We rely on sports for entertainment, fun, distraction… a whole slew of things but business advice? Not too often. Yet Canada’s lone NBA franchise demonstrate a remarkable transformation mid-season due to a simple change in culture, and strong leadership from the top on down.
Going into this season the Toronto Raptors were picked to finish at the bottom of their division, and after a horrendous start, they fired their GM, ditched their two name players and looked like they were on the road to a record dismal enough to warrant a high lottery pick for the highly anticipated 2014 draft. That looked like the plan, to tank.
But that’s not what head coach Dwane Casey and their new GM, Masai Ujiri thought. They liked what they had, and believed all that needed to happen was for their players to not only start believing in themselves, but each other as well. They needed everyone to buy into a team concept.
In the NBA, this is rarer than most think as many the players see playing basketball as a business first, and a team game second. Franchise loyalty is limited to a select few organizations, like the Mavericks and the Spurs for example, who have established their own identity, with a core group of players over a number of successful seasons. Not a group cobbled together in mid-season like the 2013-14 Raptors.
Casey revealed this week what the turning point was. Shortly after the all-star break he asked everybody in the organization to sign a declaration with the simple message being “I’m all in.”
“Kyle [Lowry] was the first to jump up and sign it,” Casey said.
For the remainder of the season, the Raptors played as a cohesive unit, giving off a one-for-all vibe and they started winning. They had the second best record in the NBA after all star break and went on to win their division. In the post-season, against a NY Nets team whose starting lineup had a combined 417 post-season starts between them, (compared to the Raptors’ zero), the Raptors took them to 7 games. In the end Lowry’s last second, and what would have been series winning shot, was blocked.
Due to a mid-season change in attitude, they transformed themselves from team that was looking to tank for a high draft pick, to one that was a single play away from winning a seven-game playoff series in for the first time in franchise history.
“Each player dedicated themselves, gave themselves to the season, and also, as far as I’m concerned, to the future,” said Casey. “This year was just a start of what we want to grow and develop with Masai as our leader and also the guys that are coming back here.”
The fans of the Raptors had a thrill ride, and after what they saw this year are chomping at the bit for next season even though this one just ended. They’re “all in” as well.
What can other organizations, not just sports franchises, learn from the Raptors example? How many businesses need a mid-course correction when it comes to their corporate culture?
Considering culture is a set of shared beliefs, values, and practices, if an organization’s staff aren’t “all in”, do they even have such a thing as a corporate culture?
It’s a question every business should be asking themselves, because the Toronto Raptors, in just a few short months, demonstrated what going “all in” can do.