Building a Team ~ Anthopoulos-Style
by Keith Brown, President & Owner, Siena Group.
I’m a Braves fan. No, not just a fair-weather, they-won-the-2021-World-Series-and-now-I-love-them kind of fan. Growing up in Florida, there was pretty much one team that was on TV – the Braves on TBS. They were the team of the south mainly because they were visible. Watching them win it all back in the Bobby Cox era was great. But, admittedly, something feels different now after all those years. The Braves are a team again.
Not just a collection of talent.
A team that not only wins series and titles… a team that shows the business world just how teamwork is done!
Where It All Starts
Talent. You absolutely need talent on your team. You can hire them. You can develop them from scratch. However it is accomplished, you must have those A-players to really make major impacts on your business – be it baseball or manufacturing.
How do you do that? In my opinion, it must first come from the top of the food chain: the senior leaders. There must be a commitment to acquiring and developing talent.
- Yes, you need new products.
- Yes, you need increased sales.
- Yes, you need to drive manufacturing results.
- BUT … how do you get all of that?
You can go out and acquire a startup company with a whiz-bang new product. You can buy your way into a new client. You can even invest in new technology to improve manufacturing efficiencies. But it always boils down to people.
Someone created something new, innovated, thought about things differently, and made it happen. Someone knows how to hunt and find and convert new clients into real top and bottom-line revenue. Someone knows how to lead and see how to affect change to drive OEE on the manufacturing floor. These “someones” are people making it happen.
This is where the brilliance of the Braves franchise sets a “baseball is life” example for the business world. They hired Alex Anthopoulos in Nov 2017 as the new GM. He had a great reputation for making moves for the right players at the right time to impact the results and outcomes of the team. The Braves knew they needed some changes to get different results. They hired the right person for the job and then enabled and allowed him to make decisions. They turned him loose to do his job well and set him up for success.
There is nothing new here! This hits pretty much every mark in any and every book out there about building teams or companies: hire well and turn them loose to go and do.
Now that the new leader is “turned loose” – there is still a team that needs to be built! Braves GM Anthopoulos does this exceptionally well! His trades over his career have been viewed as both blockbusters with some of the biggest talent out there and curiosities that didn’t make a splash… but paid out big dividends in the short and long term.
A November 2017 article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution highlights his philosophy: “Anthopoulos, when making his eminent trades, searches for players who better those around them.” This is HUGE. A simple concept, but HUGE. Not everyone fits, even though they may have the right skill set and experience. Figuring this out is both a function of knowing your team very well and knowing what they need to be better. It isn’t necessarily easy, but it is critical to ensure you are bringing on the right talent at the right time that aligns in the right way to end up with something that is greater than the sum of its parts.
One thing I like about what I’ve learned and seen in following the Braves is that they don’t heavily rely on one thing to make a decision. They use the combined skills and experience of the scouts, all that baseball data that is so readily available, and figure out how to make an informed and balanced decision. Nothing is ever bulletproof, and sometimes the new hire doesn’t work out. But continuing to learn, continuing to assess, and continuing to adjust based on results is what allows the best to get better.
In the same AJC article, Anthopoulos admits his mistakes and regrets: “I do that a lot. Could be signings, trades. I think that’s how you get better. I get pretty obsessive about learning from each missed opportunity, every failure. It’s not that I’m glass half empty, I just want to take something from it.”
From Collecting Talent to Building a Team
I will readily admit that building a baseball team is different than building a manufacturing team and company. YET the principles align extraordinarily well!
Anthopoulos began to see that amassing talent for talent’s sake wasn’t enough. He changed his philosophy and started recruiting based on talent AND fit. Though someone may be perceived to not be the best of the best of the best, that intangible piece of aligning the culture cannot be overlooked.
Alex’s “a-ha moment” from this April 2022 AJC article: The Blue Jays [in his previous GM role] didn’t make the postseason until his philosophical shift, and the Braves haven’t missed it since he took this job. “I guess I’m scared to go back,” he said. And by the way, that article was published at the beginning of this past season. They won 4 NL East titles in a row… and now it is 5 in a row!
How do you go about building that great team?
How do you know which pieces are needed and how they will fit within the team?
Each time a new person joins, there is a “forming, storming, norming, and performing” that happens. This business process uses 19th-century mathematical theories and applies them to real-world business strategies that work! How quickly you get to the performing phase is a function of how well the new team member aligns with the culture and organization. And to do that well, leaders must be present.
In the same April ’22 AJC article as above, starting Braves pitcher Ian Anderson testified about Anthopoulos: “He’s always working, he’s always asking questions. You just get the sense that he knows everything that’s going on in the league, and that’s because he works at it. He wants to know what’s going on, he wants to have a good feel of what’s going on around him so he can make the best decisions, and I think that’s a great quality to have for a GM.”
This is a critical quality for leaders – at the executive level or at the floor level! Know your team!
Making Things Happen
With philosophy and approach in hand, now what?!?
You go and do.
You make things happen.
You turn your leaders loose to go get that talent that fits.
In this market, that means being decisive. Have streamlined processes. Make sure your team is aligned and ready to go in order to be efficient. I do not have to share any anecdotes about missed opportunities – just ask your friends and colleagues! Companies can take forever to make a decision. I’m not saying truncate or hamstring your process and make a bad hire! But ensuring there is a commitment across the organization to keep things moving – and then making a strong offer – is definitely a differentiator, especially in this market.
Here again, Antholopoulos gives us a glimpse behind the curtain of his success. From Alex via this August 2022 video interview after the trade deadline this season, (at 4:29): “You really don’t have time to just drag things out. Because things are moving fast; people are making decisions. And you can miss opportunities and windows quickly.”
As a GM who’s proven himself season after season, Anthopoulos has the freedom and flexibility to make decisions and invest in people. It isn’t always perfect, but the goal is that we “feel we do what is best for the club“. [from same video interview @ 7:07]
That is what it should always be about – doing the right things in the right ways for the right reasons.
The Final Takeaway
THESE are the essential ingredients of every team – sports OR business: Start at the top. Choose the right talent that is right for the team. Never stop working and building. Empower your leaders to take the reins and turn them loose to succeed! Creating, building, and empowering takes energy, effort, and focus. It takes work… but it is worth it when it all comes together!
One single can lead to two hits. Two hits can lead to bases loaded. It takes all bases loaded to turn a home run into a GRAND SLAM!
At Siena Group, we are your Thermoforming Talent Partner… YOUR TEAM MEMBER! With more than 30 years of experience in manufacturing, hiring & recruiting talent, we bring a greater understanding of the companies we partner with and the candidates we pursue. Let’s Strengthen Your Search!
This article is a sequel to our November Thermoforming Report newsletter: “Creating, Building, and Keeping a Team“.
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