After the major deal earlier this year transferring more than 1,000 Microsoft salespeople to AOL, AOL chief marketing officer Allie Kline looked to an unusual source of inspiration on how to handle the influx of new blood:
Basketball legend Phil Jackson.
Kline told Business Insider that channeling Jackson’s leadership style as the coach of the Chicago Bulls and the LA Lakers has become one of her most important management strategies.
“Jackson applied a lot of Buddhist beliefs while also being extremely competitive,” Kline says. “To me, those two things always seemed in conflict, so the ability to balance that feels like this goldmine of unleashing talent. How can you help people feel very confident, comfortable, kind — how can you bring out their best nurtured self — and at the same time have them bring this intense competitiveness, without the cattiness?”
Jackson, she says, made it a top priority when new people joined the team to make sure the players didn’t just get to know each other on the court, but also got to know each other on a more personal level. Once they did, it became easier for them to relinquish their individual egos for the benefit of the team.
The triangle offence
Microsoft and AOL’s sales departments had such different cultures, that she knew to keep them from clashing she had to try to convince employees to try to get to know their new coworkers “at their very most human level.”
She encouraged people to spend casual time together and go get drinks. She spent a lot of time making sure that employees had that opportunity.
“At the end of the day, you have to get people to think of their coworkers at their most basic level and start to appreciate each other as humans,” she says. “Because when you start to appreciate someone as a human, the “win” is when you start to say, what skill does that person have that completes a weakness that I have?”
For Jackson it led to a lot of basketball victories, and Kline says that the integration between Microsoft and AOL has gone smoother than expected.
She says that she has also adopted Jackson’s theory of the “triangle offence” which aims to let players know how to adapt on the fly to whatever the defence does (versus having an offence that memorizes plays that can be interrupted by unexpected defence).
“I bore the s*** out of our team talking about the triangle offence a lot, but I think it’s so appropriate in what we do, because our market is changing so fast and is so unpredictable,” she says. “We need every single person on our team to know exactly where we’re going enough, that you could pivot if any given thing happened.”
More and more, she says, her biggest focus in her role is on the human side of things.