Four Valuable Business Lessons To Learn From Football

Are you ready for some football? Many Americans spent hours in front of the television this weekend as the 2014 NFL season opened. Regardless of how your favorite football team performed (I recognize that half of you are depressed by the outcome), you probably were content just watching your favorite team play. But, I’m here to be sure you don’t overlook the business lessons buried in the sport. Here are four valuable lessons you can take from the football season, along with important guidance about where football and business differ.

Build a Successful Team

Each NFL team needs a group of players with complementary skills that together make a great team. In your business, it works the same way. You need skill players, strength players, a great quarterback, and a staff of supporting coaches.

Here is where a football team and business team differ. Football teams need players with speed and strength; these qualities become the foundation of a competitive team. In a Win-Lose game like football, the winner is most often the fastest, strongest opponent. A football team is not likely to succeed with only a great strategy and players with passion. Whereas in business, if your team players have passion and drive, you can teach them just about any skill they need to be successful. For example, talented accountants, consultants, lawyers, and techies often say that they could never be in sales. However, with the right perspective and training, I’ve seen many of these people outperform the most seasoned sales executive.

Most importantly in business, you need to attract subject matter experts who have a passion for your field. You can’t fake passion. Rarely do you find a top performer who is not in love with what they do. Look at your top performers and take notice of what sets them apart from your other team players. If you find there are players on your team (especially those that are client facing) doing something they don’t enjoy… then be on a quest to help those players find something new that ties to their passion. If you find that you no longer enjoy what you are doing, then consider changing your course. Life is too short for misery.

Continuous Training to Develop Skills

No matter how many years an NFL player has played, they still show up each season well in advance for training. They work on their conditioning and skills. They review strategy and practice every day. You’ll never hear a professional athlete say “I don’t need to practice. I’ll just show up on game day and figure it out.”

It’s remarkable to me how many executives will tell me, “Our team doesn’t like to do role play.” Ironically, the top performing organizations constantly refine their skills and role-play with each other to ensure they are at the top of their game. Here’s a great example of a role-playing exercise you can try with your team:

Make a list of situations you are likely to encounter. Dedicate three rounds of fifteen minutes of role playing in teams of three. In each situation, one person plays your company representative, one plays the role of the customer, and the other is a silent observer. Spend an hour in total each week. You’ll be amazed at the results.

Prepare for Each Game

Beyond training camp, football teams review films from previous games with the opponent. It’s not enough to just say, “We want to win.” The best coaches know there are keys that will turn the tide in their favor. In business, what can you do to help your team prepare for a client meeting? Here are steps that you must take before every meeting with a potential customer.

  1. Write down your goal for the meeting. Also write down what you envision is your customer’s goal for the meeting? If they are not aligned, you may be in trouble (more on that later);
  2. Define the specific conclusions that you must reach in order to achieve your mutual goal (I know – “What if they are not the same?” They need to be… keep reading…);
  3. Make a list of all of the questions you’d ask if you were the client? What would prevent the client from reaching your conclusion?
  4. Finally, make a list of the elements that would make the opportunity NOT a good fit for you and your organization (this is the tough one… Again… keep reading)

Your Team For Success

Football is a game. Each week, in every game there is a winner and a loser. A football coach’s goal is to help their team win as many games as possible. That’s a major difference between football and business. In business, the win-lose scenario almost always turns into the lose-lose scenario. This happens because whereas in sports the game is over, in business if the other party feels like they lost, then they often spend time trying to “get even.”

In business, your goal is to help your team determine if there is a great FIT between you and your potential customer. You are a great fit when your unique capabilities can deliver the best outcome for your client. If you are not the best fit, then it is your responsibility to help your client find the right fit. This is the hardest lesson of them all. Pushing to earn business where you are not the best fit never ends well… unless you only need one client and will never need another one again.

Remember to build a team of passionate players, show up early for training, and properly prepare for each match. If you follow these steps, even if your favorite football team ends up in the cellar at the end of the season, you’ll still end up on top.

It’s Your Turn

What repeatable steps do you take to ensure success in your business’ “upcoming season?”