In the sports world certain athletes simply make teams better by their presence in the game. A recent New York Times article, “The No-Stats All-Star,” featured NBA athlete Shane Battier of the Houston Rockets. Battier does not score a lot of points or grab many rebounds — in fact, the team’s general manager, Daryl Morey, described him as a “marginal” athlete. But Battier may very well be his team’s most valuable player … and team leader.

That’s because his game is a collection of strengths that add to the whole. Morey calls him Lego because “when he is on the court all the pieces start to fit together. And everything that you can get to through intellect instead of innate ability, Battier excels in.” NBA games are usually decided by a small point differential, so the little things, such as the extra pass on offense or the defensive position that keeps a top scorer out of his comfortable shooting areas, really count.

Battier’s contributions are under the radar of the box score of traditional basketball statistics, but he makes the team better and takes his satisfaction in winning as a team.

What does the “Battier Effect” say about the effectiveness of teams, whether basketball or business?

First, that team leadership is shared. Leadership of the team rotates or moves among the members in a manner that enables the most capable person to lead the team at any given point in time. If a technical challenge is the issue at hand, one of the experts on the team may take the lead for that discussion. If the challenge is strategic or corporate in nature, a senior leader may very well be the recognized expert of the team at that moment.

Excellent team players clearly understand this concept and instinctively behave this way. Have you ever been part of a team experience or discussion that worked seamlessly in this manner? It is exhilarating! Ideas spark; energy is high; engagement is keen.

Second, that the designated team leader or boss must skillfully enable and facilitate the ability of team members to play their roles. He or she must bring out the best in everyone on the team, not just the technical stars or most assertive contributors.

In our MBA class Perspectives on Leadership, we explore leadership at the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in depth. Conductor Mario Venzago has reflected on leading a team of 87 world class professional musicians. The success of a given performance depends on Venzago’s ability to align a large number of talented (and in some cases very independent-minded) musicians with his vision of how he wants a particular part to sound. The musicians must enroll in his vision and then take turns playing their roles (and parts) flawlessly.

Keep in mind that each of these musicians is a star in his or her own right. For example, approximately 60 oboe players make a living as members of a full-time symphony orchestra in the United States. These musicians may take a solo when asked, but the essence of their success in making the orchestra better is their ability to play their part and make the other players in their section better by the way they listen, adapt and fit in with the team.

Third, that developing the Battier’s in our organizations is a responsibility that excellent leaders take seriously.
We may not be conducting a symphony or coaching an NBA team, but we are responsible for identifying and developing the great team players in our organizations. Some of the skills and personal attributes that we should watch for in employees who make their peers and teams better include:
• Putting team interests ahead of personal gain
• Listening first, then speaking
• Asking the right appreciative questions, at the right time
• Demonstrating respect for all team members, other members of the organization and customers
• Resolving conflict constructively rather than avoiding it or fanning the flames
• Seeing the opportunities in problems
• Thinking in visionary or strategic terms while still getting immediate work done

Can you spot and support the Battier’s in your organization, and coach your leaders to maximize everyone’s contributions when working together? If so, you are on your way to building a championship team.

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