In an era of heightened competition across an increasingly interconnected world, the margins that separate top-flight businesses from their nearest competitors are growing ever slimmer. Companies across the board have spent decades implementing new techniques and methods to widen this gap and enhance organisational efficiency. New modes of thinking have been introduced; C-suite and managerial training has seen the introduction and discarding of countless theories and methodologies; and inefficiency and waste has been cut to the bare minimum.
The companies that have embraced this drive for optimization have come out leaner, fitter, and more primed for success than ever before. And while this has undoubtedly proved beneficial to the corporate world, it has also resulted in the creation of a cut throat environment. Businesses are left with little scope for further growth, while being punished mercilessly for any hint of weakness. As a result, a new race is on for the magic x-factor that will allow a business to stand out from the crowd. That answer has manifested itself in the shape of team sport.
At first glance, the worlds of sport and business might appear to have little in common. Where the former necessitates the honing of one’s physical and athletic abilities to new heights, the latter relies on mental acuity to navigate the obstacles and challenges of a corporate environment. But dig a little deeper, especially at the highest levels of both fields, and the similarities immediately become apparent. Hard work, dedication, a commitment to improvement, and an unquenchable desire to be the best are just a few of the traits shared by the best in both fields. Here are a few of the lessons today’s corporate leaders can learn from the world of team sports:
The greatest sporting successes have always been achieved through the efforts of a team working in unison. This is true of any given sport, as best exemplified by world-beaters such as the world cup winning South African rugby team, our own cricketing boys in blue over the last decade, and Manchester United under the leadership of Sir Alex Ferguson. While each of these teams have had standout individuals, their contributions never overshadowed the larger group dynamic. Every member contributed to the overall success of the team, and it’s their combined talent, experience, and drive that saw them rise to the top.
Similarly, success in a corporate environment is contingent on every member of a team pooling their skill. This results in a team that is greater than the sum of its parts, and sees each player’s unique talent complemented and reinforced by that of his teammates. Many companies have become cognisant of this and have begun to engage and invest in out-of-the-house team building activities. This holds especially true for sports, with industries actively encouraging the formation of teams across various sports, hosting intra and intercompany tournaments, and promoting healthier, more active lifestyles amongst their employees.
Ask any professional athlete about their success, and they will tell you of the sacrifices they’ve made on their way to the top. What drives, and eventually sustains, success is discipline. Discipline can come in many shapes and forms. It can manifest in an intense training schedule, a strict diet, even a prescribed set of responses to a given situation on a field. All of this results in a team that is focused on its ultimate goal and committed to achieving it, no matter the cost.
This clarity and intensity of purpose can serve as a tremendous motivator, driving teams on the field and in the boardroom to previously unattainable levels of success. By implementing a regime that focuses on consistent improvement, both of oneself and the wider team, the wider culture of the team is shaped and improved standards are set.
A team is only as good as the individual leading it. We’ve all heard these words, and seen plenty of examples to lend weight to them. Australian cricket went from a state of disarray in the late 1980s to one of global dominance that has sustained itself to this day under the leadership of three greats of the sport – Allan Border, Steve Waugh, and Ricky Ponting. The subsequent ascension of our own Dhoni and Kohli to captainship of the Indian side saw a renaissance in the nation’s cricket team, with India now poised as the world’s best side. These feats were only possible under the guidance of an individual who could see the bigger picture, inspire his team to perform to their fullest potential, and apply their unique talents in the most beneficial manner.
The head of an organization plays a similar role and subsequently set the tone for a company’s operations. By maintaining a vision of their ultimate goal they set an example, ensuring that each member is working towards the same end. It’s only by managing interpersonal relationships and bringing out the best in each individual that a leader can leave a legacy for the ages.