Basketball Teams as Strategic Networks

New research from the November issue of PLOS ONE is a good example of how looking in more unusual places can provide us with interesting results. Other than discovering a good excuse to watch basketball games, the Arizona based researchers found that quantifying the cohesion and communication of a team can help us to understand what factors affect its success and failure.

Network analysis is a fascinating field and has much to teach us about the development and impact of social interaction, and with teamwork being such a critical element of society, we can certainly benefit from improving our understanding in this area.

One has to bear in mind though that with basketball teams being made up of only 5 players, such research is more relevant to collaboration within smaller teams. The authors also emphasise this in mentioning that their approach "may act as a template for evaluating other small team collaborations".

Basketball Teams as Strategic Networks

So what general lessons do the authors find that this research provides?
"As one example, our finding that the more successful teams distributed decision making about ball movement beyond a centralized leader is mirrored in models of business team structure. Network assessments suggest that business teams with mixed leadership roles optimize performance relative to highly centralized or highly distributed teams."

You can read the full paper online:

Fewell JH, Armbruster D, Ingraham J, Petersen A, Waters JS (2012) Basketball Teams as Strategic Networks. PLoS ONE 7(11): e47445. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047445

In the team context, another interesting basketball statistic that could possibly be applied to a business setting is the plus/minus:

The +/- stat looks at point differential when players are in and out of a game, demonstrating how teams perform with various combinations. The +/- stat can look at a variety of combinations including the best two-player, three-player and even five-player combinations for each game.

The real challenge here would be finding the equivalent of 'points' in the business world. By cycling individuals through different teams we could possibly measure the financial performance output of various team combinations. There are of course other measures that one could use, such as volume of output, though quality would be harder to assess.

As anyone familiar with these measures will understand though, numbers alone will rarely provide a complete picture of what is occurring. Nevertheless, such individual performance indicators can act as another signal in guiding the strategic management of human resources, which those managing people in any capacity or context can benefit from.

Photo: Keith Allison

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