This article was co-authored with Ed Frauenheim. Ed is the Director of Research and Content at Great Place to Work, and co-author of the forthcoming book A Great Place to Work For All.
The Golden State Warriors have dominated the National Basketball Association in recent years. Some might say that four All-Stars and a talented group of supporting players account for their success--championships in 2015 and 2017 and a league-best record this season as of mid-January. But the Warrior's winning ways go beyond talent.
To outperform rivals, the NBA's premier powerhouse taps into our basic human needs and nature to create the perfect team culture.
Two crucial elements of that culture aren't often associated with fiercely competitive pro sports: caring and inclusivity.
At the beginning of his tenure as Warriors head coach, Steve Kerr made "compassion" one of his four team values, along with "competition," "mindfulness" and "joy." These values aren't empty words for the Warriors. Kerr and his crew stand out for team-bonding activities like big group meals on the road, group chats, and for the star players cheering the subs on madly during games. This all translates into smoother collaboration on the court.
The Warriors have a smothering team defense, with players constantly communicating and helping each other even in the most demanding on-the-court situations. And they have finished first in assists each of the past three years--a sign of the cooperative, unselfish play that leads to easy baskets and, ultimately, a better chance to win.
What's more, Coach Kerr welcomes ideas from everyone in the organization, no matter where they rank in the organization's hierarchy. For example, Kerr made it clear that everyone in the organization has a voice when he made a key strategy shift in the 2015 NBA Finals series based on the recommendation of one of his lowest-ranking coaching assistants. The move, to start forward Andre Iguodala in place of center Andrew Bogut, proved crucial to the Warriors overcoming LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the championship.
So, what's the tie to business?
There's a slam-dunk lesson to be learned if your leaders can get past old-fashioned ideas about the "soft stuff.
Put simply, the Warriors show that a caring culture that includes all levels of talent is a hard-edged competitive advantage. As many organizations have already learned, the importance of soft skills is only getting stronger as we move further into what some are calling the "Human Economy."
Awareness is growing in the business community that traits like creativity, passion, character, and a collaborative spirit are critical for success. Consider the alternatives--like half-hearted efforts from employees that fail to delight customers. Or a technically brilliant employee who cannot work well with others and, consequently, creates drama in interactions with teammates. The frustrations and lack of progress only serve as a reminder of what work isn't getting done.
Co-author Ed Frauenheim's organization, consulting firm Great Place to Work, has conducted research showing that a Warriors-like esprit de corps fuels business performance. In particular, Great Place to Work learned that one of the strongest drivers of better-than-average revenue growth among smaller businesses is a caring community at work. Ed's organization also has discovered that the most inclusive workplaces--what he and his team call Great Places to Work For All--race ahead of rivals.
The connection Great Place to Work found between a caring community and competitive success dovetails with other research.
Google, in its pursuit to understand what fuels high performance in teams, learned that psychological safety is the primary influence. Psychological safety helps team members feel comfortable sharing opposing ideas or presenting new ones. Central to psychological safety is the willingness to be vulnerable in front of others.
Co-author Shawn Murphy highlighted the role caring and belonging play in his book, The Optimistic Workplace. In interviews Shawn conducted for his book, employees in high-caring work environments experienced higher levels of pride towards the company and their work product.
Shawn also discovered that in positive work environments employees consistently felt valued by the team and company. Employees believed their contribution and participation were wanted and expected, even valued, when working in highly optimistic environments. The soft side of business mixed with solid business practices more easily generates the outcomes leaders want to create within their organizations.
Without caring, belonging, creativity, compassion, or passion, the human element is removed from work. That leaves an employee feeling like a cog in a machine rather than fully alive and a partner in the company's success. Winning teams and companies are composed of talented people who want to make a difference together - and not just collect a paycheck as an isolated worker.
The results of caring and inclusivity? Remarkable success. Like in the case of the Warriors, whose brotherly love isn't just about championships. It's also contributing to off-the-court performance. With its "Strength in Numbers" culture as a foundation, the Warriors' market value rose 37 percent in 2017, more than for any other NBA team.
So take it from a champion: true togetherness translates into positivity that is contagious, attractive, and effective. Care and belonging are the way forward for any team - from the locker room to the boardroom - aiming to win.