What Sports Teams Do Better Than Businesses

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This article was originally published on Robert Glazer’s personal blog FridayFwd.com

Over the past few years, I have heard many different leadership speakers reference examples of sports teams operating more efficiently than businesses. This got me thinking about how these teams do it better and what lessons they can teach us. After giving it some thought, here are the five I came up with.  

1. Practice

Sports teams don’t do something in a game that they haven’t practiced first. Teams also practice more than they play. I was blown away watching the documentary, Do Your Job: Bill Belichick and the 2014 New England Patriots.  In it, we see undrafted rookie Malcolm Butler practicing the exact play he made during the game-winning interception which made him a hero. Watch carefully (minute 4:50) and you’ll see that he gets it wrong 2-3 times in practice. It was not luck, it was preparation.

2. Coaches Can’t Play

In business, you will often find “player/coach” leaders and managers. But there is no such position in sports. Coaches have to manage and support their team from the sidelines—they cannot step into the game.  This is a fundamental difference in how you can lead.

3. Having and Following a Playbook 

Many companies are run with no clear playbook of “the company way” and lack defined systems and process. This results in team members improvising and running in different directions, each with their own style. This absolutely does not fly on a sports team.  An example that Jack Daly uses is a gung-ho college freshman walking onto the field of a top-tier school, being handed a playbook by the coach and then responding with, “Oh, I’ve got my own style, Coach.” Wouldn’t happen.

4. Contracts & Salary Cap 

In sports, players typically play on a team under a contractually-based time-frame and compensation amount so their value can be reexamined on a regular basis. Personnel decision are also made on current performance — not emotion or past performance. Teams also pay attention to the salary cap. They know that they can’t just rely on bringing in high-priced free agents so they are diligent about drafting and developing more talent from within.

5. Scoreboard & Goals

In sports, the rules of the game are very clear, as is the goal (e.g. how many points they need to win). In many organizations, however, the employees really have no idea where the company is headed, how they are being measured or the rules they have to play by.

Compared to most businesses, sports teams are more focused on systems, processes, consistency and repeatable behavior – they don’t leave a lot to ambiguity.

Here is the full article.

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