Business is not the same as sports, but they share some important characteristics. Three of these are teamwork, motivation and balance between offense and defense.
The important thing to remember about teamwork is that it is so easy to distinguish between the real thing and the fake. Adopting the vocabulary of teamwork is not real teamwork. Outsourcing team-building to consultants is not the real thing. In the words of ‘69 Mets closer Tug McGraw, “Ya gotta believe.”
Whether the business is big or small, if the CEO doesn’t believe, there will be no real teamwork. In a real teamwork environment workers back each other, support each other and encourage each other.
CEOs should also be very selective about any top-level managers who are hired as the business grows — making sure that they understand the value of teamwork, not just the teamwork lingo that is so common on resumes. And top managers should also be competent, for the more skilled a new manager is the easier he or she will fit into the team environment.
There are other good reasons to hire the best you can. One of them is the impression you and your company make on others — customers, bank officers, sales representatives and even rivals, for example. Even back in the 16th century Machiavelli noted that leaders “… should surround themselves with competent advisers and shun flatterers, since people’s first impression of a ruler’s intelligence is based on the quality of his staff.”
You might think that surrounding yourself with boneheads would make you look good by comparison — but it doesn’t work that way.
Motivation is both a lot simpler and a lot more complicated than teamwork. Some managers mistakenly believe that motivation “comes with” teamwork, like the grated cheese that accompanies your order of spaghetti and meatballs. Even a cursory look at football, basketball and baseball teams to see that the level of motivation varies a lot and is a major factor in a team’s success.
That same cursory look at professional team sports will reveal that money is not the answer to motivation problems. It often is a factor in retention, but its value as a motivator is questionable as best.
If you want a better understanding of the power of motivation, you should look at why legendary football coach Vince Lombardi remains a legend. It wasn’t simply because of his impressive win-loss record.
In 1958 the Green Bay Packers amassed a record memorably described by sportswriter Red Smith. He wrote, “The Packers overwhelmed one opponent, underwhelmed 10, and whelmed one.”
The following season Vince Lombardi took over as head coach and they won seven games. A year after that, the Packers won the National Football League Championship. The team would go on to win a total of five NFL championships during Lombardi’s nine seasons as head coach. But his achievement, and his legacy, were more than that.
The NFL structure was different then, and there were fewer opportunities for a team to buy or trade their way to a better win-loss record. Lombardi took the same crew of losers that had barely managed to win one game and remade them into champions. And he did it with motivation.
A CEO or manager can transform a company from lackluster performance to excellence the same way. Just remember that it can’t be outsourced. If it is going to be done, it must be done by you.
If you follow or participate in team sports, you know the importance of balancing offense and defense. We often see games where a team will gain a lead, then find that its defense is unable to hold it.
Business, too, must balance its offense and defense. It scores through marketing and sales and often these areas get the lion’s share of a CEO’s attention. There is less glamour or excitement on the defense side – the accounting, payroll, legal, logistics, security and insurance sides of your operation. However, they can become decisive elements in your business if you don’t pay attention to them.
Bringing your defense into balance is mostly a matter of motivating the people involved by letting them know you realize how important it is. If you have to restate earnings, for example, it is tough to regain your credibility with your bank. An insurance claim on an expired policy can dampen more than your spirits. Logistics failures can lose customers faster than your best salespeople can replace them. And a break-in or a hacking intrusion can open the door to a heap of trouble, legal and otherwise.
The three keys to excellent performance — teamwork, motivation and balance — aren’t a secret. If you pay attention to them, you can develop a successful business team.