The San Antonio Spurs have just finished off a dominating run to an NBA championship by dispatching LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the finals and are being heralded across the sports world for playing the game “the right way.”  

But it’s not so much the way they play, although it can border on brilliance. It’s more about how the team was built and is managed. 

Here’s a few things any business can learn from the Spurs:

1. Get the right people on the bus. Stealing from Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great,” this is perhaps the Spurs’ biggest strength. Not caught up in chasing big names, they look for talent and personalities that fit what they are trying to do and the culture of the team.  Second round draft picks, waiver wire pickups, etc.; anything to build the most effective unit. Those who are willing to buy in and work hard see are rewarded, while those who do not are jettisoned so as not to disrupt the team dynamic.

2. Don’t be afraid to lead. In a league driven by star players’ egos, Coach Gregg Popovich does things his way. He’s demanding. He holds his players accountable. He gives the best, most unusual interviews in the game. And it works, with five championships to his name. Star point guard Tony Parker talks about how hard Pop was harder on him than his teammates early in his career and credits that with making him the player he is today.  While this is not always popular, every team needs a leader to push them to greatness.

3. Empower those below you to make decisions. In all sports, the game plan is only as good as the plays the players make. Some teams, particularly at the college and high school levels, are paralyzed by micromanaging and over-coaching. The Spurs, on the other hand, run a system predicated on their players making decisions to keep the offense moving.  

4. Don’t lose sight of the ultimate goal. The NBA regular season is a grind. And with an aging set of stars, the Spurs are especially vulnerable to fatigue.  Coach Popovich adeptly managed minutes throughout the year, resting stars such as Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili so they would be fresh for the postseason, with nine Spurs averaging 30 minutes or more per game. The team as a whole was willing to sacrifice individual statistics, usually the lifeblood of an NBA player’s existence, to achieve their ultimate goal of winning another title.

As the panelists at our last Power Breakfast can attest, sports in general provide a lot of lessons that translate well from the field or court to the boardroom. The Spurs offer the latest examples.

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Jason Swanson
Director of Operations, Business Publications Corp.
@JSwansonWDM