Studies from football, soccer, basketball, hockey and baseball have found a number of elements that successful sports teams have, that can be extrapolated to successful work teams.
Successful teams integrate cooperation and competition. Sports teams with the best win loss record had coaches who promoted a strong spirit of cooperation and a high level of healthy competition among their players.
Successful teams score early wins. Early success builds teammates faith in themselves and their capacity as a team. Research on hockey teams of relatively equal ability found that 72 per cent of the time the team that was ahead at the end of the first period went on to win. So managers should provide teams with early tasks that are simple and provide easy wins.
Successful teams avoid losing streaks. A couple of failures can lead to a downward spiral if a team becomes demoralized. Managers need to instill confidence in team members that they can turn things around when they encounter setbacks.
Practice makes perfect. Successful sport teams execute on game day but learn from their mistakes ii practice. Practice should be used to try new things and fail but not on a match day. A wise manager encourages work teams to experiment and learn.
Successful teams use half time breaks. The best coaches in basketball and football use half time during a game to reassess what is working and what isn’t. Managers of work teams should similarly build in assessments at the approximate halfway point in a team project to evaluate what it can do to improve.
Winning teams have a stable membership. Stability improves performances. Studies of professional basket ball teams have found that when teammates have more time together, the more able are to anticipate one another’s moves and the clearer they are about one another’s roles.
Successful teams debrief after failures and successes. The best sports teams study the game video. Similarly work tams should routinely assess their successes and failures and should learn from them.
Sports metaphors are useful. For example, recent Harvard Business Review issue has the lead story Playing to Win and Five Killer Strategies for Trouncing the Competition. Winners in business play which means they pick their shots, seek out competitive encounters, set the pace of innovation, and test the edges of the possible. Like sports teams, in business you have to play hardball, which means playing to win. That is what the sports can teach us. Here are flaws in using sports as a model for developing effective work teams. Here are just four caveats.
All, sports team aren’t alike in baseball, for instance there is little interaction among teammates. Rarely are more than two or three players directly involved in a play. The performance of the team is largely the sum of the performance of its individual players. In contrast, basketball has much more interdependence among players. Geographic distribution is dense. Usually all players are involved in every play, team members have to be able to switch from offense to defense at a moment’s notice and here is continuous movement by all, not just the player with the ball. The performance of the team is more than the sum of its individual players. So when sing sports teams as a model for work teams, you make sure you are making the correct comparison. As one expert noted, the problem with sports metaphors is that the meaning you extract from a sports metaphor is entirely dependent on the sport you pick.
Work teams are more varied and complex. In an athletic league, the design of the task, the design of the team, and the team’s context vary relatively little from team to team. But these variables can vary tremendously between work teams. As a result, coaching plays a much more significant part of a sports teams’ performance than a work team. Performance of work teams is more a function of getting the team’s structural made design variables right. So, in contrast to sports, managers of work teams should focus more on getting the team set up for success than coaching.
A lot of employees can’t relate to sports metaphors. Not everyone on work teams is conversant in sports. Some people aren’t as interested in sports as ‘sports hounds’ and aren’t as savvy about sports terminology. And team members from different cultures may now know the sports metaphors you’re using. Most Americans, for instance, are unfamiliar with the rules and terminology of Australian Rules football.
Work team outcomes aren’t easily defined in terms of wins and losses. Sports teams typically measure success in terms of wins and losses. Such measures of success are rarely as clear for work team. When managers try to define success in wins and losses it tends to infer that the workplace is ethically no more complex than the playing field, which is rarely true.