March is here. St. Patrick’s Day, the beginning of Spring and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. One of the reasons we enjoy the tournament is because we get to watch groups of student-athletes that have dedicated great amounts of time to their craft.
In three weeks, we will see 4 teams, and then 2, that are aligned in purpose, mission and execution above the other teams. Pure athleticism and fundamentals and coaching skill differences are minimized. These teams have those traits inherent within them. So, is there something the team that wins the National Championship has, other than luck, that will set them apart?
Alignment to their mission, vision and plan – and the work that’s done during the season to execute – at a level that exceeds the others will carry that one team to the summit.
Alignment in Action in NCAA History
The 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game pitting eventual champion Villanova against North Carolina is a great example of how two great, aligned teams fought until the end. However, Villanova’s execution of a play they had practiced many times during the season for this one moment sealed the victory.
North Carolina has just scored to tie the game at 74 with 4.7 seconds left. Villanova called a timeout to get everyone on the same page. Coach Jay Wright outlined a play they’d worked on in practice many times to try to win the game. However, the play wouldn’t happen exactly as it was written up. North Carolina was going to do what they could to hamper execution.
The Villanova players ran the play, adjusted to what North Carolina did to them and got an open, although long, look at the basket as time expired. The ball went through the hoop. The crowd, and the Wildcats, went nuts; Villanova had won at the buzzer and one of the great finishes in tournament history just occurred.
The Alignment Work was Done Way Before the Buzzer Sounded
Villanova’s success with this final play wouldn’t have happened if they weren’t highly aligned. They wouldn’t have gotten to the final game without alignment in the first place. However, aligned organizations are so connected with why they exist and what each person’s responsibilities are. They can devote attention to handling unique, stressful situations with calmness and confidence.
Highly aligned teams and organizations don’t have to work on:
- Managing egos that believe they should have a different or larger role
- Coaxing out effort while practicing basic fundamentals and processes
- Building personal and joint accountability to accomplish their tasks
- Repairing communication lines that stunt creativity and best practices
- Spending inordinate amounts of time addressing breakdowns with large parts of their team
Instead, highly aligned teams dedicate their time improving on:
- Maximizing the effectiveness of their processes and core capabilities
- Driving efficiency and results from each team member and each workflow
- Communicating ways to get the most out of each role and enact best practices
- Identifying possible or likely scenarios where they will be force to react appropriately and then devise and execute upon plans to react to those scenarios should they arise
Coaches and players worked on that final play several times in practice during the season even though they may never have needed to implement it. Everyone knew, however, the time was well spent because they knew they may face that ultimate challenge at some point. They wanted to be ready to perform when the stress was at its highest.
Alignment Moves Past the Basics Towards the Special
The Villanova team, like many other teams inside and outside of basketball or sports, had the basics down. They could manage core operations well and execute easily on their core, everyday business. But, they reached their ultimate goal because they were aligned enough to dedicate time to see into the future and prepare for it and be ready when that time came.
As you watch the tournament games and how players and coaches execute in various situations, think of how that could translate to how you and your organization is prepared to perform when the game is on the line. What these teams accomplish through alignment is no different than what can be accomplished in your organization. Villanova reached the top…can you?