Sol Takes Culture Notes from the NBA

5 Feb 2020

What makes a high-performing team tick – is it a particular system, combination of personnel, leadership? Perhaps a combination of these elements? Sports, particularly NBA basketball, provide a useful petri dish for observing high-performing teams as they perform in real time. So why have organizations like the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat experienced such sustained success while teams like the Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings can’t seem to get out of their own way? It must be something beyond talent, coaching, and team building: some magic elixir that creates the secret sauce.

During my recent job search, a strong company culture was high on my priority list. Similarly, analyzing company culture largely informs success in the NBA. The highly successful Spurs boast a familial atmosphere of building relationships and holding each other to high standards. Common characteristics of less successful teams include meddlesome owners and toxic cultures. Anecdotally, I’ve observed how much a negative culture can pervade a team and sap enjoyment out of a job. That’s why, while interviewing at Sol Systems, I was immediately drawn to the company’s culture.

Team members spoke of company events like Creative Day and Giving That Matters. They spoke of team-building events outside of work. These opportunities for entrepreneurship, generosity, and relationship-building are essential elements of a strong corporate culture. But culture is something that happens organically every day. Its team members feeling empowered that their voice will be heard. It’s confidence that one’s company or organization can weather adversity. It’s making decisions that are always informed by an organization’s values. It’s not talked about, it just is. And that can’t be easily expressed or shared during your typical interview process.

Still, based on what I learned about Sol’s culture during the interview process, I thought the company might have the type of culture I was looking for, and I took the job.

My time at Sol Systems has been short, but I can already attest to the strong company culture within these walls. I can speak to the CEO when I want because he sits two rows away from me. I’m inspired to put in extra effort because I know my teammates are putting in that same effort and are counting on me. Legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is famous for hosting dinners with a standing invitation for all former Spurs. No matter if you’ve changed teams several times over since the Spurs, you’re still a part of the family. A similar vibe can be observed at Sol.

My team organized for a strong showing at Sol’s Halloween Costume Contest

Yet the only inevitable thing in life is change. Sol, like virtually any organization, experiences staff turnover. Such is life; people desire new opportunities and challenges. New people join your team. How can company culture be maintained while integrating new employees? How do you prevent new employees from feeling like outsiders compared to the old guard? How do you ensure you’re inclusive of remote employees? The Dutch historian Johan Huizinga said that if we want to preserve culture, we must continue to create it. It’s a living, breathing thing that manifests over time and remains relevant because those who live inside it believe it’s important enough to be maintained.

Two teams – the Los Angeles Clippers and Brooklyn Nets – have spent the last few years intentionally reshaping their organization around bringing on team members that fit their culture. Culture first, talent second. This past offseason, both teams cashed in their chips and reshaped their rosters around superstars, gambling that the infrastructure they’ve built can handle personnel changes. Apples to oranges, etc., and all caveats aside, Sol is facing a similar test as we enter a new phase of our company’s life. Nonetheless, I feel confident that we can bring on the right people to move our organization and our culture forward.


Sol Systems is a leading national solar energy firm with an established reputation for integrity and reliability across its development, infrastructure and environmental commodity businesses.To date, Sol has developed and/or financed over 850 MW of solar projects valued at more than $1 billion for Fortune 100 companies, municipalities, counties, utilities, universities and schools. The company also actively shapes and trades in environmental commodity and electricity markets throughout the United States. The company was founded in 2008, is based in Washington D.C, and is led by its founder. Sol Systems works with its team, partners, and clients to create a more sustainable future we can all believe in. For more information:

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Brent Joplin

Brent Joplin