What sport can teach business.


There is no doubting that AFL football is big business. It won’t be long before the revenues of the top 4 clubs touch the $100 million mark and as we invent new forms of media the rights to broadcast our game will grow considerably. If clubs are to thrive in this new era they must adopt business like practices into all aspects of what they do.
However, this adoption of practices should not be a one way street. There are many companies out there who would benefit greatly from taking a leaf out of football’s playbook.

Unfortunately too many are unwilling to open their minds to what sport has to offer. They see football as unsophisticated, lacking governance, and when things such as the Essendon scandal occur it reinforces their negative perceptions. However, for the companies who are willing to open their minds there is a world of sporting concepts they can adopt to enhance their company.

Start by asking yourself a few questions. Firstly ask, what game am I in?

A footballer knows exactly what game they are in…the game is ‘winning football matches’. But ask many businesses and they struggle to tell you. They have become too convoluted that the actual aim of the business is unclear.
If you aren’t sure what game you are in, how do you know if you are winning, how do you prioritise, how do you make decisions?

Humans are naturally competitive beasts and we like to know if we are doing a good job. If there is no scoreboard at your work how do you determine if what you are doing is working? How do you know if you are on the right track? More precisely how do you determine what you need to improve on?

In sport it is obvious if you win or lose – everyone knows. Unfortunately in most businesses it is only the boss or CFO who knows the score whilst most others are kept in the dark. If you are lucky they will share half yearly results with you.

Importantly if you don’t know what winning looks like, then what do you celebrate? It would be a pretty boring old workplace if you never had any reason to say well done or get together and genuinely feel good about an achievement.

Sadly many workplaces are like this. People turn up each day, do what they’re told and then go home. Even sadder are the ones who do achieve things yet are forbidden from any form of celebration, as the boss is scared everyone may ‘take their eye off the ball’.
This is ridiculous, as celebrating achievement and success is important.

The Aussie cricket team was criticised heavily during the 2003 world cup for celebrating when they beat Netherlands. Some said that the prize was the whole tournament; so celebrate only when you win that. The Aussies countered with ‘celebrating does not make us rest on our laurels, it motivates us to train even harder…. so we get to celebrate again.’
If you can only celebrate when you win a Premiership I would’ve gone 17 seasons without celebrating even once. I guarantee you I would’ve given up long before 17 seasons if that was the case.
Another area that companies don’t do well is ‘making people better’.
Let me ask another question – would you buy a membership to a club whose coach was not interested in making the players better? Of course you wouldn’t.

Why then do we put up with Managers who have no interest in making the people who work for them better?

A sports coach is not worth his whistle if he does not have plans in place to make each and every player better. This includes the best, the worst, the newest and the oldest players. They understand that for overall improvement to occur they must work not only on the whole team but the individuals as well.

This mindset of continual improvement is absent in many corporations. The prevailing thought is if I make that person too good then they wont need me anymore and I will be out of a job. ‘Its best I stay the smartest person in the room’.
This mindset stifles the growth of the individual, the team and the organization.

Finally team sports in particular rely on information sharing to be successful.
The backs don’t celebrate doing well even if the team loses.
No, they are all in it together and must share knowledge in order to be successful. This is unlike many corporations who create teams within teams (they call them silos). They don’t share information because primarily there is no common goal – no sense of what winning is – no reward for doing so. And worst of all, no accountability.

Its time for many businesses to take the blinkers off and look to the world of professional sport as something other than a place to entertain clients.

Start by asking ‘what does winning look like at my company?’ If you cant readily answer then you have some work to do.

About the author: 

Nathan Burke started his career as a schoolteacher before the demands of elite level football with St Kilda F.C. took over. Following a successful corporate career he founded Nathan Burke Consulting – a Melbourne based firm that offers High Performance Training and Coaching solutions to corporates, schools and sports teams.

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