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What You Can Learn About Team-Building From Sporting Heroes
13th Oct 2015

As a manager of a workplace group, you have a lot in common with the coach of a major sports team.

Sometime you have wins, but you also suffer losses- sometimes a stretch of them that have you fearing for your job. As a manager, you have to make tough decisions to drop people from your team, some of your star players are poached by your rivals, and sometimes you have to take an unpopular risk on someone you know has potential. 
You have to keep pushing even when the team wants to give up - and even when you know they’ve lost faith in you as a leader. Basically, some days you feel like the coach of the England Rugby Team after the Aussies have given them a kicking.
Yet the thing we love about sport so much is the ability for a mighty comeback, and the same applies to managing a team at work.  
Here are some lessons about successful team-building gained from the sporting world.
1.  If you’re lucky enough to be choosing your team yourself, hire the ones that show a growth mindset, rather than a fixed mindset. Psychology research by Carol Dweck has shown that while there are plenty of people with natural talent, the ‘greats’ in the sporting world are the ones that persevere, can take criticism, and see failure as an opportunity to grow.
2.  Train for every eventuality, and make sure your team are multi-skilled. If you have a well-rounded team with overlap on job roles, you won’t be left hanging if your star player breaks his or her  foot on a stag or hen weekend right before the ‘big game.’
3.  Don’t just focus on your star players. A star player is not much use if they have no-one to throw the ball to, and they might wear out if too much pressure is they have to carry the whole team. Focus on your team as a team, figuring out strengths and weaknesses and how to improve work flows using everyone’s talents. Think of it as a game plan, or even better, a season plan that moves towards ‘finals’: the goal.
4.  Appreciate that people work, learn and train differently. In sport, one player might learn by rote practice, another learns from watching old games on TV, and yet another needs time out to process a new skill they’ve learnt. The same goes for a team at work- people are not the same, so don’t expect them to work in the same way as you do.
5.  When you see someone losing enthusiasm, act immediately to find out why. In any team, sport or otherwise, an unhappy team member can pollute the attitude of the whole team quite quickly if nothing is done to address it. When you have a weak team member, you have to act, just as a sports coach would. Attempt everything to help them grow, but if they can’t perform you have to gently drop them from the team.
6. Have award recognition within the team, celebrate successes together. Don’t just wait for the end of the ‘season’; celebrate each game along the way- even if it’s just a good training session or someone’s improved on a target.
The last can be the toughest. Accept that sometimes, your team just won’t like you. That’s part of being the coach when things are tough. But if you follow these tips, then you can at least know that your team will respect you.
Best regards,