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Get Your Team to Work for a Common Goal

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ESPN recently released a 10-part documentary that covered the 1998 Chicago Bulls championship season, when the Bulls capped their third straight championship for the second time in a decade. I didn’t grow up a fan of the NBA, however, being a sports fan in the ’90s, it was impossible not to get caught up in the Chicago Bulls, who some consider the greatest basketball team of all time.

Throughout the documentary, I learned some valuable lessons that could apply to any group of people who are working toward a common goal.

The first lesson that shocked me was how easily that team could have unraveled. The GM told the head coach before the season started that even if the team went undefeated—82-0—that he wasn’t going to come back as the head coach the next season! Meanwhile, the best player on the team (perhaps ever), Michael Jordan, said he would not come back and play for any other coach, and the team’s second-best player, Scottie Pippen, sat out the beginning of the year because he thought he was underpaid. Plus, they had Dennis Rodman to contend with, who we’ll get to later. So, here you have a group of people who are about to embark on a historical season and spend the next nine months together, and they are staring each other down with guns drawn.   

My first and most important mentor in my career, my dad, told me that our business is a house of cards that could fall apart at any moment. He told me my most important job as the owner is to keep the house together. I can tell you there have been many times I thought the wind was blowing strong enough that it was coming down. Just like the Bulls, we have had people’s egos get in the way of success, people who thought they were underpaid, and old-time Western staredowns between staff.   

One of the big lessons I learned here is that, as an owner, it might be harder to keep a team together when things are going well than during tough times. When things are going poorly (say, maybe during a worldwide pandemic) and work dries up, it’s easy for people to appreciate the job they have a little more and have a spirit of working together. I have heard many friends tell me how much their staff appreciates the fact they have a job to come to every day and are working in an essential industry. 

But sure enough, good times are ahead in our industry’s future. Miles driven are on the rise and we are seeing the claims count going up. When that happens, we need to increase our efforts in managing the team. It would be natural to let our foot off the pedal and relax after going through such a unique and challenging time. I would say that’s the time our managing skills will be tested the most.

Another lesson that was reinforced by watching the documentary was the importance of role players. If you were a fan on that Bulls team, you probably have a memory or two of certain players in key moments that year that did not include the team’s star players. While Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman were the big three, the other players were just as crucial to the team’s success. If they didn’t fulfill their roles, then the team would not have succeeded. 

As leaders, we must remember how important each player on our team is. If you have an apprentice, porter, or detailer in your shop, I’m sure you have felt the strain when that person is on vacation or calls out sick. It can be natural to focus our energies on the highest-paid techs, but we must treat every member as a critical part of the team. 

Perhaps the most important lesson was learning to deal with the problem child. Although Dennis Rodman was one of the big three stars of the Bulls team in the late ’90s, he was notoriously a handful for the coaching staff. While he gave 100 percent on the floor, he couldn’t be counted on to show up for practice every day or head out to Vegas in the middle of a playoff series. I thought the way coach Phil Jackson handled Rodman was one of the greatest coaching efforts in sports history. No matter how your team is assembled, someone is the “problem”—the one who stirs the pot, or is not easy to get along with. 

Our job as leaders is to find a way to get that person to work within the confines of the team. It’s a tricky balance between allowing them to be individuals yet making sure they are focused on the team outcome. Each scenario calls for a unique response. Yet the ability to pull this out pays huge dividends. When most people think about Dennis Rodman, they think of a wild child who was a big distraction. What most people forget is that he was a hall of famer player whose value was respected and appreciated by his teammates. Sometimes, those “problem children” are just misunderstood and, with the right coaching, can become extremely valuable—even beloved—members of the team. 

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