It’s Not About the Team Dinners
Legendary NBA Coach Gregg Popovich creates highly cohesive teams with star athletes who commonly like to go their own way. His teams are known for players who develop deep and lasting relationships with each other, and rally to support their teammates when times are tough.
When a feature article revealed that Popovich insists that his teams often share extravagant meals together, coaches across all sports began copying his model for creating an extraordinary team culture.
Unfortunately, coaches who emulated this approach quickly learned that team dinners are not the magic sauce. Nor was the format of these three-hour dinners the secret. Although Popovich chose the restaurant, the food, the wine, and insisted on personally picking up the tab, those who copied this model simply ran down their bank accounts without much team benefit.
So, why does Popovich believe that going to such lengths for culinary delight can produce team bonding?
For Popovich, the dinners are simply a setting to create authentic and disclosive conversations. He invites his players into a world they want to know more about (food and wine) so that they want to attend the dinners. Then, without an agenda, Popovich starts to tell stories.
After getting comfortable by laughing and joking with the Coach, the players let their guard down and share their own stories. For hours, they engage in a personal conversation where they learn more about each other, what they care about, and how they experience the world. Popovich sets the table. The players oblige by bonding with each other.
The best leaders go to great lengths to create an environment where people want to talk honestly with each other. The highly-produced dinners, in the case of Coach Popovich, simply set the stage for action. And the action that matters most to teams of any kind is conversation — not about the game, the competition, or the challenging work stream — but about each other.
Engaging conversations are the glue that holds teams together. Facilitating conversations between colleagues is what good leaders do. Good food and wine simply set the stage and lubricates the tongue.