Buddhist Meditations
Zen and the Art of Teamwork
Lieber, Ron; Rao, Rajiv M.
13/07/2010 14:11 (GMT+7)
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Zen and the Art of Teamwork

Lieber, Ron; Rao, Rajiv M.


Vol.132 No.13   1995.12.25   p.218

Copyright of Fortune is the property of Time Inc.

    Chicago  Bulls coach Phil Jackson  has built a career  on
    being different. From the Grateful Dead decal on the lamp
    in his  office  to his  readings  of poetry  to his  team
    before playoff games, his approach  provides a refreshing
    contrast  to  the  steely,  tough-guy   persona  of  many
    athletic  types.  As he explains  in his new book, Sacred
    Hoops: Spiritual  Lessons of a Hardwood  Warrior, Jackson
    uses a philosophy  based  in part on Zen Buddhism  to get
    the most  out of his people.  He recently  sat down  with
    Fortune's  Ron Lieber  to discuss  the art of making even
    superstars like Michael Jordan team players.

What does Zen have to do with managing?

Whether  on the court or off, what I call for in my people is
full awareness  and attention.  That's really what Zen is all
about--waking  up and  being  mindful.  As a team, my players
have come to realize that, yes, they've got to have that kind
of awareness  and, yes, they've got to be extremely  alert on
the floor.  In a sense, they become policemen  of themselves,
and that's  really more fun for a coach to watch happen  than
anything else.

How do you achieve that state of mind?

I've tried a lot of things  to draw the players  out and make
them more  mindful.  For instance, on road  trips  I hand out
philosophical  books  like  Zen  and  the  Art  of Motorcycle
Maintenance  and Way of the  Peaceful  Warrior.  But it isn't
always an easy sell. One time, instead of flying, we rented a
bus to travel from Seattle to Portland.  I wanted the players
to soak up the scenery and achieve a different state of mind.
Most of them fell asleep.

What are your players supposed to get out of this altered consciousness?

They learn how to subjugate  themselves  to the needs  of the
team.  Back in the late  Eighties  I used  to remind  Michael
Jordan  that as many great scoring  games as he had, he still
sometimes  ended up coming out on the losing end, because  he
would try to beat the other team by himself.  Even though  he
could  pull  it off  occasionally, we weren't  going  to  win
consistently  until  the other  players  on our team  started
helping us.

I think  that  culminated  in the  final  game  of our  first
championship  against  the  Lakers  in  1991.  In the  fourth
quarter the whole L.A. team was collapsing around Michael. In
the  huddle, I kept  encouraging  him  to  fan  the  ball  to
[teammate]  John Paxson  on the perimeter.  Michael  then did
something  that perhaps he had never been asked to do before:
not make a spectacular play but make the common, simple play.
He went back onto the floor, drew the defense, and kicked the
ball  out  to Paxson, who  made  the  winning  shot  for  the
championship.  That's really been our key to success over the

But how do you motivate  a superstar  like Jordan to work for
the good of the team?

When anybody  gets  into  management, you have to know  which
side  of  a  person  to  appeal  to.  You  can  appeal  to  a
materialistic  side, or  you  can  appeal  to something  more
spiritual. I focus on the spiritual side. Even for people who
don't  consider  themselves   spiritual   in  a  traditional,
religious  way, you need to convince  them that creating  any
kind of team  is a spiritual  act.  People  have to surrender
their own egos, so that the end result is bigger than the sum
of its parts.

You also have to explain  that  a team needs  its members  to
grow.  The ball is like a microphone or a spotlight--the more
it's in your  hands, the less  anybody  else has a chance  to
shine.  But if you start sharing  it, others will contribute.
If you can't live with that, you'll never win a championship.

Isn't there a bit more to it than that?

Of course. You have to create a balance between structure and
freedom.  You need structure to give your people a foundation
so they  aren't  lost  at  sea.  For  instance, our  triangle
offense  puts  three  players  in a particular  place  on the
floor.  But you have to make sure everyone has the freedom to
act.  In this offense, the cuts and passes aren't programmed.
You have to know instinctively  where everyone  else is going
to go.  This gets everyone  involved, and the players  end up
working like five fingers on a hand.

How do you manage that kind of freedom?

In 1992, the year after  our team won its first championship,
the players  would  often just take off on their  own and use
their instincts  to win games.  I simply wasn't going to pull
in the reins by telling  them how to run the offense.  I just
sat back sometimes  on the bus going  to the airport, talking
about how amazing  it was that they'd found another way to do
it again tonight.  My trainer would turn to me and say: "Boy,
if you only had a jar, you could bottle this elixir that this
team runs on and store it for a rainy day."

PHOTO  (COLOR): To get superstars  to act like  team players,
the Bulls' Jackson appeals to their spiritual side.

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