Change – Every 24 seconds?

This week Mark Poppenborg published his second blog post about change. The first part of this series talked about misconceptions of change. The second article introduces some tools to irritate organisations. The articles are in German only and not sure how well they read when automatically translated. Let me know if they sparked your interest and I can help you with a summary.

I’m sitting here at the Frankfurt airport, waiting for my flight to Dallas and have read a newspaper article about the German basketball league’s semi-finals, where my hometown Bamberg is playing versus Munich. This inspired me to start this post.

Change is a topic that bothers me for quite some time now. We had some organizational changes over the past months, introduced new tools and are facing plenty of changes in our markets. Change is always a big deal in our daily business life, but so normal in my favorite sport: basketball. Why don’t they make a big deal out of it? They change organization, leaders and procedures every 24 seconds and they don’t need change management programs, changes curves and whatever else we use in our corporate world. I see three reasons, maybe there are more, maybe they don’t make sense at all. Open for discussion!


Shot clock by Paul Gorbould | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Reason #1 – Motivation for change is always visible

A basketball team constantly sees where they stand, what works and what doesn’t work – on the scoreboard. If they are down a few points, nobody would argue that they need change. If their rebounding is bad, they probably hustle a bit harder. And if they see 3 pointers don’t work in this game today, they’ll usually stop firing from the outside the paint. They can’t wait until their CEO figures this out and starts a change initiative. If they would wait for a change initiative the game would be over and lost.

On the contrary, a basketball team would be pretty surprised if their coach tells them to stop shooting 3 pointers, if they have good scores in this category. Isn’t this something that happens all too often in our corporate world? There’s change while the “scoreboard” still shows we’re on a winning streak! To be honest, this happens in basketball too. The 3 point shooter might be substituted although he’s on fire and the team has a great lead. Still the team understands why this happens, which brings me to reason #2.

Reason #2 – The team is “aligned”   

In a well-functioning basketball team, everybody understands his strengths and weaknesses and the role he plays. They understand why the 3 point shooter gets substituted although he’s on fire and the team has a lead. Maybe a younger, more inexperienced player comes in to gain some experience. In many projects I have experienced, this would have been considered a major change and cause frustration. Why would we do that? The project takes a little longer than planned and it might be perceived as failure for the senior guy. We rarely see the benefit that it makes our team/organization more robust for future “games”.

Let me do another comparison here. How about leaders? In basketball there’s the role of a point guard. He’s responsible to bring the ball and usually has oversight over the game. Still a team has multiple point guards. One might be a little bit better on defense than the other. So also leaders can get substituted with no face loss. In business we usually make a big deal about this.

Now let’s look at reason number #3, which might be the most important, but least obvious.

Reason #3 – Complexity is accepted and dealt with

Nobody ever would claim that a basketball game is repeatable and the outcome can be predicted. Even if you send the same players, to the same court, against the same opponent, the next game would never happen exactly like the first one. This is complexity, isn’t it?

The best teams in the world can cope with the complexity of the game. They can “read” the game and change their behavior accordingly. They often do this completely self-organized. Of course they also have their playbooks and procedures. But they accept there’s an unlimited number of possibilities, how their opponent reacts on a play. They learn by repeating these plays over and over again, in the training but also in games. The situation is always a little bit different. This helps them to improvise whenever needed.

In our corporate word, we try to take a different approach. We want predictability and the play should always be executed as intended. In order to make this happen we try to eliminate change. But your market’s/competitor’s/customer’s behavior usually can’t be controlled. So change is inevitable. Better train and learn to how to improvise.


You might claim that basketball is just a game and can’t be compared to serious business. Still professional basketball teams are businesses and winning a championship might win you multiple millions of dollars.

Now I’m interested in your opinion. Does this all make sense? Or is it completely stupid? Maybe you see other analogies that can be applied to change in business? Looking forward to your comments.

Want to read more?

Read Part 2 – Latency of change and Part 3 – Does change need a vision?


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