Feb. 17, 2005 • Volume 13 Number 11
The New England Patriots' Super Bowl victory, its third championship in four years, was no surprise to Asst. Prof. Fabio Fonti (CSOM), who specializes in the study of the inner workings of successful organizations.
Fonti, who researches sports organizations such as professional basketball teams and America's Cup yacht racing crews, says team stability and relational intensity - both hallmarks of Patriots' coach Bill Belichick's organizational philosophy - are far more productive tools than simply signing a bevy of individual star players.
"Sports organizations are very similar to corporate environments," said Fonti, a faculty member in the Carroll School of Management Organization Studies Department. "Plus, they are fun to research. I might as well do something that is interesting to me."
Fonti discussed his research on successful European professional basketball teams at the Strategic Society Conference in Puerto Rico last November, and hopes to complete a similar study on the National Basketball Association and America's Cup teams for formal presentation later this year.
Team stability comes from giving workers the time to build up knowledge and trust of each other, according to Fonti. "Just look at the Patriots. They were not a top team five or six years ago, but they have kept a core of people who have been together for a long time, and they started to become very competitive. They don't have a lot of stars, just people who know each other, are hard working, and are definitely paying off in the medium term.
"Unfortunately," Fonti added, "in today's society we want results, results, results. It's difficult to give people time to build themselves."
Relationship intensity, Fonti says, involves adding team members who have at least some knowledge of the new organization, and can contribute to the group's goals in a shorter period of time. "It's like when A-Rod [shortstop Alex Rodriguez] went to the Yankees last year. He didn't know anyone there. He had to find his way, to learn the unwritten rules.
"The Red Sox, on the other hand, got [pitcher Curt] Schilling. He had played for Terry Francona back when they were on the Phillies. Even before he came to Boston, Francona was able to tell him 'here's what to expect.'"
Fonti questions the philosophy of those organizations - like the Washington Redskins, New York Knicks or soccer's Real Madrid team - that load up their rosters with highly-paid superstars. "Too many stars coming onto the same team are too difficult to manage," he said, citing the failure of all three teams to win championships. "Look at the Pats again. They are not an organization for people who want to stand out. By keeping it that way they actually are saving themselves a lot of trouble."
Fonti presented his analysis of the baseball dynamics at a department seminar last spring. The title of his paper? "Why Losing A-Rod May Not Have Been a Bad Thing After All." -Reid Oslin •