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Tribal Leadership for the NBA and MBAs

Dave Logan USC MarshallTonight, the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs will face off in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. When sizing up the odds, many people talk about specific players. Still, legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson knows that it’s not about the individuals—it’s about the group.

“What Phil Jackson figured out is that a champion team is far better than a team of champions,” Dave Logan said. Logan is a senior partner of CultureSync and teaches at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. He’s not an NBA mogul, but he did write a bestselling book Jackson used to evaluate his teams: “Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization.” The book puts forth the idea that every organization is either a tribe or a collection of tribes made up of 20 to 150 people. The strength of those tribes determines whether a company will sink or swim.

“You win on a passing game,” Logan added. “The last several years that Phil Jackson coached the Lakers, they were masters of passing.”

But while Jackson taught this lesson to his team, most business schools don’t teach it to their students, according to Logan.

“The process of forming a team out of champions is the biggest business issue there is,” Logan said.  “I don’t think business schools do a great job of teaching this at all. Most business students graduate without learning how to do this.”

The problem starts well before students even consider applying to MBA programs. “The whole education system is set up for you to want to be better than everybody else,” Logan said. “So, when people have to become a team, they have no idea how to do it.”

Logan describes two different stages of teamwork (there are five total in his book). Stage three: “I’m great and you’re not.” Stage four: “We’re great.”

Paradoxically, peoples’ individual talents and accomplishments get in the way of the transition between stages. “The stronger people are, the less well they do in teams,” Logan said. His statement brings to mind a familiar character: the top student who hated teamwork because everyone always relied on her.

With these barriers in mind, how should business schools teach students to form strong tribes?