Even if you’re not a basketball fan, it is compelling to watch college teams from around the nation get paired, then eliminated, to compete for the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Championship. The trip to the Final Four matchup next weekend has been filled with memorable moments. The tournament also illustrates three important lessons for innovation teams.
1. Team above individual talent
There are many superb talents on each of the teams, and their abilities are impressive (here’s looking at you, Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett of Duke, and Jarrett Culver of Texas Tech). Players can traverse the entire court in a few strides, and others can nimbly dodge around the most persistent guards. Winners, however, consistently demonstrate their ability to be aware of their teammates’ positions on the court and pass the ball to the player who has the best chance of scoring. Some of these plays are so well executed that it looks like choreography to a novice viewer — and it is a delight to watch.
Lesson #1: Is your innovation talent positioned to leverage the strengths and opportunities of each member while working as a team?
2. Execution to the very end
The 30 games (on average) that each college team plays during the regular season gets them to the tournament. None of those earlier games matter, however, when it comes to a playoff game. Winners understand that what got them there doesn’t matter if they can’t execute to the very end. In fact, in several of the matches leading to this year’s Final Four, winners were decided in the final moments of a game. The biggest upset was top-seeded Duke falling to Michigan State by a single point in the game’s last seconds
3. Responsiveness as a core competency
Each team that makes it to the NCAA men’s college basketball playoff (64 to begin, then whittled to 32, 16, 8, and the Final Four) has a distinct personality and style of play. To advance through the championship, each team must play to their strengths while adapting defensively to their opponent. This year’s championship has illustrated how favorites can be dethroned by teams who can better respond to new situations. The result has been the rise of some underestimated teams who will now play in the Final Four and on to the championship game. Next weekend’s final playoffs will feature Auburn and Texas Tech (both there for the first time), Virginia Tech (first time there since 1984), and Michigan State (a two-time previous champion).
Lesson #3: How responsive are your innovation teams to the inevitable changing conditions of your organization’s demands?
Whether you’re a b-ball fan or not, there’s beauty in these games, and valuable lessons to glean from this competition.
Your challenge this week: Review your innovation efforts from the perspective of team, execution, and responsiveness. What lessons might you learn from the Final Four?