Business Reflections from the Final Four

The 2010 NCAA National Championship captivated our attention for the past few weeks.  The first hours of the tournament were filled with upsets and highly competitive games.  The stage was set for something special this year.  The Final Four culminated with a championship game between Duke and Butler, two solid, if somewhat unexpected, finalists.

March Madness is now over, but not the memories or lessons for the players, coaches, universities, basketball fans, or casual spectators.  As one of the latter, I was struck with several scoring opportunities for business over the past three weekends:

1. Favorites do not always win.  This year’s tourney was filled with early upsets.  Some favorites expected to win, but did not play like winners.  They lost.  Many favorites were not favored by much.  The same applies to businesses.  Do not assume that the favorites, the market leaders, will always win in today’s markets.  They can be upset with better efforts from underdogs.

2. Each team has tendencies.  Some teams are built on defense, others on offense.  Some run up tempo, while others are deliberate in running a half-court offense.  Your organization also has tendencies.  Your best competitors know those tendencies, too.  They study and prepare for you.  Do you do the same?

3. Different roles require different skills.  Good teams have clearly defined roles needed for their success.  This is true in NCAA basketball.  It’s true in your business.  Matching roles with individual and team skills will extend your success.

4. A great defense can shut down a good offense.  Knowing what the competition is trying to do to score is a good start.  Doing something about their efforts is something else.  A good defense can be disruptive in basketball… and in business.

5. A great offense can overcome a good defense.  It’s essential to exploit weaknesses in your competition.  Best scoring opportunities are found when you are looking to score.

6. It takes a team.  Great teamwork trumps great individual work.  Look at the teams left standing late in the tournament this year.  An individual may carry a team for minutes, a half, maybe most of a game.  Not the entire tournament.  Be sure to surround yourself with good people.

7. Protect the ball.  Turnovers were keys to several games this year.  Know that your opponents stop you from scoring through turnovers.  Turnovers in business are missed opportunities, lack of customer support, poor sales efforts, inadequate research, inaccurate pricing, and so on.  Business turnovers happen.  Great teams minimize business turnovers.

8. Monitor your starters.  Starters begin the game, and play most of it.  They are the best skilled for that game… and possibly every game.  Good coaches watch them closely and substitute for them when needed.  Are your business “starters” in need of a break?  Do they need a rest?  Good businesses, like good basketball teams, build bench strength.

9. Momentum comes and goes.  Every game offered changes in momentum, first for one team and then the opponent.  Momentum changes the flow of every game.  When you have it, you run with it.  When you don’t, you do anything to stop it.  You slow down.  You call time out.  What is your business strategy for handling momentum?  Do you stop when you have business momentum or run with it?

10. Adjust your game plan.  Research and study are essential in game preparation.  Once the game begins, adjustments are made by coaches and players.  Some plans have worked, but others have not.  The game has changed.  If your business has changed, take a timeout and make adjustments.

The 2010 NCAA tournament was a memorable one.  Entertaining plays.  Outstanding team efforts.  Unexpected upsets.  Explosive offense.  Stifling defense. Disruptive strategies. 

All the necessary ingredients were there for an outstanding basketball tournament.  It lived up to its potential. 

The same characteristics can provide a memorable business experience, too.  One that wins.

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