Mark Eaton: Strengthening Remote Team

Mark Eaton, Strengthening Remote Team, interview transcript, by Alan Olsen for The American Dreams Show:

Alan Olsen: Can you share about your background?

Mark Eaton: Well, yeah, I can. I’m a former NBA player, I’ve played in the NBA for 12 years with the Utah Jazz and from ’82 to ’94. I’m originally from Southern California. And since retiring from the NBA in 1994, I’ve done a variety of things, and including running nonprofits, youth camps for at risk kids and been involved in the restaurant business, actually, with a couple of guys from San Francisco. And so about 10 or 12 years ago, I started to get a little more involved in business consulting and motivational speaking, I have a very unusual story of how I became an NBA player going from an auto mechanic at age 21, to an NBA all star. And the lessons and the things I learned along the way, and the coaches and the people that came alongside of me, gave me some unique insights into the world of business. And I’ve utilized that experience to teach companies and individuals organizations on how to create a winning team from kind of the inside out from my own unique perspective.

Alan Olsen: Can you take us through an overview of the process that you walk people through?

Mark Eaton: Yeah, I can. It starts with a commitment to the people around you. And that’s how I became an NBA players. I had coaches that came alongside of me at critical junctures that showed me what I need to do next. And so through those experiences, I distilled it down to four unique little points, the four commitments of a winning team. And the first one is really about knowing your job and I had interaction one day at the men’s gym at UCLA in the afternoon, when I wasn’t playing much, and things weren’t going very well and a gentleman by the name of Wilt Chamberlain pulled me aside and gave me some very great advice about where my position was on the court, what I needed to do what I wanted to focus on, and what I needed to let go of, and, and help me really dial in my position and what my unique strengths were out there on the basketball court. And so I call that knowing your job focusing on that one thing you’re excellent at. And we sometimes forget about that, we always think we need to fix our weaknesses. And what he showed me was how to take the strength that I already had, and leverage it even further to help my career. And so that’s the first one called doing your job.

The second one is about execution. And when I was at UCLA wasn’t playing very much, my junior college coach told me Look, if you’re not going to play in the games, you’re still going to make the practices your games, you’re still going to be the first guy there. And the last we’re going to have to continue to work out because it’s not about just this year, and the fact you’re not playing, this is a long term process. And we’re not going to get too wound up with about the fact that you’re not getting a lot of playing time this year, because we’re shooting for the NBA, we’re shooting for professional career. And so he challenged me to kind of get past that very disappointing year of my life, and continue to work. And I did it. He gave me this game plan, and I followed it. And so I call that doing what you’ve been asked to do. And I ask the question, are we clear what other people want from us? Do we really know what’s expected of us and do we ask and I think sometimes in business, people have jobs, they have job descriptions, and they think they’re doing the right thing. But they’re afraid to go in and ask like, Is there anything else I should be doing? Anything else I should be more focused on. So that’s called doing what you’ve been asked to do.

Point number three: I came to the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City when they were a bad team and a bad market. Our games were showing tape delay at 11 o’clock at night. It was really very difficult time for the NBA in the early 80’s. And our coach Frank Layden, who’s from New York, had this kind of blue collar work ethic and attitude about life. And he said, “you know, if you guys would just stop competing with each other out there on the court and start cooperating with each other a little bit, the individual accolades would show up”. And we were kind of a group of castoffs from other teams and players like myself that didn’t have much experience. But he got us to start trusting each other a little bit in cooperating with each other a little bit. And then, and then the more we started passing the ball and trusting each other a little bit, or the wind started coming, and then yes, the individual accolades kind of followed right after that. And so I call that making people look good. You know how Focused Are you making the people you work with look good on a scale of one to 10? What could you do to improve that score, is there something you need to acknowledge or check in with or buy a cup of coffee for- making people look good.

And then the last one is what I did on the basketball court- I protected my teammates, my job was to stand in front of the basket and stop players from getting there. And the better I did my job, the better my teammates were, because they could go out and try and steal the ball, knowing that I would get between their man in the basket if they failed. And I position this as the key to trust. And the key to loyalty is really about having each other’s backs because those guys knew they could count on me. And I think that’s why I lasted the NBA for 12 years. There were certainly better players that came along, but I was there to protect my teammates. And so commandment number four is about protecting other people. And I always asked the question, can you take a moment now and write down the names of three people this week that you can let know this week that you have their back, because I think this is another missing link in the business world is that we expect people to do their jobs, but they don’t really know that we’re committed to them. It doesn’t mean you have to go out to dinner with them every night or anything like that. But you do need to let them know while you’re at work that, hey, I’ve got your back, I’m here for you. And you can count on me. And I think that’s a big missing link in the business world today.

So the four commandments are knowing your job doing that one thing you’re excellent at, doing what you’ve been asked to do, making people look good and protecting others. So those are the four commitments.

 Alan Olsen: You know, it’s interesting with the rate of change that we have in society today in this COVID-19, how it’s impacted what used to be versus what it is today versus what is going to be and we’re getting into what we call the new normal. What advice do you have for organizations as they adjust into the new normal? and look for how do we best build teams in a remote environment?

Mark Eaton: Well, I think that the new environment is really challenging for teams because you’re not in the same room, you’re not doing things together. And I think it puts a lot more pressure on the leaders to check in and make sure that everybody is in alignment, and then on the right on the same page. And so you know, that protecting others concept that I just talked about, and checking in with people and making sure they’re okay, that’s part of your job as a coach and part of your job as a leader right now. There is some evidence that some teams work even better remotely than they were when they’re all together, which is kind of an interesting phenomenon. But, but by and large, I think that people are scared right now they’re isolated. And while they might be putting on a good face, when they’re on the zoom call in the morning, it’s I think the you know, the leaders and coaches really need to take a few extra minutes and check in with everybody to help maintain that alignment and maintain that unity, because that’s all you’ve got right now. So you’re only as strong as your people. And so I think a coach’s job and leaders job is to double down on that and make sure that everybody is okay.

Alan Olsen: Knowing what you know now, what are some of the common mistakes that organizations make in team building?

Mark Eaton: You really have to look and see if this person is going to be a good fit for your organization- if he or she fits the culture. That’s something that sometimes gets overlooked. And then I also think that we’ve got to be really clear about our expectations. I think people really want to know, how do I win. And sometimes we give them jobs, we expect them to start performing. And nobody ever checks in to see if, number one, they’re properly trained, if they have all the tools that they need. And number two, if that new hire is absolutely clear about what it takes to succeed, what it takes to win and what the expectations are. And so we end up kind of in this kind of morass where the leaders up at the top are all saying we’re doing this, this is the project we’re working on, and the people below them aren’t always clear about exactly what direction we’re going, what are we doing. I’m actually working on a company right now. that’s been very fast growing, and they’re having a difficult time keeping the people behind them up to speed. And part of the problem is that leaders themselves have three or four different ideas of what that job description needs to be for that person. And it’s just impossible. And, you know, the frontline people, the managers, middle management, all that stuff. They, you know, they don’t have the same buy into the organization, as the owners do- as the leaders too, and sometimes I think leaders forget that. I think they think that everybody’s supposed to have the same passion, excitement about what they’re doing as they do and the bottom line is that people below them, we need the training and the assistance and the and the teamwork to kind of come kind of come up to speed and make sure that they’re in alignment with what leadership wants. So I think those are the things that I would add, if I went back in to do it again, and it’s across the board. It’s not any one in particular industry or anything, it’s something everybody is challenged with, but you’re really only as good as your team. And so your ability to take a step back sometimes and look at the training and the coaching that is being provided to the people in key positions double checking that and making sure that they they are on the same page is paramount. And so that communication thing, which of course never goes away, I think especially now in this remote work environment, everybody’s got to double down on that and just and over communicate.

Alan Olsen: How do you build an effective communication strategy within an organization? Because obviously, two people hear the same set of facts and can interpret them differently. But how do you ensure that, that you’re getting measurable results out of them?

Mark Eaton: Well, I you know, it goes back to some of the stuff that I read back in the 80s. Like, remember Stephen Covey’s book, principle centered leadership, and it looked at the results in the center of this wheel, and then went backwards up to the mission statement, right. And then all along the way, you could see that the silos or divisions that occur, where communication broke down. And I think the the leaders that I’ve worked that’s been the most effective are the ones that get out of their office, and they go down to the front lines, they spend time with middle management, they wander around, they talk to people, they spend time with their VPs help coaching them on how to coach their people, because it’s just so easy to get all caught up in the structure of what the business is now. And you forget that it’s driven by people. And so that’s one thing I always encourage people to do. And it’s no different than, then if you look at like Phil Jackson, or one of those, one of the great coaches, who would take time and coaches I played with work for as well, who would take time to say, Come on, let’s go have a beer. Let’s sit down, let’s talk about this and, you know, you don’t need to carry the weight of the whole business on your shoulders, right? I don’t need you to score 80 points a night, I need to score 30 points. And I didn’t get 10 assists, right. And, and so I think the leader has to have their finger on the pulse of the people in the organization. And the only way they can do that is getting out and spending time with them.

Alan Olsen: What if some of the other projects you are involved with today?

Mark Eaton: You know, since COVID, I’ve shifted more to business consulting, and I’ve got a couple clients I’m working with now on kind of longer term projects to help build their team culture. Because I, you know, it was interesting playing in the NBA, it’s just your job, you kind of do what you do. But afterwards, when I retired, I realized what a unique experience I had, in terms of, that our results were expected daily, right? If you lose three games in a row, you could be living in a new city next week, right? And so there wasn’t any time to get too involved in personal drama, like you had to just sit down and figure stuff out right now. And sometimes that meant closing locker room door and kicking all the coaches out and, and working it out. But there wasn’t going to work going to wait till the next quarterly retreat to address it or the next board meeting. It was like you had to figure it out today. And that perspective, has given me some unique insights into the business world. Because everybody in business uses the terminology, “We’re a team, We’re a team, we’re a team,” but I think where I come from as well as any anybody who’s played professional sports, we have a kind of a different perspective, not because we were forced to make it work on a daily basis, and we had to learn how to do that. So that perspective I found is, is given me kind of a unique filter to look at the world of business from.

Alan Olsen: When it when everything is said then what gives you the greatest joy in life?

Mark Eaton: What gives me the greatest joy in life is helping people and helping them figure out stuff and watching the light bulb go off when it does come together. I’ve had great coaches in my life and a couple of them passed away and I’ve kind of felt recently like, it’s my, you know, my opportunity now to kind of take it on a little take on coaching and a little bit bigger way of working with other people. And so being able to come alongside of somebody and look at the horizon together and share a common goal and watch that person light up when they see for themselves where it is that they’re going and what they could do. That’s like the greatest gift ever.

Edited for Concision and Clarity

This transcript was electronically generated and may not contain the exact words used.


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Alan Olsen, is the Host of the American Dreams Show and the Managing Partner of  GROCO is a premier family office and tax advisory firm located in the San Francisco Bay area serving clients all over the world.

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Alan L. Olsen, CPA, Wikipedia Bio

    Mark Eaton on Alan Olsen's American Dreams Radio
    Mark Eaton

    Mark Eaton is a successful, award-winning motivational speaker, entrepreneur and best selling author of The Four Commitments of a Winning Team, who has earned the coveted CSP (Certified Speaking Professional) designation, the speaking profession’s highest international measure of professional competence. He has spoken to numerous world-class organizations including IBM, FedEx, Phillips 66, Caesars Entertainment, T‑Mobile, LG, and businesses, government agencies and universities at every level. He has been featured as a team-building expert in print and online publications such as, Sports Illustrated and Eaton is also a 7′4″ NBA All-Star who played with the Utah Jazz for 12 seasons, led the NBA in blocked shots 4 of those seasons, was named to the NBA All-Defensive Team 5 times, was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year 2 times, and still holds 2 NBA records—most blocks in a single season (456) and career average blocked shots per game (3.5). In addition to his work on team building, Eaton is managing partner in two award-winning restaurants in Salt Lake City, Tuscany and Franck’s, recently voted Best Restaurant in Utah. Eaton is founder and former chairman of the Mark Eaton Standing Tall for Youth Foundation, which provided sports and outdoor opportunities for more than 3,000 at-risk children. He is a former president and board member of the Legends of Basketball, which supports the needs of retired NBA players. Eaton’s television and radio experience includes eight years as host of Jazz Tonight on KJZZ-TV, host of Mark Eaton Outdoors on The Outdoor Channel, and three years as host of Sports Health Today, an internationally syndicated radio show. He attended Cypress College and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). When Mark is not speaking, writing, or working he enjoys traveling with his wife Teri, horseback riding, mountain biking, skiing, and the outdoors. He lives in Park City, Utah with his wife, children, horses, dogs, and barn cats.

    Alan Olsen on Alan Olsen's American Dreams Radio
    Alan Olsen

    Alan is managing partner at Greenstein, Rogoff, Olsen & Co., LLP, (GROCO) and is a respected leader in his field. He is also the radio show host to American Dreams. Alan’s CPA firm resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and serves some of the most influential Venture Capitalist in the world. GROCO’s affluent CPA core competency is advising High Net Worth individual clients in tax and financial strategies. Alan is a current member of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (S.I.E.P.R.) SIEPR’s goal is to improve long-term economic policy. Alan has more than 25 years of experience in public accounting and develops innovative financial strategies for business enterprises. Alan also serves on President Kim Clark’s BYU-Idaho Advancement council. (President Clark lead the Harvard Business School programs for 30 years prior to joining BYU-idaho. As a specialist in income tax, Alan frequently lectures and writes articles about tax issues for professional organizations and community groups. He also teaches accounting as a member of the adjunct faculty at Ohlone College.

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