Brian Colangelo has been getting progressively worse. That said, the Raptors have been around for nearly two decades and Colangelo is not the first unsuccessful GM. Many big wigs came and went, but the Raptors’ storyline stayed the same. That shows us the limitations of the Raptors’ Organizational System.
Six months ago, this is exactly how I concluded my article named: “Systems Thinking and Toronto Raptors.” Since then, major events took place: The team finally got a franchise player in Rudy Gay. Tim Leiweki, an internationally recognized figure, became the president of the MLSE. Brian Colangelo, the former executive of the year was replaced with Masai Ujiri, the latest executive of the year. Andrea Bargnani, the lightning rod is finally gone. And the frightening player Tyler Hansbrough became the newest Raptor. I think after years of mediocrity, the Raptors organization is finally in a better situation. BUT… Is that enough to overcome the limitations of the Raptors’ Organizational System we previously talked about? How’s the future looking for the Raptors? Let’s see what the Systems Theory has to say about that…
First, a bit of information about systems thinking… Every time you talk about a set of interconnected things (dead or alive) that create a dynamic response, you are referring to a system. This could be: a weather system, planetary system, political system, traffic system, financial system, or organizational system. The scary thing about a system is that it is impossible to know what will happen next. Case in point: the stock exchange is so complex that no computer model can precisely predict anything. So, the best a broker can do is to take an educated guess. Similarly, it is impossible to know when and where the next earthquake will happen. If you focus on a short time frame, all you would see in a system is complete chaos. But if you broadened the time frame, you’d see that every system will eventually create its own pattern of behaviour. What does this mean? This means that we can’t know what will happen tomorrow, but we can predict how the system will react over time. Luckily, there are common patterns of systematic behaviour. They are called “the System Archetypes.” I believe three of these archetypes are particularly important to the Raptors Organization. These are the ones that are responsible for the Raptors’ extended lack of success. And these are the ones that, if tackled properly, could let the organization soar like an eagle.
The first archetype is called “Shifting the Burden.” This pattern of behavior happens when you come up with a quick fix to a symptom instead of tackling the real issue. Unfortunately, this is an insidious archetype, because once the symptomatic solution has had its effect, there is little perceived need to pay attention to the fundamental problem. So, in a way, symptoms shield the real issue! How is this related to the Raptors? For years, the Raptors’ lack of success was tied to the Canadian stigma: It is too cold, too dark, too far. It’s another country. My buddies need a passport. There is no ESPN in Canada! Well, you get the idea… Now, make no mistake: these are all real complaints. BUT! They are not the root cause. These are just symptoms. And as the Shifting the Burden archetype tells us, these symptoms hide the fundamental problem: Among the NBA community, the Raptors are not perceived as a winner organization. In order to break free from the “Shifting the Burden” archetype, the new management must focus on the fundamental solution. They should change the mindset of the organization and the league, which is exactly what Leiwiki and Ujiri stated they would like to do!
However, the reality is not all that rosy for the Raptors. No matter how successful Ujiri will be, the Raptors cannot solve such a fundamental issue on their own. Because the Raptors organization operates within a larger system: The City of Toronto. The Americans deeply (almost fanatically) value drive to win, and Toronto is not perceived as a driven sports city. Perceptions are like glaciers. They move very slowly, but once they start moving they can’t be stopped. Since the Raptors is not the only team that contributes to the Canadian stigma, it cannot change the perceptions on its own. It would need a couple of Toronto sports team to start winning before perceptions can begin to change. That brings us to the second archetype: Escalation (or lack thereof), which is the topic of our next article. Share your thoughts!