Give Your Bench Minutes

golden state

Even when individual sports figures start to let us down, we can still find valuable lessons in team sports. Last night’s Golden State Warriors game showed me just that. Mind you, on most nights – more accurately on every single night until the last – the Warriors wouldn’t even cross my radar. Even this year’s rise to the upper echelon has surely gone without the notice of all but the NBA’s biggest fans. Last night, however, the Warriors played all 13 players at least ten minutes, and they all scored. To put that in perspective, they’ve never done that in franchise history.

While that makes for an interesting stat, what makes it truly relevant is that they beat the Nuggets by 43 points. The Nuggets aren’t a .500 team, but they aren’t exactly horrible at 18-23. The Warriors, on the other hand, are at the top of the NBA power rankings with an astounding 33-6 record.

That brings me to the question at the heart of the lesson: why do we always let our superstars do all the work? Sure, the question can be applied to all team sports, but it also belongs in the workplace. How many of you have been on a lopsided team where a small number of people, or even just one person, does a disproportionate amount of the work? Have you been that person that carries other team members on your back? Have you managed a lopsided team like that?

If your work experiences are anything like mine, you’ll have a hard time recounting a situation where that wasn’t the case. I’ve spent a good portion of my career in consulting, where it is simple to determine the distribution of the work. In fact, for my first job out of college, I was actually the one who kept the spreadsheet that was the equivalent to NBA stats. Utilization, which measures billable hours versus total available hours, is like the minutes played in an NBA game. It’s the easiest way to measure the revenue he or she brings to, or costs, the organization. To this day I can still visualize the huge gaps between the 90% and 10% consultants on that spreadsheet, and I’ve been in numerous other comparable “team” dynamics since.

Getting back to the Warriors game, granted, 10 minutes played by an NBA player is still less than 25% of the total minutes in a game. However, in order to get an accurate calculation, you’d first have to figure out a reasonable number of minutes that could be played with some amount of rest. That would increase those 10 minutes to a more acceptable utilization. In the end we have to realize that we’re still going to want our most talented employees doing more of the [available] work. What we’re really talking about is the normalization of utilization – elevating the 0-5% we typically see out of some players to an acceptable level. The same thing is true in the workplace.

Think for a moment about the net effects of doing this. Firstly, and most obviously, you’ve actually lived up to the team concept. Even though you get the rare team member who is unselfish enough to spend most or all of his or her time “riding the pine,” so to speak, the energy they bring to the team’s success is completely watered down if they can’t contribute to the actual game/work.

Secondly, you give your superstars a breather and allow them to elevate their games even higher when they’re tapped on the shoulder. After all, players and workers get burned out on both a daily and annual basis. Sure, fewer minutes might have a negative on their total points or utilization, but more than likely their field goal percentages and client satisfaction will be higher.

The superstar’s pushback will come from that very fact of their suffering “numbers.” They’ll complain to their manager, coworkers, friends and anyone who will listen about the negative effect on their compensation as well as their future marketability. That speaks to a more endemic issue in the organization, and the overall world of organizations. Maybe – no, not maybe, but certainly – a higher weighting needs to be placed on team performance instead of individual performance.

It takes organizational change to make this happen, as well as great leaders. Not that I know enough of the situation to say whether Steve Kerr is a great leader, but his comments about the way last night’s game went down certainly show that the result wasn’t an accident.

“This is so unique to have a group pull for each other that exhibits the selflessness where, from one night to the next, somebody isn’t going to get a lot of points or a lot of shots. And it doesn’t seem to bother them.”

It’s that term “bother” that we really need to focus on. We don’t want to bother our players and employees. We want them to be happy, because if they’re happy, the organization is happy. Happiness breeds success; both success of the team and success of the individual. It’s all about the balancing act of making that happen, and team balance could just be one of your most untapped tools.