Home > Change Management, Management > Simple Change Management Lessons: What we can learn from the US Olympic Basketball Team

Simple Change Management Lessons: What we can learn from the US Olympic Basketball Team

We all know the story of the US Olympic Basketball team – Dream Team[tm] of 1996 to a non-compete at the 2002 World Championships and a dismal Bronze medal showing at the Athens Olympics. For those not from America, basketball is to the US as football/soccer is to Brazil, Italy, Argentina etc. Many words have been written and the latest from Alan Abrahamson, NBCOlympics.com, Colangelo’s meeting of the minds shaped 2008 team shows how the change has progressed. While we won’t know for certain the outcome of the change, many people following the story believe the US team is well back on track to the top.

From Abrahamson’s article, we find how we can learn the simple lessons of effective change management:
1. Culture change – team beats all-stars (a point I made in a previous posting regarding talent)

The Athens Games proved that a bunch of all-stars not only could but almost certainly would be beaten by others relying less on individual talent who played together as a team.

Thus — as any corporate consultant would have plainly seen — Colangelo needed to effect a culture change within the U.S. basketball program.

Simple, but so extremely difficult. Firstly, there must be a recognition that there is a culture problem – whatever “culture” means. In other words, I would say that there must be an awareness that the situation is really bad now. Secondly, people must believe it can’t be allowed to get worse. It is drawing that proverbial line in the sand and saying enough is enough. Without this, there cannot be what Bobby Knight says is the “will to prepare to win” by the people (senior executives, management team, other key employees) who first need to have that desire and preparedness to do whatever it takes to win.

2. Get commitment – You need to get these people together who is going to make the culture change happen and find out who is on board and who is not. This is the team building stage to ensure you’ve got the team – emotionally and mentally. No one man armies here (when you get this wrong see classic example). This team build event – I think you don’t have much time in a turn around situation – must take as long as necessary but not longer. I prefer a lock up of the people and don’t let them out until there’s an agreement of the way forward. Time is of the essence and the sooner everyone is on the same page, the probability of success improves.

On June 25, 2005, Colangelo convened an all-comers meeting at the National Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago. He invited, as he recalls, everyone — players and coaches — who over the past several decades had been part of the U.S. Olympic basketball effort….But if, as expected, the 2008 U.S. men’s team goes on to win Olympic gold in Beijing, it will clearly go down as history-making. …

To be eligible to be considered for the 2008 U.S. team, players had to make a three-year commitment. Role players (Tayshaun Prince) would be solicited. …

All of these elements came out of this meeting. [A]nd … an understanding that those players chosen would affirm in their words, their attitude and their conduct before and during the Olympics a respect for the game and the Games.

3. Practice and prepare – now put into action what was just agreed in steps 1 & 2. This is where the will to win and the preparing to win comes together – where the rubber meets the road. In fancy management speak, it’s all about “executional excellence”, turning strategy into action.

Colangelo cleaned house – brought in coaches starting with Coach Mike Krzyzewski that reflect the same values and sense of purpose with respect to Olympic basketball. Then they went to each of the players personally to recruit and get the same agreement and commitment.

Following that, they practiced and competed in international tournaments. Culminating with the FIBA tournaments in the US, the team seems to be headed in the right direction with the Olympics merely a few days away.

“We had to change the culture,” Colangelo said. “I think we have come a long way in doing just that.

“Our guys get it. They know why they’re here and what’s expected of them.

“And they buy into it.”

4. Celebrate success – I’m jumping the gun here but just doing the above religiously, with discipline, with rigor, with commitment, excellence naturally results.

I leave you with the following thoughts to ponder on change management:

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”
– Lao-Tzu

  1. August 6, 2008 at 8:03 PM

    Well done…..great post. Especially since it involved a real live example of the challenges and requirements associated with successful change.

    Steve MacGill
    Co-Founder PeerSight Online

  2. Lui Sieh
    August 7, 2008 at 1:18 AM

    Hi Steve,

    Many thanks for reading and glad you enjoyed it! Your PeerSight Online site seems quite interesting and hope it’s doing well.


  3. August 8, 2008 at 5:52 PM

    I liked point #1 a lot, I think it should be called though Teamwork, I don’t think Cultural Change is an accurate title.

  4. Lui Sieh
    August 8, 2008 at 6:07 PM

    That’s a fair point PM Hut. In this case, Cultural Change makes more sense because one can have Teamwork, but have zero team working or zippo collaboration or cooperation. In the case of the Olympic basketball team, this is right. They had a team, but it was dysfunctional – totally from coaches, down to players. No one was on the same page.

    Additionally, I’ve seen examples where there was a project team with seemingly good Teamwork, but in fact, the quality was poor because people continued to work in silos, using their old mentality to interact in a team setting. In functional organizations such as mine, teamwork requires a cultural change, not mere project management methodology window dressing.

    What this is really leading to is that change management requires a mindset change which usually is another way of saying cultural change. Depending on the change to be managed, having Teamwork may not be enough to effect a successful organizational change.


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