Men’s Final Four Teams Face Issues Common in Many Workplaces

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship (“March Madness”) concludes in Minneapolis this weekend.  With traditional superpowers such as Duke, North Carolina, and Kentucky watching from the sidelines, this year’s contestants pose an intriguing mix of schools and styles of play.

Viewing the upcoming contests through an employment law filter (as we typically do), we note an interesting parallel between challenges facing each of the remaining teams and human resources issues that employers often encounter.

Auburn University

The Auburn Tigers were leading in their Sweet 16 game against a higher-ranked opponent when star player Chuma Okeke suffered a serious season-ending knee injury. Despite this crushing blow, Coach Bruce Pearl kept his players sufficiently on task and focused, helping them win the game and then go on to defeat another higher ranked team to reach the Final Four.

Managers and supervisors frequently have to deal with the loss of a key team member when that person goes out on FMLA/medical leave or requires significant accommodation for a disability. A manager in this instance must find an effective way to replace the contributions of the absent team member while also guiding the rest of the team to remain productive in a positive and collaborative way.  This can be a difficult task as employees sometimes resent being asked to do more or simply are not able to fill in adequately for their missing comrade.  Keeping their employees motivated and with their eyes on the prize can be a challenge, especially when the prize is not quite as glittery as a victory at the end of March Madness.

Michigan State University

The Michigan State Spartans are back for their 6th appearance in the Final Four under Coach Tom Izzo.  Coach Izzo is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and his reputation as a coach offers him a shot every year at recruiting the top high school players in the country.

Unfortunately, Coach Izzo also has a reputation for throwing tantrums and berating his players. It happened earlier in this tournament when he screamed at a player during a break in the game, leading two other players to restrain the coach and deescalate the confrontation.

Coach Izzo is generally unapologetic, saying that his players are family and that they know he is only trying to build character, teach them life lessons and bring out their best  Many of his former players are quick to endorse Coach Izzo, professing affection for him personally and appreciation for how much he helped them. It is not easy to find public expression to the contrary but it seems reasonable to wonder whether all of the players who have come to play for Coach Izzo (especially those who transferred during their career) appreciated this sort of relationship.

We often hear about that supervisor who is tough but fair – some are even referred to as “equal opportunity harassers.” Some of them do indeed garner the respect and affection of their supervisees because the goodness of their character and the absence of ill intent shine through.  In other cases, they are merely tolerated until a new supervisor comes along (or a new job).  Often, however, they breed resentment, dysfunction and lawsuits.

Employers should be on guard against overly aggressive managers and supervisors.  It may work for Tom Izzo and the Spartans’ quest for a national title but employees in the modern workplace eventually will cry foul on this behavior.  Sitting on a witness stand trying to defend this supervisor will definitely not be your One Shining Moment.

University of Virginia

The University of Virginia Cavaliers earned the dubious distinction last year of being the first #1 seed in the history of the tournament to lose their opening game.  Coach Tony Bennett (not the legendary crooner) had quite a task ahead of him this year in trying to build his team back up after such an epic loss.  Given their appearance in this year’s Final Four, it would seem that he succeeded.

When businesses have a bad year or continue to struggle, it is tough on the workforce.  Their pay maybe frozen, their benefits may get reduced and, as their co-workers get laid off, they may wonder if they are going to be next.

It takes a skilled manager to maintain productivity under such circumstances, and an unusually credible leader to rally the troops into believing that things will get better.  Congratulations to Coach Bennett for an incredible job this year.

Texas Tech University

The Texas Tech Red Raiders hail from Lubbock, the 11th most populous city in Texas. Though the campus looks very pretty and the city’s residents are undoubtedly lovely people, Coach Chris Beard has to compete for players against the big Texas schools and those schools located in more geographically appealing locations.  He also has to battle the school’s identity as a football school in a state that is mad for their high school and college football.

Nevertheless, the Red Raiders are an excellent team that competes with intensity, as evidenced by their top rated defense in all of Division 1 basketball this year. Coach Beard overcame his recruiting obstacles with a positive message that hard work and team play will pay off.  He is not able to recruit the best players but he sure did recruit a great team.

Staffing is tough and competitive in most markets.  However, emphasizing the positive aspects of your organization and sending the right message can overcome a number of disadvantages.  Just ask Coach Beard.

Bottom Line

The Final Four is always exciting but particularly so this year since it is in taking place in our backyard.  Hopefully, this added perspective will help you enjoy the event just a little more.