How a sports mindset can help shape an organization’s culture
Sports is currently undergoing a revolution in India. While cricket has for long been a religion in our country, recent times have seen a sharp rise in the popularity of other sports. With stars like Sania Mirza, PV Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth and Mary Kom witnessing success on the global stage, improving infrastructure and the growth of domestic leagues for a range of sports, the sports culture in India is beginning to flourish.
People are increasingly seeing sports and fitness as an integral part of one’s development rather than just education. Bollywood has also played a role in boosting interest in sports with biopics on Sachin Tendulkar, M.S. Dhoni, Milkha Singh and Mahavir Singh Phogat; and films such as ‘Chak De India’ and ‘Lagaan’.
To succeed at sports, one requires agility of mind and body, which is also required in the corporate world. As sports and fitness assume greater importance in people’s lives, we can look to draw upon the values and behaviors learned on the sports field like single-minded focus, multi-dexterity, perfection, teamwork, calm demeanor, discipline and fair-play, and apply it to other areas of our lives, such as the workplace.
In recent years, we have seen a drastic change in the work environment in India. While a more wired world facilitates greater connectivity and allows for work-on-the-go, it also leads to more distractions and a loss of focus. In such a situation, we can seek inspiration from the sports arena. How many times have we seen the world’s greatest batsman, Sachin Tendulkar steadily build an innings and take India to victory, by single-mindedly focusing on the job at hand, even when besieged by noisy crowds, distracting opponents, difficult weather and flashing cameras. Adopting such a focused mindset in the work environment will help increase productivity manifold.
Another invaluable lesson that can be learned from sports is the ability to be multi-dextrous. Today’s cricketers cannot afford to be super-specialists and have to be competent across disciplines. Organizations too expect employees to possess a diverse set of skills which allows them to adapt quickly and easily to different situations.
Tennis legend, Björn Borg was famously called the ‘Ice Man’ for his ability to maintain a cool and composed demeanor, even when under tremendous pressure. This ability helped him to not only win multiple Grand Slams but also achieve success on radically different surfaces. At the workplace too, employees have to cope with a hundred conflicting demands on a daily basis. Being constantly alert, prioritizing tasks and remaining flexible is the key to maintaining calm in the middle of a storm.
All successful sportspersons believe in “practice, practice, practice” in an effort to strive for perfection. By practicing constantly, they condition their bodies to perform perfectly in the toughest of situations. A fielder cannot afford to drop a catch even while diving forwards as it could be the difference between winning or losing the match.
In a way, the workplace is even more demanding than the sports field. While sports involves 90% practice and 10% performance, the workplace is often just 1% practice and 99% performance, requiring greater mental strength and flexibility.
One of the most important things that coach attempt to instill in athletes right from the time that they are young is discipline and a compliance with rules. On the playing field, athletes have to perform optimally within the designated rules: sprinters must run within their designated tracks, long-jumpers cannot over-step the line and relay teams have to pass the baton without dropping it. Similarly, a strict sense of discipline and adherence to rules is critical in the office environment too, as employees in an organization work towards a common goal.
Another crucial similarity between the sports arena and the organizational context is the need to uphold a strong code of ethics and fair play, where employees maintain integrity and transparency in all business dealings.
"The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime." said Legendary American baseball player Babe Ruth
A successful football team is one where the entire team works together as a single unit; where each player is aware of the positions of his teammates and anticipates their movements so as to execute the perfect pass. The same applies to the organizational context as well. For an organization to succeed, it is crucial that its talented individual stars work together as a team.
In the workplace today, we see that creativity and productivity, as well as the necessary EQ, have a strong correlation to the mental and physical health of individual employees. As the work environment becomes more volatile, organizations are realizing the need to integrate holistic development into their HR strategy and adapt their policies to motivate employees and allow them to perform at optimum levels of physical, mental and emotional health.
A few measures that are being taken by organizations today include:
- Sports initiatives & fitness programs
The youth are increasingly attracted towards sports and fitness. Gone are the days when parents used to encourage children to stop playing and instead concentrate on their studies. In fact, today the opposite holds true. To cater to such a demand, organizations with larger office spaces have installed state-of-the-art gymnasiums, running tracks and swimming pools.
Others have started offering programs like Pilates, Yoga, and Zumba and holding inter-team competitions for popular sports like cricket, badminton, football and table tennis. These activities not only help employees to accommodate some fitness activities into their daily schedules but also facilitate camaraderie and bonding between members of different teams.
At IDBI Federal, we consider a sports mindset to be an integral part of the culture of our organization, highlighted by our sponsorship of marathons in New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Kochi with cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar as the Face of the Marathons, and our #QuestForExcellence initiative with the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy.
Fuelled by our CEO’s vision, by associating with sporting initiatives, we are attempting to give a positive spin to insurance. Also, with many of our employees actively participating in the long-distance races across the country and taking to fitness in a big way, we are sending out positive messages to our customers about being healthy and fit.
- Monitoring progress of fitness goals
In an effort to further cultivate a positive attitude towards fitness, organizations are also encouraging employees to track their fitness goals on apps and devices and compete with teammates to achieve daily weekly and monthly targets. At IDBI Federal, we have attempted to motivate employees to stick to their sports and fitness regimes by gifting our employees with health-tracking devices.
Just like any successful sports team, a flourishing organization is one which has a clearly defined mission, where every member is aligned to the shared goals and where the team culture is built on positive energy, inclusivity, collaboration, and supportiveness.
- Innovative concepts
As long-distance running and marathon training gains popularity among India’s workforce, a few innovative organizations have tweaked the popular ‘Lunch with the CEO’ concept to ‘Running with the CEO’ by encouraging employees to spend time with the CEO and seek insights from him/her over the course of a long-distance run. Further, to inculcate healthy eating habits among employees, office cafeterias have begun offering nutritious food options including diet lunches, salad and juice counters and low-calorie dairy products.
- Change in conventional ideas
At IDBI Federal, we believe that millennials are the future of the organization and we have taken steps to transform ourselves into a millennial-centric organization. While we are a life insurance company, we take pride in being an ‘uninsurance’ office which resonates strongly with our young employees. One of the changes under this initiative was a shift from rigid 9-to-5 office timings to flexi-timings; a move that allows our employees to work out a daily schedule where they can slot in sports and fitness-related activities either before or after office hours.
- Cultivating a sports mindset in the office environment
It is important for the leadership team of an organization to nurture and foster a culture that supports employees who demonstrate desired behaviors such as passion, ambition, integrity, dedication, execution, transparency and a sense of ownership. Organizations which encourage employees to break the mold, think differently and be open to new ideas and ways of doing things, are the ones that really survive and thrive in a dynamic, complex, ever-changing ecosystem.
Just like any successful sports team, a flourishing organization is one which has a clearly defined mission, where every member is aligned to the shared goals and where the team culture is built on positive energy, inclusivity, collaboration, and supportiveness. And you know what? There’s a bonus. It’s fun!