hockey lessons for winning work.

Game on!

Game on!

Maybe I read too much about management, but I couldn’t help but look for lessons this weekend while on the road with the Oswego State women’s ice hockey team (I’m a faculty mentor). Sports is a zero-sum game — if we win, it means you lose — while higher ed is (ideally) about fashioning win-win opportunities. Nonetheless, here are some thoughts.

Hierarchy. We have a head coach, assistant coach, three co-captains and 25 players. Chances are the head coach communicates directly with any individual player. Mistakes are ironed out quickly through direct interaction. No memo from the president to the provost to the dean to the department chair to the faculty. There are drawbacks to a 1:25 supervisor ratio, especially in terms of individualized attention, but communication is clean, clear, results-oriented.

Resource management: The coach has to field a starting goalie, two defenders and three forwards. Rotation is four lines of forwards, three lines of defenders and you hope you can keep your two backup goalies on the bench. You may have a speed line, a big line, or mix and match, plus penalty-kill lines and power-play lines. Staffing is flexible and sometimes lineups (project teams) vary; if you’re a player down due to penalty, you’ll want to put out your best defensive forwards and may have to mix up the pairings. Everyone brings different skills to the mix, and determining successful chemistry of various lines is a difficult art.

Motivation: One game this weekend saw the backup goalie get a start to stay fresh and one forward kept out of the lineup to send a message. Sometimes such positive and negative reinforcements can bite you if all your players don’t respond the way you’d like. But then doesn’t this happen with office project teams?

Reacting/responding: The two games were against Chatham University, and Oswego dominated Saturday’s contest in a 5-1 win. But the home team came out hungry and energized on Sunday, traded blows and capitalized on enough Laker mistakes to win a 4-3 overtime thriller (well, the Chatham fans were thrilled anyway). The Lakers didn’t assume the win — and played better overall (51-25 shot advantage) — but Chatham responded and took advantage of chances. Like in the business world, games are sometimes about how you capitalize on opportunities. Now it’s up to Oswego to respond this week in practice and try to win a two-game series hosting Cortland this weekend to stay in the playoff chase.

Certainly there’s plenty to take away here. The more hierarchy in an organization, the slower and more muddled the communication. As we all try to do more with less, resource management — figuring out the strengths of members of work teams, and how to maximize skills — becomes increasingly important. It’s paramount to find the right motivation to keep workers moving forward in these challenging times. And with the speed of technology, reacting/responding decisively and quickly can be the difference between failure and success.

There are many other life lessons one learns while traveling with 25 female student-athletes, but that would make for a really long blog entry.

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