Photo By Hannah Busing

I play a team sport (cricket) as part of a local club. I am neither the coach nor the captain, I am a team player – talented and interested in batting, decent at fielding, not so skilled in bowling but very passionate about the game. I also work in an esteemed organization, leading a team of 30+ skilled professionals.

While I switch between the two roles of being a player and a professional, mostly keeping the two worlds separate, there are times when I end up drawing similarities between the two.

Using this quarantine time, I want to share my observations from sports that can be treated as learning for business.

1. Common Goal

Sports: Every game we play, we aim to win. That is the common goal and that unites the team. No internal competition, no finger pointing. When we win, it is a team win. When we lose, we regroup and capture what we learnt.For a specific game one person can perform less than his/her potential, however it is not considered as a lack of skill.

Learning for Business: While we work in teams, sometimes we are closely tied from an organizational standpoint and sometimes loosely coupled, getting together for a specific purpose. In all cases, there is a goal, that goal should unite the team. There should be no internal competition and no finger pointing. Every successful business interaction is a team win and every unfruitful interaction a learning experience.

A person need not be judged by their performance on one task.   

2. Respect the Uniqueness

Sports: In cricket there are a range of roles that come into use like Batting, Fielding, Bowling. On average, a person is expected to have two skills. There are few all-rounders. This is considered just fine, the expectation isn’t that every person is skilled and interested in everything. There are times when a person needs to play a role, one is not skilled in.

The all-rounders are not the only ones selected for every game.

The uniqueness of players is respected and in fact maximized during a game.

Learning for Business: Every person in a team, even if specific to a technology/area, will have their strengths and weaknesses. Two skill patterns, primary and secondary, can easily be mapped. The aim should be to maximize the strengths. Looking for one multi skilled person and engaging only that person for every topic will on one hand push that person away and on the other fail to leverage other team members’ skill. The uniqueness of your team members needs to be respected.

3. Opportunity to Train in Other Areas

Sports: While we all have our preferred skill and love enhancing it, we train together and while training try other skills as well. This lets us grow continuously. For example – I am not a bowler and have not managed to upskill to it yet, nonetheless, the fact that I train to bowl every now and then, has made me a better batter as I understand the mindset of a bowler more.

Learning for Business: Letting your team enhance their skills in different areas is not harmful. It might in fact make them better in their core skill. Allow your team the opportunity to grow and up skill.

4. Essence of A Coach and Role of Captain

Sports: We have two distinct roles, a coach who understands the skill set of the team. Has a plan for each player, with a view of that person’s interest, skill and aspirations. The other role is that of a captain who leads the match, creates and implements a strategy game by game to ensure a win.

Learning for Business: For a successful setup, teams should have both a coach and a captain.

As a leader, be clear about the role you are playing for your team, if you are responsible for team growth then you need to be a coach. If you are responsible for getting a task done/project delivered, you have taken on the role of a captain. If you have to play both the roles, play both the roles, do not miss out on one because of the other. Both roles are equally important.

More often than not there is a lack of coach in a team, so as a team member, identify your mentor if no formal role like that exists.

5. Mutual Respect and Support

Sports: There is a sense of belonging within a team and this is very nicely layered with mutual respect and support. As a matter of fact, everyone is not close to each other – a few are friends while others stay as acquaintances. There is, however, no enmity.

Learning for Business: As an individual, it is not expected that you like everyone. Still it is key that you put your differences aside and come together as a team. Being neutral is fine, being negative is not, mutual respect and support is key.

6. Acknowledge Passion/Common Interest

Sports: We acknowledge our love for the sport. We are all connected by this common interest. It is quite evident and celebrated.

Learning for Business: If you belong to one team (Sales/Marketing/and so on), you are connected by a common interest.Acknowledge this passion, it is the heart of what you and your team does.

7. Keep the Fun Alive

Sports: We are serious and competitive about the games we play but how can it be a hobby if there is no fun? We keep the fun alive, there is positivity in the team and it shows.

Learning for Business: Do not get too mechanical, hierarchical, stuck with territorial mindset in your role and team. Sure, you have a role to play and a task to do, but be agile, keep the human side alive.

8. Get to know each other beyond tasks

Sports: As a team we plan socials/networking events that give us the opportunity to know each other beyond the game. This bonding shows during our matches.

Learning for Business: Connectivity is important. If you meet as a team solely for business discussions you will never share a bond. Take the chance to get to know your team beyond what the CV and Excel record states.

9. Recognition and Appreciations

Sports: We have annual and end of game awards but that is not all, we also appreciate the team members on small achievements. Just recognizing and cheering a teammate for good fielding/catches/shots puts a person in a positive zone and guess what? It costs nothing.

Learning for Business: End of year appraisals are important but not the only way to appreciate your team members, one compliment is enough to boost someone’s morale and it costs nothing 🙂

10. Art of Unlearning and Learning

 Sports: I realized this while reading an article on unlearning, in order to master a specific technique while playing. There is a process of unlearning and learning involved, it starts with acknowledging your weakness and working on improving it. For example – as a batter I always played across, no straight shots because I was tuned to play like that since childhood. It took me quite a bit to realize this weakness and learn to play straight- it gradually happened.

Learning for Business: Start with acknowledging that something that worked before and you perfected, might not work today. Pick up the art of unlearning and learning.

My goal by sharing my findings, is not to claim that only sports people are team players. The goal is to acknowledge the possibility to leverage learnings from a team-sport into business, as team work is pivotal to both.

We as individuals can continue to focus on our own professional progress even by being team players/team captain/team coach, there is much more to gain when the energy of a team is channeled . I enjoy playing both roles and am invested in them. I feel business, in many ways, is like a team sport!