Thursday, February 19, 2009

Connecting basketball and business to build a better organization

As Jason Quick writes, Larry Miller, president of the Blazers, "is known for his humility, and style."

To his employees, he is warm, approachable and inspiring. He often spends the first 45 minutes of his morning gliding from office to office, just to chat. In meetings, he encourages what one employee calls "creative tension," or debates, which is in sharp contrast to the tight-lipped fear many felt in previous regimes.

Along with POR coach Nate McMillan and GM Kevin Pritchard, Miller's management has been a key to the team's turnaround.

Quick traces the turnaround to a four-day team-building retreat in Arizona that Miller arranged for 14 members of his staff, including Coach McMillan.

By the time McMillan returned to Portland, he was a changed coach, and the Blazers were a changed organization. By the end of the week, the department heads would put their minds and bodies together to scale a 12-foot wall, balance evenly on a teeter-totter and coax a horse to reveal its hoof. In the process, there were scrapes, cuts and emotional, late-night conversations.

For Miller, it was the foundation to his grand vision of making the Blazers a global brand. Before he could push the Blazers forward, he had to eliminate a longstanding barrier between the basketball and business sides of the company.

To do that, he had to develop a sense of team.

A former executive for Nike, Miller says his goal was to "make everyone feel they are part of the team. To me, any leader is only as good as the team he has working for him. And my style has always been to try and get the right people in the right job and let them do their job."

According to Coach McMillan:

"I learned a lot about the people who are very important to this organization, and they learned about me. It became personal. It became emotional. And I came out of there feeling very strongly about making this organization better. It became family. It became, for me, a sense that, 'I want to work for you. I want to be a part of making this organization better,' because those are good people."