3 Ways to Build a Winning Team: A Look at the Golden State Warriors

Dawn (Willis) Manser

If you like basketball, it’s a great year to live in San Francisco. The Golden State Warriors are having an incredible season. And if you have a passion for teamwork, it’s a great year to learn from their success.

To put their progress in perspective, here are some numbers: the Warriors “cracked 50 wins last season for the first time in 19 years, and they’ve made the playoffs the last two seasons.” Diehard fans admit that the Warriors have been “truly awful for a long time (most of the last 39 years),” so their recent progress has turned a lot of heads. When I see that kind of turnaround, I can’t help but ask, how’d they do it? And, what can we learn from them?

Essentially, the Warriors took three key actions to achieve their success, actions we can take in building our own teams:

1. Draft well (for the Warriors, that looks like Curry and Thompson). The Warriors made smart draft picks over the past five years. For us, that translates into hiring well and convincing already-hired strong performers to join our team. Too often, though, we rely on first impressions or haphazard processes, especially when it comes to hiring. Lazlo Bock, SVP of People Operations at Google and author of Work Rules! offers this piece of wisdom: “Don’t trust your gut!” Instead, he encourages us to assess team members’ performance on tasks they’d actually be doing. The combination of valid performance tasks and well-structured interviews (see Bock’s chapter 5 for more details on each) increases the chances we’ll find the right person and overcome our own biases.

2. Aim for depth (for the Warriors, that looks like Barnes, Green, and Bogut). The Warriors are stronger as a team because each player performs in ways that add value to the whole. As we build, grow, and manage teams, we need to consider how players’ skills impact their colleagues and their team’s overall performance. Where are there gaps or redundancies? How do players perform on their own and with others, and how does performance affect team outcomes?

3. Always be improving. When there were only two weeks left in what became a highly successful regular team season, Warriors’ Coach, Steve Kerr, said, “I still think we can get better. I really do.” To assess how much better, the Warriors had “established their own metrics for progress,” focusing on ball movement, defense, and turnovers. They’d made a commitment to continuous improvement, even when they could have opted not to. Those are two terrific lessons for any team: develop team-specific metrics for success over and above the usual, and strive to achieve them all the way to the end.

The next best thing to learning how a team achieves success is learning how they maintain it. I’ll have to wait and see how things go for the Warriors.

In the meantime, what steps have you taken to build a winning team?