February 24, 2006

It Takes Leadership

If you're a hockey fan in Canada you probably had the faith that Team Canada would win a medal at Torino. But in the end discovered that faith alone wasn't enough, when the Canadian Mens Team was knocked out of medal contention early.

In Canada, hockey is more than just a sport...it is an obsession. So in reading, listening and watching the news coverage of this loss, it occurs to me that there is much that we business types can learn from this situation. In my opinion what it takes to win at hockey is the same thing it takes to win at business....leadership, strategy and team building.

Team Canada lacked in each, and that's what caused the poor result. Here's why:


  • The head honcho - Wayne Gretzky owned player/coach selection, strategy, etc... He has an great track record - in the same job he secured the hockey gold medal at the last Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. He selected an all National Hockey League, all veteran superstar squad. Very few rookies or newbies. The media pegged them up front as the $49 Million team...it's the value of the team members NHL salaries.
  • As coach he selected Pat Quinn. Quinn is a seasoned coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs...but a coach that never won the Stanley Cup.
  • To the casual observer it seemed that all the elements of success were present.


  • I totally understand that the approach of selecting seasoned players was to mititgate risks. An Olympic Hockey Tournament is a high pressure, physically demanding event. So if I was management I'd want people on board that have been through it before and can handle it. But hockey in the Olympics is very different than the NHL. The rink is larger and the lines configured differently. Resulting in a more athletic game than in the NHL. The downside to this risk mitigation however was that some very gifted younger more athletic players were not tapped and the team was configured inappropriately for the Olympic version of the game.
  • As well, building for the future, the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, was missed. Many of the current team will not play on the 2010 squad given the natural rate of NHL player attrition. So the 2010 squad and its coach will have little Olympic experience as a result.

Team Building:

  • The team practiced once (the first time), then the next day they flew to Italy and the day after that played their first game;
  • Players were from across the NHL and considered to be the superstars in their respective teams. It was clear that they were not playing in a coordinated team fashion. There was no team-building time, no division of labor, no familiarization that the other teams enjoyed in the months and years before the Olympic Games;

What was the outcome ? Team Canada was scoreless in 10 out of 11 periods.

In Team Canada's player interviews after the final game vs. Russia, each spoke one dimensionally saying they played well but couldn't beat a better team. The Russian players on the other hand were very analytical in their assessments. They knew the strengths and weaknesses of the Canadians. In fact they went on and on about the tactics they employed to beat Canada. They had done their homework and deserved the win.

Question: What can we learn from this from a business perspective?


  • Do your homework up front before making any hiring or resource decisions. Make sure you understand your competitors strengths and weaknesses. Understand the special needs of the market;
  • Once this is done establish a strategy and game plan (tactics). Hire/assign team members that support the strategy and add value;
  • Invest in team building - get your team coordinating and collaborating together. This takes time so make sure you budget enough time for the team to gel;
  • In your people selection be sure that you build for the future by having a good mix of experience and new talent;

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