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Learning about business from sport

By 3rd January 2016Blog

By Andrew Sugars, Executive Director of Corporate Development at Servest

Like many business leaders, I love sport and I love business. According to a Forbes article, most leaders secretly dream of being star athletes. I couldn’t agree more. Me? I played cricket and rugby to decent standards before finding my place in the world of business. But I’d pack it in tomorrow to be running onto the pitch in the final of the upcoming Rugby World Cup.

The Here’s What Executives Can Learn From Great Athletes article lists many striking parallels between elite sports and business: “Fierce competition, winning by sometimes the smallest margins, achieving goals and targets, establishing long-term and short-term strategies and tactics, hard work, perseverance, determination, teamwork, dealing with success and recovering from failure and setbacks–those are all key challenges in both worlds.”

I’ve always been fascinated by how sports coaches and managers engage with their teams to get the best out of them – and what the business world can learn from this.

My son plays rugby for his local under-15s team, and I rarely miss the chance to be on the sidelines, watching him play and offering him support. My lad is a very good rugby player for his age and maybe one day he will be an elite player at national level. But there are many lessons to be learned from even just watching a local junior team play. In my son’s team, everyone plays a vital role. When individuals are playing their part, and playing it well, and when everyone is in sync, the team often wins.

On the other hand, when the 15 players are not aligned with each other or with what they are trying to achieve as a collective, they often lose, even though some of them have had strong individual games, without ever really understanding what went wrong.

So how does a rugby team compare with a workforce? And how, like coaches, can leaders engage their staff to get the best out of them?

Ultimately, the goal is to win. But more important is to have each individual do what they do well, while ensuring that they feel like part of a strong community and are working towards a clear goal. Forget about the winning for now. Focussing on developing and measuring the right behaviours often leads to the desired outcomes.

Business leaders also need to practise what we preach and, in doing so, we foster successful behaviours and attitudes in our teams. Even if a team wants to win desperately, they are unlikely to do so unless they are equipped with the necessary skills, attitude and guidance. Then, with the business’s strategy aligned, and with everyone playing their part well, the team has a high chance of success.

The 2015 Rugby World Cup, which kicks off on 18th September, will be a display of elite athleticism at its absolute best meeting teamwork at its absolute best. I’m excited to watch it and learn from it. So, who will I be supporting? Being from Australia, naturally I’ll be rooting for the Wallabies, which makes it interesting viewing being part of a group with its roots deeply embedded in South Africa and my boys both sporting the English rose.

May the best team win!

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