In Patrick Lencioni’s great book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” he states some specific behaviors of highly functional and dysfunctional teams.  There is some great stuff in there on what happens on high functioning teams that really translates to coaching.

Five things happen on high functioning teams in this order –

  1. They learn to trust each other
  2. They are willing to address and resolve tough issues
  3. They buy-in
  4. They hold each other accountable
  5. Team agendas rule

I re-read the book recently and this really struck me.  As coaches we talk to our team about buy-in all the time.  It’s interesting to me where it falls in this pyramid.  It comes after trust and the willingness to confront difficult issues.  But as coaches, are we approaching that stuff in the right order when building our team?  I’m not sure I always have.

We demand buy-in almost as a prerequisite to being on the team.  We talk about it from day one.  It’s interesting to think about buy-in coming after two things that are really important – trust and conflict resolution.  Obviously, these things don’t happen a vacuum.  When you talk about buy-in, you are also developing trust and dealing with some conflict.  But that idea that you can’t really get buy-in until you establish the other two is worth thinking about.

Great teams have to go through some stuff together before truly getting buy-in.  It makes sense.  Obviously any successful organization has to develop some level of trust.  And that takes time.  The most successful team I’ve ever coached, our 2007 Elite 8 team, had been together for two years before I coached them, and had played for two different coaches.  I was their third coach in three years.  Then, in our fourth year, we went on a great run.  That team was as bought in and tight as any team I’ve ever been a part of – but a big part of that probably developed before I even showed up.  They had been through so much together.  They had developed trust and dealt with plenty of conflict.  When we started together I gave them something they could believe in, and once they did they were all in.

At Maine, we’ve worked really hard at developing trust.  I have no doubt that our players know they can trust our staff and our approach, and I think they trust each other.  They trust that the way we do things is going to have a positive impact on them long term.  The one missing piece to the trust?  Probably our lack of success.  They want to see the basketball stuff turn into results, and we haven’t gotten there yet.

We’ve also created an atmosphere where we can be open with one another and resolve conflict.  We talk about confrontation being an important part of leadership, and it’s necessary.  We communicate directly and openly, and when there is a problem we address it.  But the one aspect of conflict resolution that is probably damaging the trust in our program?  The transfers.  We’ve had a number of good young players transfer “up” to programs a higher levels.  So whether we like it or not, part of the conflict resolution in our program is flight – when we think things can be better for ourselves personally, we leave.  That’s an aspect that I have to recognize.  So have we really figured out how to address difficult issues when one response is that we just walk away?  Probably not.

So when we talk to our guys about buy-in, this is something I have to recognize.  While I certainly think we trust each other, we may not be all the way there yet with our results.  And while I think we’ve learned how to deal with conflict internally, it still has to be on the back of their mind – when good players see an opportunity, they might leave.  When I talk to my players about true buy-in, those are things I need to address.  How strong is our trust?  How much do we really feel like we can confront issues and find a comfortable resolution?  Once we get there, we can start to talk about true buy-in.


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