No Team Like the Present Print E-mail
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Written by Peter Bigelow   
Thursday, 30 June 2011 15:25

How the sports model is – and isn’t – a proxy for the PCB factory.

Consider how terminology is transferred from situation to situation, or industry to industry.

Take “team” for instance. This single word may conjure up more meanings than almost any other terminology in business today. Clearly the classic definition for many people is of their favorite sports team as they cheer them on – win, lose or draw. Others may think of their children, working on school or play projects, competing not as individuals or as a class, but as part of a group compiled for a specific reason. Still others may think of the concept of working together as a team in the business world when management is trying to resolve problems and make improvements.

In the sports world today, it’s darn near impossible to keep up with who remains on my favorite teams. When I was a kid, most players signed on to play for a given team and did so for most, if not all, of their careers. Yes, between seasons there was always some change: rookies entering the game, veterans retiring, and the occasional trade, but consistency was the norm. Teams had talent, and the manager had to find a way to make that talent work together, through injury, slumps, peaks and all that goes with playing a sport. “Win one for the Gipper” was a part of the mystique. Everyone wanted to work hard, sacrifice and support their fellow players, so together everyone might win the coveted championship.

This vision of togetherness and mutual support is what led corporations to emulate the team concept in day-to-day efforts of developing and producing better product. Through hard work, mutual sacrifice and support, all would share in the organization’s success. But somewhere along the way, something happened to the institution that corporations were striving to be like. Sports teams stopped acting like, well, teams.

When I look at today’s sports teams, that classic definition is hard to find. While the goal – winning the championship – hasn’t changed, the means to achieve it sure have.

Sports teams are increasingly utilizing draconian rules that in any other industry would be considered highly suspect. Positions are filled not for just a season, but often just for a single game or short series of games. Rather than sacrificing, players act like prima donnas and demand big bucks for the privilege of their services. In return, they must conform to management’s rules related to everything from their weight to playing time to pitch count to volunteer time promoting the franchise. (Notice it is now a sports “franchise,” not a “team.”) If players (formerly “teammates”) do not conform to the rules or play to standards set by the “front office” (notice how the singular “coach” has morphed into a plural), they will be sent to a minor league affiliate, traded to another franchise or put on waivers. Gotta love that sense of “team” the front office guys in the “franchise” are creating!

I guess sports teams can do all of that, as there is an abundance of talent striving to play in the big leagues from which to choose. So choose they do, yet the result is that all leagues in all sports are no more competitive with no more champions than in the past. Teams of today have, however, increased their fixed and variable costs significantly and lost much of the spirit of their predecessors.

In the mundane world of manufacturing, and especially the design and manufacturing of printed circuit boards, as much as we might wish to drop and add highly talented staff at will, we do not have an abundance of talent chomping at the bit to play on our teams. And a system of trading talent does not exist. I can’t call up the president of some other fabricator and offer, for example, to trade a CAM operator for a screener and the first two new hires from next year. We in the world of manufacturing need to stay focused on the collective objectives of helping our existing talent pool continually learn new skills and stay engaged over the long haul.

What are we looking for? Like the current state of professional sports, we all need to be dedicated to identifying, attracting and hiring the best talent available. Unlike professional sports teams, that talent may not be knocking on our doors. So we all need to create cultures that are recruitment friendly. Like the classic definition of sports teams of old, we need to cherish experience, and value and nurture cooperative spirit.

What do you call such traits? How do you define the environment that will propel you and your organization to success? What is the proper paradigm, model or terminology to strive to be like? Maybe the answer is: Does it really matter?

Success requires – demands – talented people, working together for the common cause. Success requires rewarding the positive traits of cooperative spirit, experience and insatiable desire to continually learn. And, success also demands making the tough decision to cut the roster when a staff member refuses to try, support or maintain the cooperative spirit.

Too often we get hung up on the latest fad, the latest terminology in our search for success. Maybe if we all stuck to the basics of talent, effort and attitude, our companies and industry would be all the better. The classic terminology of team does seem to fit the operating environment proven to achieve success. The newer approach being taken by many professional sports teams does not seem to fit well and clearly has not resulted in improvement to any of the sports – industries – that those teams participate in.

Peter Bigelow is president and CEO of IMI (; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . His column appears monthly.

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 June 2011 17:54


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