Sun, April 21, 2024

Lessons Learned: A Method to the Madness

As a sports fan, this may well be my favorite time of the year. Major League Baseball is in the midst of Spring Training, and this year, we have the extra treat of the World Baseball Classic for the first time since 2017. Professional golf just held what many call its “fifth major,” the Players Championship. However, the centerpiece of the sports calendar this time of year is “March Madness,” the NCAA College Basketball Tournament.

So many of us will be spending our time over the next three weeks filling out brackets and watching games that it is estimated that businesses in the U.S. will lose anywhere from $2 billion to $14 billion in productivity during the tournament. Since I know that many of you are going to be distracted by the tournament, I am going to do my best to help you fill out your brackets in a way that also provides you with some tips to improve your business. That way, any lost productivity you might have will be offset by the potential improvement in your business.

So, as you go through your bracket, here is how to make your picks for each of the games:


  1. Start at the Top: In the NCAA Tournament, more than even in the regular season, coaching matters. If you think the game is going to be at all close (or if you want to pick a big upset), go with the team with the better coach.  This does not always mean taking the biggest “brand name” coach (e.g., Kansas’ Bill Self). Also, take a close look at coaches who can do more with less or who have won more than any of their predecessors did at their current school. A similar perspective should be taken with your business. Your business’ success will be highly dependent on the strength of your management team. Be sure to make an appropriate investment in those who will lead your business.
  1. Coach on the Court: In addition to picking the team with the best coach, it is also a good idea to pick the team with the best point guard.  On a basketball team, the point guard is often the coach’s proxy on the court. A team with a strong leader at point guard is often a team that will go far in the tournament. Similarly, in business, it is important to have strong leaders among your workforce. Whether it is a worker on the line in a manufacturing plant or someone on your associate team in a service business, you need to have leaders who are proxy managers among your workforce.
  1. Value Experience: One of the big mistakes that many make when picking their brackets is overvaluing talent while undervaluing experience, and particularly, group experience.  This time of year, you often see teams with a number of juniors and/or seniors who have played together for the past three to four years overachieve during the tournament. Typically, these teams have strong cultures, have dealt with adversity together, and know and complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The longer a team plays together, the more likely they are to maximize cumulative success. A local example of this has been Augusta University’s men’s basketball team for the past two years.  Last year, they went to the Division II Championship game, and while they fell short of that this year, their conference regular season and tournament championships made for another great year. Their team both years was composed of many key players who played together for many years. In our businesses, we can emulate an experienced team by retaining key members of both our management team and our workers for as long as possible. An experienced team tends to be a winning team.
(Photo from the Jagwire)
  1. “Share the Ball”: With all else being equal, the teams that share the ball (i.e., have the most assists) are more successful.  So, if you are undecided on who to pick in a close matchup, pick the team that averages the most assists per game. Such a team passes the ball well and ends up taking (and making) better shots. It is no coincidence that it is typically the experienced, senior-laden teams that often have the highest assists. In our businesses, this means hiring unselfish managers and workers, who do not care who gets the credit but instead value organizational performance.
  1. “Defense Never Slumps”: When in doubt, select the better defensive team (the team which gives up less points) in your bracket. While good offensive teams are dependent on whether they are shooting well or not, good defensive teams are only dependent on the effort they are willing to expend on defense. The phrase “defense never slumps” comes from the fact that defense does not run hot or cold, but can be consistent if the team puts forth consistent effort. In our businesses, this means, while we all like having talented workers, it is more important to hire those who put forth a consistently strong effort.

I hope that you, like me, will enjoy the excitement and thrills of March Madness during the next three weeks.  I also hope I provided you with some tips which will help as you pick your brackets and improve your business.

Dr. Rick Franza, Former Dean and Current Professor of Management at the Hull College of Business ,


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