understand Context

Coach K/Jerry Colangelo didn’t shy away from past Olympic failures.

It is your responsibility to teach your team enough context to ensure that they
all understand their place within it.

“You can no longer beat great teams with just a group of all-stars.” Jerry
Colangelo. The success of Spain, Argentina, etc. taught them the need for
familiarity with one another and for continuity.

Time to Gain Perspective

It’s bigger than you! There’s always something bigger than you (no matter how
important you believe yourself to be). As your team pursues a goal, it’s vital to
maintain a sense of perspective.

The value of guest speakers!

Coach K invited Colonel Robert B. Brown (a former player

of his) to speak to the team along with 3 soldiers who were
injured under Brown’s command. Colonel Brown spoke to
the team about “Selfless Service.” It’s about being part of a
cause greater than oneself. Give up your identity as an
individual for the overall team effort.

Collective Identity > Individual Ego. Ego can be a good

thing, but you have to come together to form a team ego
that is greater than each player’s individual ego.

Build a trust amongst your team that creates the ability to

react at a moment’s notice with no questions asked.

When we were out on the court, I wanted our players to feel like winning the
gold medal was the most important thing in the world. But when you step off
the basketball court or outside of that boardroom, you have to realize that it’s
really not. There are things that are bigger than you.

Ego and humility are not mutually exclusive. You should have both.

Context defines the moment. Perspective allows you to make the most of it.
Time to Form Relationships

The single most important factor in bringing a team together is the formation
of relationships.

The foundation of all relationships are trust and communication. One facilitates
the other.

Jerry Colangelo: “You don’t demand respect. You earn it.”

In a team environment, the talent and expertise of the person next to you is an
opportunity, not a threat.

In my experience, you have to really know someone in order to bring out the
best in them.

I attribute a lot of my success to the fact that I spend more

time talking with my players than coaching them.

LeBron James: “You have to be a family first to be a team.”

A team has to bond and bonding doesn’t happen on its own.

Time must be dedicated to the process. Relationships can’t
be cemented solely in your team’s meetings/practices. Give
your team members chances to interact off the court (in less-
serious environments).

Wanted to establish a set pattern of communication so they

would always get together in a conference room before
leaving the hotel for practice. This was never sacrificed.

As team relationships grow over time and are built on that foundation of
communication, trust, and respect, you can find that something else grows:

I also try to think about which players I may want to single out for personal
interaction, whether it be on the bus, while the players are getting taped and
lacing up their shoes, during practice itself, or during shooting.
Nate McMillan: “We need to be connected on both ends of the floor. If we
communicate and we’re connected, we can defend anything they put out on
the floor.”

Time to Develop a Support System

Develop a support system. Realize that no matter what it is, you don’t have to
do it alone. Feeling alone is a scary thing. But allowing those who have helped
you along the way to make you stronger in the moment bring about

Time to Establish Standards

Too many rules get in the way of leadership.

It’s not about winning, but playing to our standards.

In developing teams, I don’t believe in rules. I believe in standards. Rules don’t

promote teamwork, standards do. Rules are issued by a leader to a group and
the group can either follow those rules or break them. When something is
presented as a rule, you can’t own it. You can’t live it. Standards, on the other
hand, are lived. This is what we do all the time. These are the things for which
we hold one another accountable.

A major part of becoming a team, then, is the establishment and collective

acceptance of your standards, based on your team’s makeup and centered on
your unique goal. Once a group of individuals formulates and agrees to their
standards, they become united, single minded in purpose.

Jason Kidd: “Champions are on time.”

“You know what I want the new ring to be a reminder of? Of the brotherhood
and the commitment and the fact that we had a goal, a destination, we
followed the road map, and we had standards. You’ll remember that for the
rest of your lives.”
LeBron James: “I think we’ve got to be the no-excuse team. When we go
across these waters and we go play, we’ve got to be a no-excuse team. What I
mean is, it’s going to be us against the world and we’ve got to look at it that
way. We can’t blame the refs, we can’t blame the crowd, we can’t blame
anything else on anybody. We’re in a position right now where we control our
own destiny.


1. No Excuses (We have what it takes to win)

2. Great Defense (This is the key to winning Gold)
3. Communication (We tell each other the truth)
4. Trust (We believe in each other)
5. Collective Responsibility (We are committed to one another)
6. Care (We have each other’s back)
7. Respect (We respect each other and our opponents)
8. Intelligence (We know the scouting report)
9. Poise (We show no weakness)
10. Flexibility (We can handle any situation)
11. Unselfishness (We’re connected)
12. Aggressiveness (We play hard every possession)
13. Enthusiasm (This is fun)
14. Performance (We have no bad practices)
15. Pride (We are the best team in the world and we represent our country)

Time to Cultivate Leadership

I think one of the primary mistakes that leaders make in team building is in
believing that they have to be the sole provider of leadership. Great teams
have multiple leaders, multiple voices. A major part of building a team is
discovering who these voices will be and cultivating them.

Part of cultivating leadership is ensuring that your team will hear a number of
different voices, not the leader’s alone.

Never stop building relationships with your team members (particularly your
internal leaders). During breaks (summer? Off-season?), continue to cultivate
these relationships.
A leader doesn’t have an exclusive contract on getting a point across. Enlist
others’ help! Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd were the guys Coach
K always went to when he wanted to get a message across to the group. Take
time to cultivate leadership. Recognize that yours is not the only voice that your
team wants or needs to hear, and be unselfish with your leadership.

Coach K to LeBron before Gold Medal game: “Use your voice and your
leadership to overcome those nerves.”

Kobe to Coach K: “Can you do me a favor? I want you to let me guard the best
players on every team we face. And I promise you I will destroy him.”

There are different types of leadership.

LeBron: loud

Kobe: by example.

Time to Learn the Language

When bringing together from various backgrounds,

make sure you’re all speaking the same language
and develop a common vocabulary. All the players
were so intelligent, it was just a matter of getting
everyone on the same page.

Time to Adapt Internally

In the formation of teams, every single person must adapt. And for those who
have met with much individual success, adaptability can be a challenge.

You cannot simply ask your team to just adapt to you. As a leader, it is part of
your responsibility to adapt as well. If everyone simply adjusts to the style of
the leader, you are not getting the most of what everyone has to offer. Instead,
a leader needs to be a part of a mutual adaptation that forms a combination of
the best of everyone.

You can’t win every game, but you can learn from every game.
When leaders make clear their willingness to change, it establishes an
environment in which everyone can be comfortable adapting.

A basketball team should check their egos at the door but should also pick
them back up on their way onto the court. What I mean is, there is a delicate
balance when it comes to asking people to adapt. You never want an
individual to be so deferential to the team concept that they lose the part of
their individual ego that makes them great. On our team we wanted to find the
right mix of sacrifice and self-assurance (Chris Paul was being too passive.
Coach K encouraged him to take ‘New Orleans Hornets shots’, not ‘USA
Basketball shots.’).

Time to Practice

The way you practice sets the tone for how you play.

To help turn fundamentals into habits requires intensive, intelligent and

repetitive action.

At the conclusion of every team practice, I spend time thinking about what we
have just done and what we need to accomplish in the next twenty four hours.
And part of what is included in my practice plan is what I will say to the team in
our pre-practice meeting. That meeting is one of the times in which our
relationships are cemented and lines of communication are established.

But practice is also about developing your strengths. Having already analyzed
our weaknesses and what the competition does better, we must also take time
to determine where we find our competitive advantage. What are the things
that your team can do better than the opposition?

On our team, there were two things that we talked about every single day: the
gold medal and defense, our goal and our competitive edge.

Practice, then, isn’t just about playing the way you will in a game, it’s about
communicating the way you will in a game.

Time for Self-Assessment

Becoming your best is an ongoing process.

How can a team reach its potential if it cannot look at itself with a critical eye?
There is always a need to evaluate performance in battle or in business and
then retrain based on your assessments. In team building, self-assessment
must take place both at the group level and on an individual level for each of
the team members. This does not exclude the leader, whose individual self-
assessment may be the most crucial of all.

Being the best you can be and doing the best you can should be the two
constants in your program.

I’ve always believed that failure can be an integral part of success. When you
attempt something in which failure is possible, you test your limits. Failure
requires you to reevaluate. To pass that point, we had to change who we were.
Loss to Greece in ’06 caused us to examine our personnel, our preparation,
and my approach to coaching the team.

Winning can mask your deficiencies. But it’s the job of a team’s leadership is to
constantly self-assess, you have to be willing to look at yourself critically even in

Confrontation = meeting the truth head


“My family arrives tomorrow, and I know

that a lot of your families will get here
over the next few days,” I said to them.
“My grandchildren aren’t coming all the
way over here to watch us win a damn
bronze medal. They’re coming here to
see us win the gold.”

Time to Get Motivated

As a leader, it is your responsibility to put your team in the moment, to ensure

that they understands what’s at stake and the level of risk and reward.

That being said, you, as the leader, had better walk in there ready to go.
Before you ever utter a word, the team sees your face, the look in your eyes,
even your walk. Show the face your team needs to see.
Before Gold Medal game: BE WHO YOU ARE FOR 40 MINUTES

Motivation can come from many different sources. One source is reinforcing
that sense of perspective that you taught your team early on. Another source is
reviewing your established standards.

Game Time

Competition has two purposes in the context of team formation. First, it gives
you a platform for improvement. You can’t reach your full potential without
competition. Second, competition serves as a test for your team. The moments
provided by the game time are moments of truth.

When it comes to game time, there is another added element: pressure. How
will your team handle it? Game pressure can do one of two things: it can inhibit
you, or it can excite you.

Message before Australia game: we are 0-0. We haven’t done anything yet.
Taped on each player’s chair was a sign that read “Take Nothing For Granted

“Game Day” isn’t merely the day of the game, it’s the full 24 hours leading up.
You should start focusing then not just on the calendar day of the game. Tip-off
against Spain was at 2:30 on Sunday afternoon. There was simply not enough
time before tip-off to wake up unmotivated. Our focused game prep had to
begin on Saturday afternoon.

“Right from the start of the game, we have to be together and tough. We’ve
done three years of preparation for forty minutes of basketball.”

With 8:23 to go, the US Olympic National Team held a 2-point lead over Spain.
A timeout was called. There is a time to call a play and a time to let them play.
“Just go out there and play,” Coach K said. He felt he had to get Kobe going.
“My job as a leader was just to make Kobe comfortable enough to follow his
instincts in leading through the final 8 minutes.”

One Golden Moment

Dwyane Wade to Coach K after the game: “Thank you for believing in me.”
Kobe: “What you saw today was a team. Everybody wants to talk about NBA
players being selfish, begin arrogant, being individuals. What you saw today
was a team bonding together, facing adversity and coming out of here with a
big win...It’s an unbelievable feeling to win a gold medal for your country. I
can’t begin to describe to you the feeling that we all feel right now.”