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

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 “Re:Thinking with Adam Grant” podcast this week, the “Shark Tank” investor and Dallas Mavericks owner said creating collaborative working environments is more important than amassing raw talent. He said he’s fired business partners and traded 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 knucklehead, you can’t have two. One knucklehead adapts, two hang out together.”

Cuban said he knows an organization is in trouble when employees start leaving for its competitors. He likes to get ahead of that trend by firing leaders who refuse to contribute to team culture before they can drive their employees to quit, he said.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to turn it all upside down and get rid of the people that are part of the toxic side of it,” Cuban said.

When he’s 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 much experience as other candidates, but excelled at “employee support and employee training and enhancement,” he said.

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

In basketball, Cuban said he doesn’t necessarily screen new players for narcissism, but he has traded players to spark motivation within the team. His strategy seems to align with experts’ opinions, who claim the number of self-centered athletes on a team can affect its success.

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

Cuban said he’s noticed the same pattern in coaching. Last year, the Mavericks bounced out of the NBA playoffs in the opening round — the franchise’s 10th straight year either doing so or missing the playoffs entirely. After hiring Jason Kidd as the Mavericks’ head coach during the offseason, the team forged a path 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 so 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 much further than people expected us to go.”

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