Seven Lessons Learned from Team Sports
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All too many businesses muddle through until they go out of
business. The more fortunate ones are taken over. Over the years, I
have watched with interest the way team sports are played out on and
off the field. Not surprisingly, I believe there are critical lessons
that all business owners and managers can learn from sport to help
their business stay ahead of the pack.
For sports people, learning these valuable lessons is the
difference between winning and losing the game. For business owners and
managers, grasping and acting on these lessons literally means the
difference between staying in business and going bust. Just what are
these lessons? Let me illustrate using the game of basketball as an
Lesson 1: Know the name of the game.
Every basketball player knows why they are there and the aim
of the game. They know they are there to win the game and that winning
means scoring more points than the opposing team within the space of
How to apply this lesson: In the workplace, some employees are
left guessing what game they are playing. They have but a confused idea
of what winning means. These employees have little hope of putting in a
good performance. Discuss with each and every employee why your
business exists and what it is striving to achieve. Give them the big
picture of what market you are in and what winning will look like in
terms they can visualize.
Lesson 2: Know how to win the game.
In the game of basketball, every player also knows precisely
how their actions contribute to winning the team's objective. Each
basketball player plays an important role in getting the ball through
the ring and in preventing the opposing team from doing likewise. The
person playing power forward, for example, knows that they are there to
catch rebounds on defense and to position themselves in the low post in
How to apply this lesson: Some employees are just not sure
what they are supposed to be doing. Conflicting demands and
responsibilities without the appropriate authorities frustrate and
confound. Clarify each employee's role in the quest for achieving the
organization's objectives. Show each employee how their actions
contribute to the overall business performance. Have a game plan that
involves everyone in the business, showing each person precisely what
they need to do to win.
Lesson 3: Know the rules of the game.
The game of basketball is governed by a set of rules. For
example, a player is barred from deliberately kicking the ball and from
charging another player. The rules are public, communicated to each
player and applied impartially. Breaking a rule has consequences, such
as the awarding of a free throw to an opposing player.
How to apply this lesson: Clarify what employees can do and
what they cannot do as part of their job and what the repercussions are
for transgressing the rules. Do not leave employees guessing about what
is allowed and not allowed. Apply the rules consistently and equally to
Lesson 4: Know the score.
Every member of a basketball team knows the score at every
point of play. The leader board is visible to all and shows team
progress towards the objective in real time. Players do not need to
wait until the end of the season or even the end of the game to know
how they are doing.
How to apply this lesson: Feelings of management superiority
and reasons of commercial sensitivity should not excuse leaving
employees guessing about the state of their organization. Communicate
business results clearly and often. Regularly discuss with employees
progress towards achieving the objectives of the business.
Lesson 5: Know how I'm doing.
Each basketball team player receives accurate and timely
feedback on their play. The team coach gives actionable advice during
the game, at the end of each quarter and at the end of each game. With
positive reinforcement and suggestions for improvement, each player can
adjust their play and immediately see the results on the leader board.
How to apply this lesson: Employees unable to check up on how
they are doing can't adjust their effort to their actual work outputs.
Display department and team results in places where everyone can see
them and review regularly with your team. Get managers to give helpful
and timely performance feedback to each and every employee. Provide
training and coaching that links directly to performance outcomes.
Lesson 6: Work as a team.
The game of basketball is a team game. A group of basketball
players, each striving to keep the ball for as long as possible, or to
score the most goals they possibly can, will only share in defeat. The
most effective players appreciate how their position interacts with
others on the team. If that player is met with a resounding offensive,
they know to whom to pass the ball to keep it moving.
How to apply this lesson: Break down the barriers between
departments and workgroups. Business is a team activity in which
marketing, production, customer service, finance and engineering work
collaboratively towards achieving common goals. Draw out the critical
linkages between departments through mapping out cross-functional
processes. Run inter-departmental meetings and share results and social
Lesson 7: Reward the team.
Basketball game organizers save the top award for the winning
team. Recognition is also given to individuals for outstanding
performance. However, it is the triumphant team that takes away the
trophy, with the biggest smiles on team member's faces.
How to apply this lesson: Giving
no recognition for a goal achieved is a recipe for bottoming employee
motivation. Awarding only individual achievements will encourage
maverick behavior and discourage teamwork. Set measurable team goals
and reward the entire team when achieved. Make sure that individual
rewards are not counterproductive to the team achieving their goals.
Why Should It Matter?
You may be wondering whether these seven lessons for top
performance really apply to business. Imagine for a moment withdrawing
the above seven factors from any sports team. It may be your son's
Little League or your daughter's Junior Nationals.
What would happen if we sent our players onto the playing
field with no idea about what game they are playing, how to win the
game or its rules of play. Imagine not telling them about what position
to take up and not responding to their quizzical looks. When they ask
about the score tally, we would simply give them a blank stare. Come
the end of the last quarter and the sound of the final bell, imagine
simply packing them in the car without a word about the game.
If you think this is a recipe for disaster, why do we do
exactly this day in, day out in many corporations throughout the
business world. And at the same time, expecting to get great
performance from our employees!
What if we are doing well in most of the seven lessons above,
but fail in just one or two? What if we teach our sports players the
objective of the game and its rules, we show them their position on the
field and the score and we promise them a shiny trophy if they win. But
we neglect to reinforce their good plays and show them how to do better
when they fall over. Or we deny them coaching and starve them of
feedback on how they are doing?
How will our players perform now? The answer is not rocket
science. We wouldn't accept cutting out coaching and feedback as a good
way to save on sporting costs and effort, and yet many organizations
consider this kind of employee support as an optional extra that can be
cut when times are tough.
Consider each of the other sporting lessons and how they
impact player performance when neglected. If leaving it out can harm
player performance in a team sport, think of what damage is being done
to your business by ignoring it in your employee performance strategy.
Find out which of the seven lessons are missing in your organization
and get started today on making your business a top performer. Learn
the lessons from team sports to create a champion organization.
Copyright © Leslie Allan
About the Author
Leslie Allan is Managing Director of
Business Performance Pty Ltd; a management consulting firm specializing
in people and process capability. He has been assisting organizations
for over 20 years, contributing in various roles as project manager,
consultant and trainer for organizations large and small. Mr. Allan is
a prolific writer on business issues, with many journal and web
articles to his credit. He is also the author of five books on employee
capability, training and change management. His company's web site is a
rich source of information, advice and tools in a variety of business
and management areas. Visit Mr. Allan's Business Performance
web site to download trial versions of products, free
templates and introductory chapters. Authors Google+
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