If you watched The Last Dance during quarantine like my family and I did, the phrase “Dream Team” may conjure up images of Michael Jordan and highlights from the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls’ quest for their sixth NBA title in eight seasons. You would also have a vivid picture of the crucial role Phil Jackson and Dennis Rodman played in the Bulls’ iconic success.
Let’s take a closer look at Dennis Rodman and highlight relevant takeaways for achieving Job Fit and Team Fit in a corporate setting.
In his book, Eleven Rings, Phil Jackson details his remarks to the team after signing Dennis Rodman, saying, “Before Dennis arrived at training camp, I had a long discussion with the players. I warned them that he would probably ignore some of the rules because it was hard for him to abide by certain guidelines. I would probably have to make some exceptions for him at times.”
Jackson was willing to take a risk on Rodman because he knew that Rodman’s rebounding and defensive skills were the keys to rounding out a championship team. The Bulls signing Rodman is one of the best examples of job fit of all time. Phil Jackson had a clarity that defense and rebounding skills were needed on the team, and he signed the player with the natural ability and proven talent to do exactly those things.
Leadership Takeaway: When people are cast into roles where they get to use their strengths, incredible performance and engagement is possible.
This kind of job fit is only possible when roles are clearly defined and collectively understood, and when people’s unique talents and abilities are accurately quantified and communicated in the recruitment process. Phil Jackson did not let any bias about Rodman’s bad-boy persona cloud his objective evaluation of the fit between Rodman’s talent and the needs of the team to win another championship.
Jackson’s explicit willingness to treat Rodman differently to optimize his performance and long-term engagement is a perfect illustration of team fit. Counterintuitively, “fit” is not about hiring very similar people. Nor is it about forcing people to conform to a rigid system. Someone “fits” a team when they bring the exact different ingredient that completes the recipe. Dream Teams are comprised of people with different talents, personalities, passions, backgrounds, and beliefs. And, they are led by a coach/leader who is not afraid of diversity and can inspire commitment to a common goal. Jackson was willing to add the very different, missing ingredient and he provided the space and flexibility for Rodman to be himself. He also trusted the rest of the team to welcome Rodman into the fold.
Leadership Takeaway: Team fit is about understanding and embracing people’s differences and creating alignment between the team’s strengths and strategic objectives. It is based on the belief that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
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For more on team building, read “Make sure to be ‘brilliant at the basics'” from Leadership Consultant Mandy Haskett.
To read more from Heather Haas, read her previous article “Planning Ahead and Expecting the Unexpected.”