Business Advice

Strategy, teamwork, mindset: What businesses can learn from the sports playbook

- June 6, 2024 3 MIN READ


Sports fans are being spoiled this year, with the Euro 2024 football championship kicking off and the Paris Olympics shortly after. As a business leader there are so many lessons we can take from the field to the boardroom, writes Scott Wiltshire, vice president and general manager ANZ, Oracle NetSuite.

The right strategy and preparation are key to both sport and business. But, unlike businesses which often work towards a monthly or quarterly review cadence, sports coaches and athletes can take advantage of constructive feedback almost instantly at half time or between games.

Here are some business lessons I’ve learned from sport over the years.

Embrace diverse working styles

 We know that successful teams have a diverse range of complementary skills. Just like teams need backs and forwards, goal defence and goal attack, batters and bowlers, businesses have people in finance, operations, customer service, and so on. The best leaders understand that people with different skill sets also have different methods of preparing or working to maximise their effectiveness.

Leaders should take the time to understand how their staff work best. For example, some may be more productive at home, while others may feed off the buzz of the office. Leaders should provide the tools, supported by appropriate processes, to allow employees to thrive in a way that maximises their contributions to the business.

Global Surf Industries is a great example of this, having been a remote company since its founding in 2002. With no physical offices, all Global Surf Industries employees work flexibly, be that from home or the beach, at any time of the day or night – a feat that CEO Mark Kelly says has been enabled thanks to technology like NetSuite. For the last two decades, Kelly himself has been running his business from around the world, sometimes even from a yacht, as he is today, as he sails up the East Coast of Australia from Sydney to the Gold Coast.

Foster collaboration

While it’s important each individual knows their role and is given the tools and opportunity to perfect their own craft, successful teams are highly collaborative. Winning sports teams often have players contribute outside their typical role, whether that is a scorer working hard to get teammates more involved or offensive players getting back to take on defensive responsibilities when the team needs it.

In a business, it’s important to break down silos and help employees understand what makes the business successful outside of their own departments. For example, when product teams liaise with sales and marketing, they can uncover insights for more effective new product development. Conversely, when finance managers have visibility over warehousing and operations, they may assist in developing better supply chain and inventory management plans.

Business leaders should prioritise finding opportunities for cross-functional collaboration, whether they come up organically or need to be engineered. From a technology standpoint, having key business data on a single platform that can be accessed across departments can help teams make more informed decisions and innovate more effectively.

High spirits drive high performance

 All teams will face adversity at some point, and it’s the leaders’ job to keep morale intact. Research has shown that there is a strong correlation between employees’ satisfaction at work and both employee productivity and customer loyalty.

Sports teams in the middle of a losing streak may play worse than normal if they are demotivated, while a player that scores multiple points in succession may play even better as a result of feeling confident and encouraged.

Leaders should look for ways to create and maintain a positive environment where wins and employee contributions are celebrated. From a process standpoint, it may be useful to identify the individual metrics that drive business success and celebrate small achievements related to them – for example recognising employees for dealing with a customer complaint swiftly or warehouse teams for speedy packing times.

The right kit

Whether it is a new bat at the crease, the latest model of rugby boots, or access to kicking metres, line breaks, and tackles-made data, equipment makes a difference. Similarly, it helps to ensure employees and business leaders have the right tools for the job, as laggy technology can have a serious impact on business performance.

To increase efficiency, expand business visibility, and drive sustainable growth, businesses need to embed AI, automation, and analytics in business processes. This eliminates mundane and error-prone data gathering and analysis tasks and enables employees to focus on more strategic tasks, while providing business leaders with timely and accurate insights that enhance decision-making.

In today’s tight jobs market, these technologies help to attract the best talent and keep them engaged and motivated.

The most successful teams typically win due to a combination of strategy, talent, collaboration, mindset, and quality systems of insight and execution. The coaches of these teams understand how each player can maximise their contributions to the unit, encouraging them to work for each other and pull in the same direction. Watching sports is a lot of fun, but every day business leaders and employees can make plays to ensure their organisation is in a position to win.

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