Championship Teams and What Makes Them Great

What makes a championship team great?

Championship teams that come to mind include:

·     The 1996-1998 Chicago Bulls

·     2001-2004 New England Patriots

·     1998-2000 New York Yankees

·     2000-2002 LA Lakers

·     1972 Miami Dolphins

·     1993 Dallas Cowboys

·     1985 Chicago Bears

·     The Big Red Machine of the 70’s (Go Reds!)

I can go on and on, identifying sports teams that dominated their season or era (sorry, not sorry for leaving out the Steelers of the 1970’s-Who Dey!). It is quite easy to identify these teams at your favorite bar for trivia night, but what got them there? I am going to highlight six key traits that I believe all of the teams listed above have and what I think your team needs to be a championship level team. These are my personal observations from having participated on many successful, national championship sports teams, working for great teams, as well as being a part of failing companies that are missing these six ideas in some way or another. Let’s get into what made these teams champions!


Jordan, Brady, Jeter, Bryant, Marino, Aikman, Payton, Rose…. We can name other great players from these teams, but they all have something in common. They all had legendary coaches. Coaches set the vision for the team. They also guide the goal building process for the team. Goal setting should be a collaborative effort, with team members input, but guided by the leader. If the team isn’t onboard with the goals, the team will fail. Every time! The leader also must identify what the team needs are and what types of players are needed to achieve the general goals of the organization.

Talent Strategy

Maybe the team goal isn’t to win the Super Bowl, but rather dig out of a span of being 1-28…and counting (Sorry Browns fans). The right strategy must be in place for finding the players to achieve this goal. The Cleveland Browns have some talented players, but the drafting strategy and how they put the team together is being called into question. There must be defined roles and players brought in for those specific roles. Without Scotty, is Jordan the same? Without Smith, is Aikman the same? The best teams don’t stumble upon great players, they have a great draft strategy.  It’s also key to allow your talent to thrive. Too many companies force a player to work within their recognized weaknesses. Instead, put them in a position to use their strengths, and hire someone who fills the weakness of the team. Kobe wasn’t asked to player the center position, that was Shaq’s job. Once a talent strategy is in place, you will find yourself getting the players you want versus losing them to the competition. At my current company, Strategic Data Systems, it is a never-ending battle to hire great talent. There is just too much competition, and software developers are in such a high demand. We have been successful this year in hiring because we know what type of player we want. We have a process to identify that talent and are quick to hire when we have that home run hitter in our sights.

Common Values/Goals

I believe it’s important for the team to have a common set of values and goals. Diversity is important and with all of the teams listed above, each player is different, but they were able to unite around a common goal and had similar values in how to get the job done. Common values bind teammates versus divide them. Each team member must be bought in, and have an “ALL IN” mentality to the team goal. If the team helps create the goal, this will help in ownership of the goal.


It is key that everyone on the team equally contribute to the common goal. At the same time, the coach keeps the players on course and helps hold them accountable for performance or they just can’t play. That’s reality. The team is moving in one direction. Either you’re on board or you’re not (go back and re-read talent strategy, although not every hire is a home run). Trust is another key component to this idea. Teammates will hold each other accountable if they trust each other. Forced discipline just doesn’t work.  Self-discipline and team accountability is key to a healthy culture. If leadership is forcing accountability or work discipline, has the team really bought into the goals and vision? Are they the right players for the team? The best teams self-govern and hold each other accountable. Accountability and discipline must always point back to the goals that the team defined. If the goal of the team is to win a championship, then are the players actions and work pointing back to that goal? I once worked for a great leader who could be hard on a player but always pointed it back to that person’s goals and what they said they wanted out of their career. It’s not personal, it’s just helping that person achieve the goals they said they wanted and proving you care as a leader. Once an employee understands that a leader is doing that for them, trust is built and communication is open.


We all know what it’s like to have a coworker we don’t trust. You are naturally going to be distant from them. Teammates must trust each other and trust in leadership. Without trust, members of the team will not be forthcoming with their struggles or roadblocks for fear of embarrassment or rejection. The coach must be trusted to have the players backs and that they will do what they can to help the team reach their goals. Tom Brady knows that Bill Belichick will always have his back and never throw him under the bus to the public. There must be safety in communication. If a team member feels that it’s unsafe to communicate, trust has not been achieved. Again, this can’t be forced but must be organic and is usually obtained from caring people, having common goals and everyone knowing that feedback positive or negative, points back to the team goals.

And last but not least…

Enjoy the Ride

Of course it’s fun to win, but getting to the Big Game can be draining and difficult. It’s very important for leadership to drive a culture of fun. In my experience (especially on small teams), it’s extremely hard for culture to be driven from the bottom up. The last guy on the bench usually doesn’t impact culture like the captain can. If the leaders aren’t bought in, it won’t happen. Owners, bosses, team leads, captains must be able to step back, identify where the team is emotionally and drive a culture of “enjoying the ride”.

As a former collegiate soccer player,  college soccer coach, and sports aficionado, I have participated on many winning sports teams during my athletic career.  Many of the same ingredients necessary for a winning sports team apply to the business world. Feel free to reach out with your thoughts or comments on these ideas or others you can add to the conversation.

~Chris Moses is the Director of Corporate Recruiting for Strategic Data Systems, a leading software consulting company located in Cincinnati, Ohio.