Thursday, March 20, 2014

Knicks' fate now completely in Phil Jackson's hands

Success Skills | Team Building

Originally printed on Mar. 18, 2014

Phil Jackson's former Knicks teammates Walt Frazier, left, and Dick Barnett, right, were on hand at his introductory press conference Tuesday. / William Perlman, The (Newark) Star-Ledger via USA TODAY Sports
NEW YORK - Phil Jackson got what he wanted. Complete control of the New York Knicks.

Those were his terms, and he made that clear to team owner James Dolan, if he were to uproot his pleasant Southern California beach retirement life and take the position of Knicks president.

"We had this discussion in January about this particular aspect because Jim knew I wasn't going to come if this didn't happen," Jackson said.

It did happen. And now this is Phil's show with major coaching and player-personnel decisions coming the next few months.

In two admissions that give Knicks fans real hope that true change is afoot - and ones that may be used against him later - Dolan conceded he is "by no means a basketball expert" and he is ceding some power to Jackson "willingly and gratefully."

"Phil will be in charge of ALL basketball decisions," Dolan said.

Jackson, who has been out of the game since he left the Los Angeles Lakers after the 2010-11 season, is rejuvenated.

"There's an energy here that I always remember," he said.

He'll need that energy. He has to reinvigorate a franchise that fell from second in the Eastern Conference last season to just outside the playoff race this year, but more importantly hasn't reached the conference finals since 2000.

Jackson seemed at ease in a news conference packed with approximately 500 people, including Jackson's former Knicks teammates Clyde Frazier and Dick Barnett. He called his return to New York an "auspicious beginning."

Unequivocally, Jackson insisted the team will be coached and played by guys who buy into his vision of system basketball founded on fundamentals and caring for one another. It's the philosophy that led to Jackson's 11 championships as coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers.

Jackson repeatedly came back to that theme.

"There are things that are important to me," he said, almost dismissive of the style of today's game and the skills of the players and adding he will "ferret out players who want to play the type of ball we want to exhibit here at Madison Square Garden."

There is the sense Jackson is putting the band back together, only with different members.

His first order of business will be to evaluate this season's team and determine, "Who wants to play together? Who looks like they can play together? And how can we build on that?" Jackson said.

To get going on that mission - rebuilding the team - Jackson wants forward Carmelo Anthony, who can become a free agent in the summer, to stay. Anthony's game has been the subject of legitimate and misinformed criticisms, but Jackson made it clear he isn't concerned.

As a coach, one of his strengths is getting the most out of players. As a president, he wants to make sure he has the right players in place for the team to win.

"I think Carmelo is a great player," Jackson said. "He still has another level he can go to. Together with the team we create, he can get there."

Coach Mike Woodson's future with the team is murkier. It's only fair that an executive gets to succeed or fail with his people. In a recent interview with USA TODAY Sports, Jackson said he told Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores "that the general manager has to be able to pick his coach so they can win it together."

Jackson acknowledged it won't be an easy fix, especially with the Knicks short on draft picks and high on payroll in 2014-15. But the free-agent class and salary-cap space for 2015-16 is encouraging.

Jackson complained about the overwrought use of the word "culture" in pro sports, but then went on to say that's what he has to do in New York. That new culture will include more frequent news conferences with reporters than previous Knicks executives.

Often introspective, Jackson said while recovering from prostate cancer and doing physical therapy for joint and bone issues, people came to see him and ask for basketball advice, planting the seed he could be in a front office.

The possibility of joining a team in Seattle interested him, and in a casual meeting with Chicago Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf at spring training in 2013, Jackson said Reinsdorf encouraged him to pursue an executive's role.

"I got intrigued by the idea of being in an executive management position," he said.

Dolan met with Jackson in December, talks advanced in January, and by early March, Jackson wanted in.

Where will he live? In New York most of the time. "I have to jump in with both feet," he said.

While Jackson will scout college games, his staff will handle a majority of that, especially when it comes to watching players overseas. He will be involved in scouting potential draft picks, but guaranteed he will scour the NBA for underappreciated and undervalued players who can contribute immediately.

Jackson, like Dolan, wants a contender as soon as possible.

"There's no better place to win than New York City," he said. "It really is something special."

And to win a title as an executive with the Knicks?

"It would be a capstone," he said, "on a remarkable career that I have had."
Follow national NBA reporter Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter at @JeffZillgitt.

Copyright 2014

So how does one go about building a winning team?

By Jonathan Dunnemann

If you're the new president in charge, I recommend that you stick closely to the fundamentals! 

The following is a pretty clear synopsis of what good teams generally require: 

Teams that are cohesive, productive, and efficient -- and whose members enjoy doing their work and working together -- don’t happen by accident. Successful teams are cohesive because team members work cooperatively, sharing common goals as well as the resources to achieve them. They are productive, not because team members never disagree, but because they have worked out ways to resolve conflicts when they occur. They are efficient because tasks are assigned in a way that takes into account each member’s skills and interests, rather than letting the team be dominated by the most verbal, most aggressive, or most popular personalities [or in the case of a basketball team, the most talented player]. Managers play an essential role in developing and leading teams that work in these ways.

Here are 12 ways in which recently appointed Knicks president Phil Jackson or anyone else for that matter can build an effective and cohesive team:
  1. Clarify the common goals and purposes. Make the team’s purposes clear [the team will be coached and played by guys who buy into his vision of system basketball founded on fundamentals and caring for one another]. Take the time to articulate the team’s performance goals and how the team contributes to the company’s success [ a top priority will be to "ferret out players who want to play the type of ball we want to exhibit here at Madison Square Garden."]. Even a work group that has existed for some time may never have done this. In any case, the purposes and conditions change over time. If you are a new boss, you will be putting your own stamp on the group’s common goal [the first order of business will be to evaluate this season's team and determine, "Who wants to play together? Who looks like they can play together? And how can we build on that?"].
  2. Clarify each person’s role in achieving the common purpose. Define each person’s job in terms of its contribution to the group’s and the company’s overall goals. This must be done in specific terms, not in vague generalities. For example, ["I think that Carmelo is a great player, ....". "He still has another level he can go to. Together with the team we create, he can get there."] “We’re working under very tight timelines. Joe, you’ll be in charge of overall project coordination, so you will set the timetable for each project phase. Betty, can I ask you to take responsibility for writing the brochures and getting them printed? Maribeth and Scott, I’d like you to work together on the transportation requirements, OK? Let’s meet again tomorrow afternoon at 3:00 for an update and a progress check. Does that work for everybody?”
  3. Put team members in touch with the people who use what they do. Confirm the needs of the team’s external or internal customers or clients on an ongoing basis. For example, “Tom, be sure to talk with both Materials Management and the folks in Production to make sure they’re aware of the changes we’ve planned. Our changes could affect their work if we’re all not in sync.”
  4. Pay attention to conflicts when they arise. It’s natural for conflict to arise when people work in groups. Conflict, handled well, can actually produce constructive ideas. Sometimes team members will annoy each other, step on each other’s toes, or hurt each other’s feelings. Honest disagreements can become personal and heated. Work processes that seemed efficient can break down. It’s important to recognize that some degree of conflict among co-workers is normal. Let problems come to the surface. Avoid the impulse to demand that your employees “drop it,” “forget about it,” or “just cut it out.” Also, anticipate that more conflicts may occur whenever there are changes that affect the team’s membership or goals.
  5. Work out ways to resolve conflicts. What works as an effective style of conflict resolution varies from team to team, and may vary over time on the same team. Teams whose members all have similar experience and seniority may be able to settle problems more informally, for example, than a team with more diversity. Here are some ways to successfully resolve conflicts: a) Make sure each team member involved has a chance to explain the problem as he or she sees it. b) Establish clear ground rules so that people can have their say without being interrupted, rushed, mocked, or intimidated. c) Encourage employees to solve problems themselves when they can so that you aren’t always in the middle of every conflict between team members. However, if they cannot solve them, it’s important that they can count on you to coach them through a problem-solving framework that allows them to build conflict resolution skills for the future.
  6. Remember your leadership role. While you need to encourage your employees to feel a healthy “ownership” of the team’s work, you need to avoid trying to be “just one of the team.” You -- not your team -- are the one accountable to your own boss for the team’s results. You’re expected to get results through your people. Hold each employee responsible for meeting goals and for solving or helping to solve problems.
  7. Make sure team members interact at meetings. Do team members mainly address their questions and suggestions to you, or do they interact directly with each other at meetings? Encourage team members to ask each other for help and to offer it to each other, without channeling it all through you. Synergy on teams is achieved when team members feel comfortable speaking up with suggestions that build on the creativity of other team members. This requires collaboration not competition. Dominance of a group by a manager or supervisor can limit the chances a group has to achieve real synergy. Also, competition within the team may increase as members vie for the manager’s attention.
  8. Allow team members to have input into their jobs. When you can, give your employees flexibility on how they meet their work goals. Encourage employees to make suggestions about changes in what they do and how they do it, based on their direct and daily experience of what works, what doesn’t work, and what could work better. Of course, the only way to encourage employees to make suggestions over the long run is to show them that you will act on some of their suggestions.
  9. Make sure there is room for minority or unpopular views. Teams can easily slip into “group think,” especially when they are successful. Those who see flaws in the way the group does things, or who see improvements that could be made, may be politely ignored or even treated with hostility. Teams where this happens can fail when their environment or requirements change and they can’t adapt. Effective managers build team trust by encouraging a diversity of opinion. Ask, specifically, for other viewpoints. Inquiring into views that may not have been spoken can allow better team performance. By asking the team, “What else do we need to consider here?” you allow perspectives not yet considered to be put on the table and evaluated. Those in the majority must be able to trust that those who disagree do so honestly and with good intentions. Those in the minority must be able to trust that they can speak up without being punished or left out.
  10. Appraise and reward the team as a whole. As with an individual performance review, compare the team’s performance to what was expected of it. Plan small celebrations of the team achieving important milestones. Acknowledgments of incremental successes can be more motivating than big end-of-project rewards. Celebrations could range from pizza at lunch, to dinner at a nice restaurant, to a bonus, or to a congratulatory letter from a senior executive that goes in each employee’s personnel file. Keep in mind that the team review can never take the place of individual performance reviews.
  11. Appraise and reward each employee individually, including a review of his or her teamwork. As members of a team, the expectations and criteria for their performance include showing a spirit of cooperation, developing conflict resolution skills, engaging in good communication with others, and being willing to help others solve problems or get through crunch efforts. If feasible, encourage all team members to provide meaningful feedback to one another. Be sure to give each team member specific feedback about his or her strengths and any unique role that the person served on the team rather than just focusing on problems or performance gaps. "From the start of the season, one thing has remained constant: Carmelo Anthony can score with the best of them. That has been true since opening night and continues to be true during the current five-game winning streak. Anthony is averaging 28.8 points per game over the last five, ahead of his average over the season of 28.1. With Anthony continuing to play his role, it’s the rest of the team that has finally stepped up to help and it has lead to the current streak (Harris Decker, TheKnicksBlog, March 14th, 2014) ."
  12. Communicate team successes. If possible, let the whole company know what your team has accomplished. Include a specific description of what you did, why it’s important to the company, and what challenges had to be overcome. Name people who made key contributions, including those outside your group. Be sure to include those who are usually left out of such acknowledgments, such as the receptionist who handled the flood of calls after a successful public relations effort or the information technology people who installed the complex software you used.

Remember, a work group begins to become a team when employees see their jobs not merely as what they are supposed to do individually but as contributions to the group’s overall success. By following the tips in this article, you can better ensure that your team develops the synergy needed to move themselves to a higher level of cooperation, productivity, and mutual success.

The Twelve Steps for Building Effective Teams were developed by Elizabeth Bakken, B.A., M.A. Ms. Bakken has a certificate in organizational development and an extensive background in the fields of human resource development and career coaching. She writes a column, CareerWise, on executive career issues for the Rochester Business Journal.

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