"In my experience as a senior executive in the competitive and fast-paced sporting goods industry, I have seen my share of good leaders.


Learn from Champions: What Sports Teams Can Teach Business

office workers embrace inner athlete

Even if you have never thrown a baseball, kicked a field goal, or shot a hockey puck, sports act as a valuable metaphor for the business world. What better than the world of athletes to describe the camaraderie, selflessness, and single-mindedness of teamwork? Below are three great lessons business professionals can learn from some of the most successful teams in the sporting world.

1. Master the Fundamentals
The best sports teams know that the basics are the foundation upon which they stand. Before you can score the winning touchdown, you need to know how to tie your cleats. Literally. As any athlete will tell you, there are specific methods for dressing in order to get the most of your equipment and to perform your best. Running a mile with wrinkled socks that give you blisters only breaks your focus, slows you down, and potentially leads to injury.

This lesson applies to the business world: The most successful companies are those who put in the time and energy to master the rudiments of their instrument better than their competitors. It is easy to get excited about the “next steps” or the “bigger picture” in your business: You have big ideas and lofty goals. While they may seem monotonous or trivial, a solid knowledge of the fundamentals acts as your bridge to accomplishing those goals.

2. Getting the Best Out of Your Best
Top NFL, NHL, and MLB teams do two significant things when it comes to their players: First, they recruit some of the best in the league, and then second, they get the best out of the players they have by putting them in the right position.

Our sports and work teams cannot all be made of Peyton Mannings or Donald Trumps, but we can strategically utilize individuals by understanding their personal strengths and weaknesses and working with that information. Assess the talent at your organization: would some people be a better fit in different roles? Perhaps a “B Player” employee in customer service would shine in your marketing department.Teamwork is not always about surrounding yourself with the best; sometimes it is about bringing the best out of the teammates or colleagues you have.

3. Communication is Key
Baseball catchers have small, subtle signals they use to suggest to pitchers what pitch should come next. In football, the quarterback relays the coach’s play decision to his teammates during a huddle. Off the field, coaches and teammates mince few words when evaluating each member’s performance, but they are also quick to offer praise when a game is well played.

Name a sport, and the highest-ranking teams in it have a solid foundation of clear, precise, and open communication. In order for our business teams to work together effectively, communication must reign supreme.

Embrace a “top down and bottom up” approach so that every member of your team feels appreciated and listened to. You will see higher employee satisfaction, and you may just be surprised where some of your best ideas and insights come from. In addition, clear communication helps to lessen mistakes and streamline efficiency because each person knows what is expected of them.
If your business team could use an overhaul, take note of the philosophies of great sports teams. Their ability to perform as a unit, to overcome defeat, and to meet new challenges works as a metaphor for the similar trials we face in the business world. Mastering fundamentals, reorganizing your team to leverage their talent, and communicating effectively are some of the most important takeaways for executives.

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Julie Nimmons

Julie Nimmons

Julie uses her 30 years’ experience to help CEOs, executives and business owners in her Vistage Group find success in their businesses and personal lives. With positive leadership, a firm sense of prioritization and the commitment to lifelong learning, Julie’s creates a constructive workspace for Group members where honesty, innovation and cooperation can flourish.