IRL Madness: Or, Why Achieving Success in IRL is A Lot Like Basketball
Are you ready for the big dance?
Getting to the big dance requires an effective team that attends to team-building and process. Building a winning basketball team takes the right coaching, players who learn to work well with each other, the fortitude to get through the season even with injuries, and maybe a little luck! Similarly, building a winning IRL team takes mentoring, some persistence, and teammates with different but complementary expertise, and knowledge of systems that lead to building a culture of health.
In basketball, the regular season can be a grind. You don’t have to win every game, but you do need to make sure that your offense and defense are clicking as the season progresses if you want to get to the big dance. When you have prepared and practiced well, big plays will happen. However, even when things are going well for a team, it’s not unusual for some set-backs to occur. Be prepared for those blocked shots. For example, our team faced disappointments related to continuing to advance state-level funding for preschool expansion and identifying additional funding to support early childhood mental health initiatives in this last year.
Can your team make an offensive rebound and take another shot?
Or will you need to head to the other end of the floor and get back on defense? Either way, preparation, tenacity, and team work will help. For our part, we found that huddling as a team and figuring out how to change our plan was a winning strategy. For instance, after the initial blocked shot on mental health funding, we reached out to keep the lines of communication open with our state partners, who responded by offering to discuss alternatives. While we don’t have the win just yet, the game is not over. We feel we are in OT, with a chance to win.
An effective team doesn’t just stand around on the floor—they are paying attention to the flow of the game including watching out for an open teammate. For this to work, each player needs to know her own skills and those of teammates. This requires team members to spend time with each other and use good communication. Team members have to know each other to recognize when gaps are present that signal that the team needs to learn a new play (i.e., adding skills in data visualization; learning to be an effective part of a community action) or even to add new members. Knowing each other well lets the team maximize individual member strengths and compensate for their weaker areas.
It’s not enough to just play the game.
Teams need announcers who will call the game and let others in the community know what is happening on the court. IRL team members use their complementary skills and knowledge to share the responsibility for getting information out to a variety of audiences and in a variety of ways. Consider a range of outlets for reporting your game results: traditional and social media, policy briefs and other short pieces, as well as more traditional research articles are all part of the reporting on our efforts.
Successful basketball teams have cheerleaders, fans and boosters. These supporters help tell the story about the team’s success, encouraging new fans and supporters to jump on your team’s bandwagon. IRL teams should consider how to use their communication efforts strategically to build their fan base. Framing the messages about your work to appeal to a variety of groups can help bring in new partners who will help carry your message. Importantly, supporters may also often provide leads to boosters who can identify funding opportunities. IRL teams need to think broadly about who can fill these roles. In your community, who are the influencers and thought leaders? At a state level, who are the leaders who will make decisions about policy related to your areas of interest? Don’t forget to consider the federal context as this can be a key source of funding. Across all of these groups, building and maintaining relationships over time are critical.
Getting to the big dance once is great. Being invited year after year is even better.
When you know your team, know your state, know the federal context, and you don’t give up—you are on your way to contributing to system building that leads to sustainability for programs and projects that are important to you. As our team concludes our IRL journey this year, we have realized that there is, in fact, a method to the “madness.” We hope this metaphor provides others with a playbook toward Culture of Health wins in your community, too.
Angela Tomlin, Shoshanna Spector, and Karen Ruprecht are members of Team Indiana, Cohort 2016-2019 of Interdisciplinary Research Leaders (IRL). They are also avid basketball fans.
The views represented in this post are those of the authors, not of Interdisciplinary Research Leaders or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.