Parallels of Team Sports and Business

Superbowl madness is upon us. As a longtime New Englander, I am so excited. I’m looking forward to a great game filled with hard-hits, excellent execution and some strategic surprises on both sides of the ball.  

Football hype on the mind is not such a bad thing: there are parallels between sports’ teams and business teams.

1.    Everyone really understands their role and passionately focus on their role.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick points out, “Just do your job”.  In order to do this each player needs to understand not only the specific gameplay and endgame of their position, but also how their role fits into the whole team’s strategy. Excellent leaders in sports and business get this across.

I encourage Startups to focus on building the right team – smart, informed and absolutely invested in playing the game.

2.    Team members need to trust and respect one another.

I remember coaching my kids’ sports teams. I thought it would be straightforward, but then along came the ‘prima donnas.’ The player who knew he/she was the fastest and simply wouldn’t pass.  And, no matter how talented this player was, their self-centered attitude ultimately hurt the team.  Their “I’m in for myself” attitude scored a goal about 10% of the time.  The passing game has better odds.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen the same thing in business.  A star salesman doesn’t like to do certain product pitches to the detriment of the team.  Even worse, this player blames or denounces others for team results. The end result the company’s vision is diminished.

The ultimate team has players who trust and respect  each other; willing to take on responsibilities that might not be in their job description and share ideas freely. Business players include the Board and Investors, the Executive Management and all executives and individual contributors. 

I’ve seen trust create winning teams.

3.    The Team takes on the character of the leader if successful

The Patriots have taken on a lot of Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft’s personality: no-nonsense, focused, intense; not a lot of hype. The coach rarely singles out an individual and so the team players choose to run onto the field as a team.

Pete Carroll, coach of the Seahawks gets excited, is a little brash.  The players likewise play into the hype; they have enthusiasm and more of an individual identity.

Note: both personalities work because team members acknowledge and work with the leader’s personality to create the team personality. Richard Sherman (brash, cocky, outspoken) playing for Belichick I don’t think would work. Vince Wilfork (focused, quiet, deflecting his accolades to the team) playing for Carroll, I don’t think that would work either. 

Having a team personality does not take away from differences of personality --- Tom Brady/Gronk.  In business, yes there are personality differences – this is good. But there should be a buy-in to the businesses culture, an understanding of common business values and motivations. The cultural story is created by the company’s leader(s).

4.    Alignment

Not sure this is a sports term.  Everyone needs to be on the same game plan. The coach works with the leading players to formulate the game plan, makes sure the leading players are “on the same page”. Then, collectively, they communicate and gain more “buy-in” from the remainder of the team. 

In business the CEO has to formulate the strategy (the game plan) with the functional leaders of the company. This is a give and take process where debate is encouraged. But when the strategy is agreed upon, it needs to be relentlessly adhered to for the rest of the team to buy-in. When a team does, a beautiful alignment and a zealous adherence to the mission heighten the teams’ chance for success.

So whether your invested in the outcome of Sunday’s game or not, look for the business takeaways.