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Teams - What can we learn from playing team sport and being part of a team at work?


I have always played team sports, as young kid I spent hours kicking a football around with my friends and playing in a local football team. At secondary school I started playing rugby union and that became my sport of choice, (and I still attempt to play a few games a season at the ripe old age of56).


I am not, and never was a standout player. But I have a decent basic skill set, I'm reliable, calm on the pitch and have experience to share with others. I prefer to win but the most important part of the game for me is being part of a Team and having good relationships with my teammates. I have many long-lasting friendships from rugby.


Reflecting on this when I was asked to 'write this blog made me think about similarities in a professional environment. My friendships are based on trust, integrity, humour and fun. These are important values for me and are as important in my professional life as they are in my home life.


I have often been described as "a safe pair of hands” at work. Maybe, this is consistent with my #sports skill set. I’m often asked to represent my organisations in partnership meetings, in the knowledge that I will give a good impression. stay calm under pressure, demonstrate my organisation values and build relationships with stakeholders. I won't pick an idea up and run off with it on my own. I want to collaborate, to work with partners as a team. For some compromise isn’t an option, for me it should always be considered and can be a way to find the common ground. A way to develop and agree shared goals, that all partners can get behind and work to achieve. Without some compromise, some give and take one or more parties will feel that they have been “done to” rather than been engaged and involved. They are less likely to get behind the idea/proposal and more likely to become blockers as things progress. It is important to spend time at the start of the project to get input and ownership.


To take a project forward we need members of the team to bring different skills. In sport, it is often clearer what people’s roles are than in business. For example, in rugby the 15 players on the pitch have a shirt number which shows where they are playing and pretty much defines their role. But you need a game plan, an approach that is practiced on the training pitch, so each member of the team knows their role and equally importantly the role of their team mates.


This often less defined in business. While the team member may have a professional skill set – finance, analytics, HR etc we need to understand the broader contribution they can make. We need the ideas, someone who will push the boundaries, someone who will bring the grit and maybe add some tension and jeopardy/ risk. We also need people that have some foresight and ability to spot the pitfalls that lie ahead and people that can break it down it small chunks to show that things are achievable and give some milestones/goals along the way. We need someone who can create some harmony within the team and people to bring things together to set the shared goal, hold people to account and help give clarity and understanding of our roles (team and individual) to achieve it.


Business/work is not as structured as midweek #training sessions and weekend match days. But the principles stand and can be adapted to fit a business environment. Through team #development, and working with each other you can improve the understanding of your own skills and the skills and experience of your colleagues (your work teammates). You can protect part of the working week for team and individual development, with the very clear purpose that it helps the business. You will have key meetings and events that you can treat as “match day” and practice and train for them. Be clear what the overall purpose of the meeting/event is and put your team together to achieve the goal. In sport, the shared goal is usually quite clear- score more points than the opposition. In business taking the time to define the shared goal is massively important, then understanding the #skill set and #strengths of individuals is needed as roles are identified and the team is formed.


An organisational development and #learning #programme can help you understand the skills, strengths and gaps in the team. Play to people's strengths, make the most of their skills. In rugby you wouldn't put your fastest, lightest player in the scrum. Equally in business you might not want your eye for detail, introvert to lead a presentation in front of 150 stakeholders.


Team #coaching and organisational development can often be areas that where investment gets cut when time are tough financially but the impact on the ability of the business to continue to deliver and continue developed needs to be considered. In my experience it is rarely a good choice to cut staff and team development. Within a sport environment you wouldn’t stop training during a season and still expect to perform well at the weekend, the same is true in business. Training and development of staff, as #individuals and as a #team is vital to continued success.


For a discussion on how the The Activation Project can help you and your team please reach out. We offer Team and Individual coaching through our fantastic group of coaches, who have a wide range of experience and skills. They have access to the suite of tools and techniques in our LeaderLine package, alongside their own nuggets of knowledge and information to share.

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Thanks for this Doug I enjoyed the read and reflected that often the term " safe pair of hands' is seen to indicate a hint of mediocre. ... Here you highlight that it's far from that, it's game changing, progressive and essential.

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