Many companies look to sports for cues on motivations and performance and star athletes and coaches and make big bucks as corporate speakers. There is this unquestioned assumption that if you’re successful in sports, you can teach workplaces something that will make them more effective.
I’d like to challenge that assumption :)
In fact, I believe there are so many fundamental differences between running a business and (say) coaching a football team that it becomes almost impossible to transfer any principles or practices.
Here are 5 things businesses should definitely not copy from sports:
5: Abrasive coaches
It seems like sports team coaches are given license to be complete jerks. They can throw tantrums, yell at referees, badmouth opposing players (or even their own players) in public – and be celebrated for all of this because it shows “passion”.
Nobody wants that kind of behavior from their manager at work. Steve Ballmer tried this sort of thing as CEO of Microsoft and has been deservedly ridiculed for it.
4: Adulation for star players
Sports teams have a few stars and many supporting players. In a workplace you need everyone to perform at their best.
3: Intense competition
It’s a common belief that competition makes people perform better, but research shows that it’s actually the other way around – competition makes people achieve worse results.
2: Rewards for results
Athletes are almost always rewarded for results – win that tournament and there’s prize money. Again, research shows that bonuses in the workplace make people less productive on any task that requires creativity and independent thinking.
1: Focus only on the next game
In sports, the focus is often only on the next game. In business, you need to be able to think long-term and create success not just for this week but for years in the future.
Each of those 5 practices are very common in sports but just don’t work in business. That being said, there are a few practices in sports that businesses should absolutely emulate. Here are three:
3: Make time for training
Athletes spend many more hours training for matches than actually in matches. This gives them a chance to improve their skills and a risk-free environment where they can try out new approaches and plays and see how they work.
In the workplace however, there is rarely a chance to try out new ideas without risking failure. Employees are always playing for points and never playing to learn.
2: Celebrate success
Athletes are very good at celebrating wins. They even celebrate partial progress towards a win when they score a goal or similar.
In many workplaces, success is met with a shrug and wins are rarely celebrated.
1: Include restitution
Every successful athlete know that you get stronger by training and THEN RESTING. Without restitution, you’re actually just continually weakening yourself.
Workplaces on the other hand consistently underestimate the need for restitution. Employees are worked hard constantly and breaks and time off work are seen as a necessary evil. In fact, employees are implicitly told that they can show “commitment” by giving up weekends and vacations and working more hours.
There is no reason why we should try to follow the lead of athletes and coaches in our efforts to create better and more successful workplaces. Many of the practices from sports just won’t work in a workplace – you could even argue that many of them don’t even work that well in sports.
And don’t even get me started on copying practices from the military :)
Has your company ever had a star coach or an athlete come in and speak? What did they say, that you found useful? What do you think workplaces should or shouldn’t copy from sports? Write a comment and let me know your take.