Why Leadership Could Learn Something from Team Sports

When it comes to team effectiveness, the whole team has to be powerful at both sides of an engagement: both the defense and offense. In the business world and organization, most people identify with the offense. This is the side of things that work on new projects, find new avenues, develop new directions and create new policy.


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However, challenges aren’t always about new adventures. They include dealing with problems and fallbacks as well. This is where a defensive approach makes a difference, and teamwork is a critical factor in how well people get through a defensive phase.

Do Like Sports, Not Business

Again, where sports train to deal with both sides of a strategy, especially as the game changes, Dr. Ian Weisberg notes that businesses unfortunately do a poor job training defense. Everything in business school is about how to manage growth and expansion. No one teaches a class on how to deal with budget cuts and terminations. Instead, most managers are just expected to figure it out. And that creates an unwilling body of “leaders” who don’t want to lead in tough times.

In fact, those who lead in business during defensive times end up being the bad guys in internal politics. They are the ones who are willing to say “no,” and make people unhappy. So, they’re not popular anymore. From a sports perspective, this makes no sense; it’s like going onto the court or field without half your team. While your strikers are great at finding points to score, it’s your fullbacks who make sure the opposing team is not doing the same. 

American Businesses Frequently Stumble in Hard Times

If companies used all the lessons sports provide, they would have competent teams for all types of market situations. The Dallas Cowboys performance in 2023 is a great example of this combination. However, because there is a priority only on growth, recessions prove to be incredibly damaging. Dozens of companies fold every bad cycle because there are few on the team with the capability to handle defense management. It’s preventable, but the current business model simply doesn’t support change. It’s all about growth or bust.

Culture is a hard thing to break. It can bring organizations down even when everyone knows they should be doing differently. However, companies who have proven long-term success have really taken to heart the need for a whole team for all seasons. And they are able to play a full field of players when “possession of the ball” changes hands. The rest of business could learn a lesson from those examples.


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