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MSU Coaches’ Playbook: How to Build a Winning Team

By Caroline Brooks

Ask any athletic coach from Michigan State University and they will tell you that building an exceptional team isn’t just about recruiting and training strong individual players. That’s just the beginning. Building a winning team takes strategy, trust, continual collaboration and feedback, and development and execution of smart decisions. It starts at the top, but involves an “all in” approach to chasing the same goals, supporting one another, and communicating constantly about progress. The same goes for building winning business teams in business.

From June 5–8, eight top coaches from MSU’s athletic department partnered with the Broad College of Business for the fourth annual “Building Winning Teams: A Quest for Excellence” program for executives. This program equips business leaders with tools to navigate workplace challenges and harness team-building opportunities by honing sustainable leadership skills and team effectiveness strategies. The unique partnership combines world-class thought leadership from Broad management faculty and transferrable team-building strategies from Spartan coaches.

Suzy Merchant and Tom Izzo speaking to group
MSU women’s basketball coach Suzy Merchant and men’s coach Tom Izzo share coaching stories and offer insight on team-building and leadership.

“This program is the hallmark of excellence for Broad’s executive education. The coaches bring an extraordinary energy to the table, which truly shapes how the attendees learn over the three days they’re here,” said Kristin St. Marie, assistant director of Broad Executive Education Programs. “Combining coaching approaches with the expertise of the Broad management faculty offers them something truly special that will leave a lasting impact,” she said.

The athletic staff participating were Mark Dantonio, football; Jake Boss, baseball; Cathy George, volleyball; Mark Hollis, athletic director; Tom Izzo, men’s basketball; Suzy Merchant, women’s basketball; and Cale Wasserman, soccer. Academic faculty leading sessions included, Don Conlon, chair of Broad’s management department; Cynthia Devers; John Hollenbeck; Gerry McNamara; and Mark Roehling. Six Flags President and Chief Executive Officer John Duffey, a Broad graduate, served as the keynote speaker at a welcoming ceremony for the 30 attendees.

“Sometimes, large companies get internally competitive – who’s moving up, who’s moving faster. At the end of the day, as leaders, you need to reinforce that you are all on the same team,” Izzo said to the group. “And as leaders, you always need to step outside of your own box.  I do this by leaving my own venue, my own comfort zone. I go to football meetings, I send my coaches to professional practices, and I always talk to corporations to see how they solve their own problems. Remember that you’re constantly learning from people in different areas than your own and that learning never stops just because you’re leading others.”

The program’s highlights included Coaching Moments, intimate live conversations with MSU coaches illuminating team effectiveness topics and coaching philosophies, and team-based experiential activities on site at MSU athletic facilities featuring action learning, planning, execution, and analysis led by coaches and faculty.

Professionals participating in Building Winning Teams represented national and global companies, including Blue Care Network, CH Robinson, KSPG Automotive de Mexico, as well as leadership from Michigan State University.

“I was very impressed by how in-depth faculty went into all the leadership topics. I was drawn to the program because I wanted to know the actual scientific evidence of what factors into people management and team dynamics, which is proving to be fascinating with their insight. What we’re learning regarding topics like conflict management are transferrable across all industries, and knowledge we can use immediately,” said Rebecca Steele, D.O., director of medical educations at Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital.


Eli Broad College of Business

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