Tournament time: Is your business team built to go all the way?

The Cinderella winners and their shocking victories in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament have made the tourney one to watch. As some lower-seeded teams made their way through the bracket, their stories and perseverance remind us all how difficult it can be to develop a strategy for taking your team all the way.

So what business tips can we take from these teams hoping to reach that championship game?

Here are some traits these Cinderella teams share that might help you keep your own team motivated and on the path toward excellence.

They manage expectations.

Even with some big wins behind them, the ‘Cinderella’ teams have something to prove. Take the Wichita State Shockers as an example. In the 2013 tournament, the Shockers were seeded ninth in their region, but greatly exceeded expectations and made it all the way to the Final Four. While they didn’t pull out a championship run this year, the Shockers maintained momentum for a winning season and pulled a top seed in the 2014 tournament.

For your business, you can also keep your team fresh by staying humble. Celebrate your victories, but focus on upcoming challenges and competitors so your team can stay engaged and scrappy.

They play hard — against any opponent.

Skeptics complained that some of the lower-ranked teams played a relatively easy regular season schedule. But, consider how the Dayton Flyers approached their opponents. Dayton had two wins against top seeds to win a spot in the Sweet 16. Coach Archie Miller’s Flyers held their own against two favored and well-known teams, playing hard until the very last seconds. Whether they faced a smaller-conference opponent in a regular season game or a nationally ranked team in the tournament, the Flyers brought their best game.

Likewise, your team can prepare itself for tougher competition by effectively dealing with new challenges early and executing well, even with smaller clients and projects. These behaviors prepare you for the bigger risks you face as your team develops. Treating smaller opportunities as such will not help you grow.

The team has the mental toughness to make it this far.

Based on strength of schedule, the Shockers may not have been a top seed without going undefeated. But, they didn’t need it to get to the tournament, and they managed to win every regular season game anyway. That shows a dedication to competition that many college teams aren’t able to sustain all season, even with all the talent in the world. And, even though they exited the tournament earlier than they’d hoped, you can hardly call their 35-1 season a losing one. That loss against Kentucky probably will only serve to keep the Shockers’ motivation high next season.

Success often breeds an unexpected side effect: fear of failure. But taking a page from the survive-and-advance mindset of the tournament, your team can grow by focusing on the next win instead of just a faraway goal. A one-day-at-a-time attitude, where each game or project is winnable, can help you stay sharp for each task.

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