What we can learn from professional team sports

What we can learn from professional team sports

And why I believe the term team should not be institutionalized or reduced to an operational level

Professional team sport has many interesting aspects that can be transferred to the work systems of today's organisations.

In professional team sports you can observe the principle of servant leadership for a long time. As part of a team and in the role of an expert, players are used to having the things that serve to maintain and increase the effectiveness of the team and their personal performance around them. There is a continuous feedback mechanism that allows these ideal conditions to be continually adjusted and improved. The role of the coach is the immediate support of the "assets" "players" and "team". In a football club, for example, at all levels of the organization, there is no doubt about the fact that without the "football team" expert level, this organization wouldn't exist. Here, top-down and bottom-up streams flow equally, since it is agreed that all levels are needed for operation and the value added is transparent.

Professional sports clubs thus continue to have - so to speak, by default - little to fight with a corporate cultural orientation. "Because we love football" are statements under which the question of why I am here, as an employee, as a customer, as a manager, can be answered very emotional and simple.

That sounds so easy. We want to win games! And that's why everyone in the organization can identify with this mission and opt for it! However, if the CEO of a group attempts to motivate employees on a permanent basis by proclaiming the current sales growth successes and quarterly goals, no one will find a "purpose" applicable to their own sphere of activity. The question, why does "one" want me to be here and which part of the value chain am I involved or, better still, responsible, is a question that every company should be able to make answerable! In summary, I would phrase, it is important to promote the translation of the why to the proportion of the one who is "just" a cog in the gear for all sectors of the enterprise. It's no secret that, for example, Google and others use the Objective and Key Results (OKR) framework in this matterr: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OKR.

Simon Sinek talks about the direction of corporate communications in a slightly different context: https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action. He describes a circle with the order of answers to the questions why - how - what, inside out. Most companies, according to Sinek, communicate in reverse order (from outside to inside, what - how - why).

I can absolutely share his experience here. In many places, the reason is seldom or never answered, or it hides in expensive strategy papers, which only a few have access to in the company, and because of this they are also poorly anchored in the company's culture. However, this is a massively underestimated problem, as we humans commit on something at this level or not. So, if companies have been operating as personal water heaters for years and find it hard to keep employees, one could conclude that employees lack the reason or the identification and appreciation of their share of the overall success of the mission. As well as, in most cases they do not even know them.

In this article with the beautiful title "The Blue Disco Ball Story" Shelly Palmer describes what can happen if we communicate in the wrong direction (What - How - Why) and the Why then in addition is also completely missing: https://www.shellypalmer.com/2016/05/middle-management-error-vendors-love/

Let's get back to the professional sport. So, probably you could say that more value-oriented corporate cultures can be found in sports industries, without explicit work being done, say for example with Kanban. It is also less important for such organisations to culturally anchor transparency of your customer values in the company. But, of course, again and again there's also "beef" in these environments , for example, between a - if existent - stylistically more classical, autocratic management and the team or individual players.
And this is where it gets interesting! It seems that those who manage to extend the term team culturally across the entire value chain and therefore also understand themselves outside the team as a team, have crucial advantages in the market and - in the truest sense of the word - play in the top. Hardly anywhere else does the emotional stability of the organization have more of a tangible impact on revenues than in professional sports.

When the German Football Association managed to transport the entire DFB organisation in and externally as "Die Mannschaft" (the team) during the previous World Cup, this was certainly no obstacle to winning the tournament! I dare even say that this overall cultural "zooming out" had a key impact on the overall success.

Also Peter Drucker's quote "Culture eats capital for breakfast" looks for a comparable impact outside of the professional large sports industries. Only highly motivated elite athletes bring lasting returns to sports organizations.

But let's go back to organizations in general. My question on that matter is paticularly different. Does it actually make so much difference whether there is a small highly specialized operational level within an organization, a medium or a massively larger one?
Former IBM CIO Jeff Smith probably also wondered when he began planning his agile transformation initiative at IBM. In a lecture (which is unfortunately no longer available on the net), he tells, among other things, why he hired the most successful football coach of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United as a consultant for his transition. In this article of Harvard Business Review, you can read and understand a bit about the persona Alex Ferguson: https://hbr.org/2013/10/fergusons-formula. One thing you could summarize is that Ferguson's main concern was and is the "spirit" of the team and the inspiration of the players. These attributes, which we also reconcile with the term Servant Leadership.

The question of the importance of corporate culture makes it very clear that when companies want to build on the creative mental input of their employees (knowledge work), they certainly have clear advantages when employees see meaning in their work, know the overall context and are able to act on their own responsibility, that is to say, a culture of trust is present. I am convinced of this correlation, simply because in my working life I have seen too often that when the environment allows for prosperity, enthusiasm and performance spread quickly. Meaning, purpose, goals and intentions at all levels of the company's value creation are what make employees entrepreneurs.

Let's return to our analogy of the sports organization. Often when the sports press is concerned with the team having problems with management and vice versa, a cultural-organizational problem does not seem too far-fetched and the apparent lack of transparency often leads to team-performance collapses and quantifiable losses of the sports organization.

In terms of organizations, it does not help much if we optimize one part of a system and others not. We also describe these relationships in Kanban: Local optimization leads to global suboptimization. Although the consideration of the working system with regard to global suboptimization in kanban refers more to the performance increase (optimization) in a subarea which has the potential to make the overall system more unstable (suboptimization), it can certainly also be applied indirectly at the level of corporate culture.

Again and again, I see organizations trying to scale their local optimization named "agile teams" with the goal of increasing the agility of their business. Rarely, however, measurable successes, such as an increase in sales, are made here. It's like building a bridge over a slope and at one singulat point stacking the elements one above the other instead of one behind the other. Value creation moves horizontally across the boundaries of departments and entities through the company. And added value does not increase because, for example, you are "arming" operationally in one area, not even culturally.

Agility is a dialogue of all!

Culture can not be partially implemented. Culture is binary in its overall impact on a system / organisation. Culture is holistically present or not. Companies add value when they promote interaction. That's agility, not the scaling of culturally "tuned" teams.

If you're interested in more content on my part, feel free to also visit more articles here as well as my Notion section: ts7.org/notion

OKR (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OKR),
Simon Sinek (www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action),
Shelly Palmer (www.shellypalmer.com/2016/05/middle-management-error-vendors-love/),
Harvard Business Review (hbr.org/2013/10/fergusons-formula)