Mark Cuban fires business associates and NBA players for the same reason: ‘A team can have 1 knucklehead, not you 2’

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In boardrooms and on basketball courts, billionaire Mark Cuban says he’s noticed one factor that consistently leads to success: team culture.

On an episode of the podcast “Re:Thinking with Adam Grant” this week, investor “Shark Tank” and owner of Dallas Mavericks said that creating collaborative work environments is more important than gathering raw talent. He said he’s fired business partners and swapped basketball players because of their personalities, especially when the team has multiple self-centered or combative members.

“Culture and chemistry are critical to success,” Cuban said. “A team can have one knuckle head, you can’t have two. One knuckle head adapts, two hang together.”

Cuban said he knows an organization is in trouble when employees leave for its competitors. He likes to lead that trend by firing leaders who refuse to contribute to team culture before they can force their employees to quit, he said.

“Sometimes you just have to turn everything upside down and remove the people who are part of its toxic side,” Cuban said.

When hiring, Cuban specifically looks for people who can help make the workplace a better experience for others. In one example, he hired a CEO who didn’t have as much experience as other candidates but excelled in “employee support and employee training and improvement,” he said.

“[They] may not have had the experience on the business side that we would have gone for otherwise,” Cuban said.[But they] were putting [employees] in a position to succeed [better] than anyone I’ve ever seen.”

In basketball, Cuban said he doesn’t necessarily screen new players for narcissism, but he has swapped players to fuel motivation within the team. His strategy seems to match the opinion of experts, who argue that the number of egocentric athletes in a team can influence its success.

In a 2019 study, researchers from the University of Buffalo School of Management analyzed the level of narcissism in nearly 35,000 tweets and profile photos from 400 NBA player profiles, and compared the findings with results from the 2013-2014 NBA regular season. The result was poorer coordination and performance, and teams with the most narcissism improved less than teams with lower levels of narcissism.

Cuban said he’s noticed the same pattern in coaching. Last year, the Mavericks jumped out of the NBA playoffs in the opening round — the franchise’s 10th straight year, either by doing so or missing the playoffs entirely. After hiring Jason Kidd as head coach of the Mavericks during the off-season, the team made its way to the Western Conference semifinals in May.

“We had pretty much the same team as the year before, but Jason Kidd came in and set some expectations and was a better communicator,” Cuban said. “And that helped develop our chemistry because all the guys knew what was expected of them. They knew their roles. They knew how they fit together. And that allowed us to go way beyond what people expected us to do.”

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