A few years ago, I was talking to Brian Sloan about his time playing on the 1987 Indiana University team that won the NCAA National Basketball Championship. He told fascinating stories about playing for Coach Bobby Knight and the intense culture of IU basketball.
After graduation, Sloan decided to give medical school a shot. His family and friends told him he wasn’t cut out for med school, but he decided to apply what he learned in basketball to becoming a doctor. Using those principles, he not only got into med school, but graduated first in his class. Dr. Sloan has been practicing emergency medicine now for 16 years and leads his own emergency room.
Great sports teams are special. You can feel the love coming out of the players’ DNA. There’s a level of non-verbal communication that only the team understands. Do you find that on great business teams? It seems much less common. How can you take the lessons from elite sports organizations and use them to build powerful business cultures? Here are five ways to create your own sports culture in your business.
Hire both Randys and Rudys.
Something that trips up hiring managers is thinking you have to hire people who are just like you to accommodate an existing office culture. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
You have your raw talent, dominant players, like Randy Moss, who when you throw them the ball, you know they’re going to put points on the board. They have the potential to change the game. Then you have players like Rudy, who may lack the natural talent Randy Moss has, but make up for it with fire, dedication and hustle.
Most people look at experience as the crucial quality, but passion can make up for a lot of miscues. In sports, if you lose the ball you can still fight to get it back. Same in business — if you make a mistake but are still fueled by a certain hustle, you can make up for it. Both types of players are valuable, but every team needs a mix. To take a quote from the sports docudrama Miracle, “I’m not looking for the best players, Craig. I’m looking for the right ones.”
Drew Brees is famous for his pregame huddle ritual. He put together his popular chant after visiting a military base. It’s clever and visibly gets his team pumped up and ready to play.
We created a similar ritual at greenlight.guru that we can use to jump-start the day. We pull it out for any occasion where we need to get some energy flowing. Build rituals that work with the personality of your business. Rituals are fantastic and they contribute to the construction of your identity.
Invest in great coaches.
Great coaches inspire a sports team to do more than the players ever thought they could. Why are business leaders typically not inspirational? Demand that your leaders bring great energy to every one-on-one, every call and every team meeting. The energy of the team will always feed off the leader.
If executive management is having a disconnect with the team, it might be time to bring in a third party for leadership training. Just like every athlete needs to be coached differently, the same goes for employees. Once the coach learns how to motivate each player, the entire team will benefit.
Capitalize on home court advantage.
There’s no doubt that home fans can pump up the team during a big game. Home court advantage is a real thing.
Businesses have fans, too. They’re called customers. Happy customers can turn into evangelists and ambassadors for your brand. Not only can you relay their great experience to prospects, but you can also use it to push some of that energy to the team. Make an effort to let the team see how much the fans care and it will create a more meaningful job experience for everyone. This can lead to more longevity, less turnover and a more positive office culture.
Commit to practice and training.
Every sports team practices, no matter how good they are. You prepare for challenging opponents and important games by working to improve your skills over and over until it becomes a habit.
Have your team do the same. Invest in the top skills training that you can get your hands on. Encourage employees to watch educational webinars, attend conferences and seek out articles from other successful people in their industry. Train your team up, buy them some cool weapons and send them out into battle.
A great team excels because members truly believe what they’re doing is changing the world. I urge you to create an office culture that’s as challenging and rewarding as the most elite sports teams in the world. But, still have fun.
If sports weren’t fun, we wouldn’t play. If you’re not dancing in the office, cutting loose, and leaving it all hang out, you’re missing out on the benefits of an extraordinary culture. Fun leads to passion, which leads to flow states, which leads to elite performances. Build fun into both the workday and after-work events and you’ll never go back to the way you ran your business before.
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