What Does the Toronto Raptors’ Win Have to Do With Company Culture

AmTrust Financial EVP and Chief People and Communications Officer Chaya Cooperberg, a Toronto native, was inspired by the Toronto Raptors’ team attitude during their winning season and NBA Championship win a few weeks ago. The culture that the team created has parallels to great corporate cultures.


Toronto Raptors’ Winning Team Culture


When it comes to talking about company culture, it’s not as easy to define as tangible matters, such as operations or company financials. There’s a tendency for people to think of culture as an outcome, rather than as a driver, of success. But culture matters. It’s a critical factor in a strategy succeeding or failing.

Let me use a sports analogy here to make my point.

When the Raptors won the NBA championship a few weeks ago, for the first time in the franchise’s 24-year history, it was celebrated not only in Toronto (my hometown), but across Canada. In the past few years, it has been really painful to be a Raptors fan, because they’d be good enough to get to the playoffs, but then they’d fall apart in the face of pressure.

In May 2018, after the Raptors went only to the second round in the post-season, Raptors president, Masai Ujiri, said the team needed a “culture reset.” What he meant was that it wasn’t just about putting up points; it was about the team’s attitude and the way they work together. Management did add more talent to the roster, bringing on board San Antonio Spurs star forward, Kawhi Leonard (who just signed with the LA Clippers). Leonard’s attitude and skills made a difference, but the Raptors’ win was about more than just one player.

The Raptors’ head coach Nick Nurse made team culture a top priority. They changed a few small, but key, daily behaviors. For example, at training camp, the players stood in circle formation instead of a huddle to get feedback from the coach positioned in the center. The circle guaranteed eye contact amongst all the players. They were connected.

The Raptors that won were a different team. They had a unified vision and a common mission. They worked hard toward it together and believed they could achieve it. They had confidence. A strong team culture makes the difference between winning and losing.

Chaya Cooperberg Company Culture

Building a Strong Company Culture


So how does a company create a strong culture? There are many steps and it takes time to build, but I think it begins with three foundational elements: One, a clearly defined vision, mission and values; two, the right organizational design; and three, a commitment to talent development.


Vision, Mission and Values


An organization’s vision and mission statements establish a shared purpose. These statements have fallen out of fashion in some management consulting circles, but it is not about having words on a poster in the lunchroom that sits ignored. It means communicating the most important priorities for the business, so that everyone can stay focused on them. Keep employees informed and engaged with the strategy by communicating frequently via many channels such as an intranet, social media or company videos.

Remember, the Raptors’ mission was to get to the playoffs – they could only do that if they all knew and agreed that is what they wanted to achieve.

Once you have a vision and mission, establish the values that will support them. What attitudes and behaviors should every employee demonstrate? Is it teamwork? Is it integrity? What are the most critical values to driving success in the right away? And what happens to those people who don’t live the company values? A company that commits to and communicates its values will attract and retain the people it needs for its mission. With the Raptors, for example, head coach Nurse embodies the value of creativity – he is known as an ‘outside of the box’ thinker who challenges his team to experiment with different plays. The Raptors embraced and acted on this value, which helped them win points at critical moments throughout the season and playoffs.


Organizational Design


Just as a sports team makes sure it has all the right players in the right places, a corporation needs to make sure it has the right organizational design. Consider what the company structure needs to look like in order to deliver on its vision and mission. How many departments, how many groups? How many people are required in each area? How many managers are needed to oversee them? Can you reduce layers in the organization, so that there are fewer people in between the front line staff and the executive leaders? The right organizational design will allow people to feel more empowered and accountable.

After creating the right design, it’s time to build the team. Consider your players. Who would be the best fit in each role? Where will they be most successful? Can you elevate and stretch some talent into new areas? Do you need to look outside of the organization for the talent you need?

Designing the structure and then filling the boxes with the best talent creates engagement and increases employee retention – both important features of a strong culture.


Talent Development


Talent development is the third foundational element of a strong corporate culture. It’s all about coaching and helping employees build a long, successful career with the organization. You want your best players to stick with you, but it is a competitive job market and people go where they can grow.

Talent development programs come in many forms, but they typically have these components:

• Training modules customized for employees to help them learn the professional skills they need to improve their performance and advance to more senior roles
• Skills training for managers on how to coach their people for performance and provide effective feedback
• Career progression paths that identify the next job level

It’s also important to accurately assess and reward performance, so that employees who have earned and merit the recognition feel validated and valued.


Strong Team Culture for the Win


To sum up, culture matters. A culture of creativity, perseverance and confidence helped the Raptors win. And successful companies, from Fortune 500 corporations to small businesses, are known for their strong and unique cultures too. Get this right and there is no limit to how much you and your company can achieve.


This material is for informational purposes only and is not legal or business advice. Neither AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates represents or warrants that the information contained herein is appropriate or suitable for any specific business or legal purpose. Readers seeking resolution of specific questions should consult their business and/or legal advisors. Coverages may vary by location. Contact your local RSM for more information.
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