Confrontation Breeds Successful Teams

Confrontation Breeds Successful Teams

I played basketball growing up. I really enjoyed it, even though I could only jump as high as a short honey badger. The thing with most team sports is that you’re only as good as the entire team. It doesn’t matter how many 3 pointers I make if my team members can’t dribble the ball down the floor without bouncing it off their feet, then I won’t get the opportunity to shoot or make anything.

I remember a game when we were playing our main rivals—the Knights. We played them twice a year. They had no "King Arthur" manners and certainly didn’t fight fair. Both teams defended ferociously and the scoreboard numbers were low. It was a close game. They had this one guy who had arms like a rubber stretch toy and whose hands were like magnets that attracted the ball anytime it got near him. Cheating!

With 3 seconds left, we had an opportunity to win the game. We had practiced a play where the ball was thrown to the middle of the court, then passed to an open shooter out wide to hit the game winning 3 point basket. We were down 2. We were really good at this play—the game was ours for the taking.

Dennis inbounded the ball and threw it mid-court to Sebastian. I ran off a screen and was wide open—I mean wider than the Zambezi River wide open. I waved my hands like a windmill afraid that a bird was going to land on him.

“Sebastian! I’m open!”


Sebastian turns and launches the ball high into the air. There are still 3 seconds on the clock—plenty of time to execute our play call. Why are you shooting?!

Sebastian dives into the warm pie of possible glory and shoots—higher and higher the ball flew. Then, WHAM! It smashed into the overhead light at the very top of the gymnasium. The giant light fixture shattered and began to wave back and forth.

Sparks flew and the crowd gasped. Then panic set in…Evacuate the building!

Oxygen mixed with an open wire attached to a wooden roof. Flames ignited like gasoline on a campfire.

Sebastian had set the gym on fire. No glory pie for anyone. And I was open. Wide open!

You’re only as good as your team—it doesn’t matter how good you shoot, how many points you could score if you had the ball in your hands. It’s about all your players being one-minded. It’s about getting your team’s mentality right. All for one and one for all. Don’t pass the ball to the biggest ball hog on the team in hopes that he’ll share it for a game winning shot. He went for all the glory himself.

Glory is great, but it’s only good when it can be collectively enjoyed by your team.

I encountered failure that night as the fire department pulled into the parking lot and doused the ceiling fire.

Two things can happen when someone puts themselves before the team:

  1. Everyone ignores it but holds onto big bags of internal bitterness, which destroys trust and future games, deals or workflow.
  2. Or, you can confront it and reset the culture and expectations in the team.

In this case we lost the game, but our team came together, confronted the selfishness and we went on to win the national championship 3 months later. I’m not advocating arson, but sometimes you have to burn part of what you’re building in order to bring your team together to build something even greater.

We lost that game, but we won the championship. The confrontation within the team that came that night set us on a new track to longterm success.

And guess who passed the ball for the game winning shot?

Our former ball hog, Sebastian. And we all got a slice of glory.

You’re only as strong as your team and building a strong team takes work, but don’t be afraid of internal struggle and confrontation. It’s in this confrontation that the best teams thrive.

(photo via trey ratcliff)