Take a Page From a Coach’s Playbook to Build a Winning Business Team

When it comes to managing teams, winning coaches understand that providing consistent feedback and praise to individual players contributes to the betterment of the team. Great coaches don’t just call the plays, they are tasked with motivating and aligning each player to form an athletic powerhouse.

The benefits of this approach aren’t exclusive to sports teams. Coaches and business leaders want to accomplish the same things, whether it’s with athletes or employees: to build connected and motivated teams that work together to accomplish greatness.

what can business leaders learn from coaches?

Understanding what coaches do to build winning teams in general terms might be helpful in a theoretical sense—but what practices can business leaders adopt to make their dream team a reality? It turns out that there are a few specific things any leader can do to build a team of champions:

Engage often with meaningful feedback. Coaches don’t wait until the season is over to let their players know how they’re doing and what they need to improve on. Neither should business leaders. The annual performance review—which is often seen as a somewhat futile attempt to condense a year’s worth of work into a 30-minute recap—simply isn’t enough for telling employees what they’re doing right and what they need to work on. This time delay for giving feedback is one reason the end-of-year/quarterly performance review approach to improving performance doesn’t work for winning teams.

A leader’s greatest tool is feedback—constructive criticism and especially praise—provided in great frequency, in context, and personalised for each team member. Formal and informal meetings, emails, phone calls, and in-person remarks work together to create an engaged company culture that turns involvement into commitment.

Tip: Recognising employees at least one to three times a week is tied to significant increases in engagement, productivity, and employee retention. When you see positive behaviours, whether big or small, don’t hesitate to provide positive reinforcement in the moment. Yes, it really does matter for winning teams.

Illustrate employee impact. Coaches value each player’s contribution to a successful play or game. They don’t just praise a quarterback for a touchdown pass; they also recognise the great blocking and hot hands of the other players. In the same way, it’s imperative for you to let your employees know how their work specifically impacts the entire team, management, and the business as a whole. By doing this, you reinforce the notion that each individual fills an essential role in the company; this recognition improves the production and morale of the team, and the commitment to achieving the company’s larger mission. Studies have shown that people who feel appreciated are motivated to work harder.

Tip: When providing positive feedback, make sure employees understand how their roles affect the bigger company picture. This reinforces the message that every player counts, and each person’s role has a significant impact on the success of the team.

Make it bigger than a paycheck. Coaches reinforce pride–for the team, the location, the sport, the ownership–to remind players there is more than just money at stake. In business, employers more than ever today want to feel like the work they do is meaningful. This is why it’s important that business leaders tie the work of individuals to the story of the overall business and to the company’s place in the world. While you might wonder how to make certain jobs seem meaningful to employees, remember that the mission of most businesses is to make customers happy through innovation, growth, and service. This is a message that most employees will be proud to follow, so figure out a way to share it with them.

Tip: Make sure employees are aware of your company’s values and mission statement. When these things are operationalised within the business and culture, teams are more galvanised to a common goal or mission, and a common set of behaviours that help them to achieve this goal.

Promote connections across the business. Players don’t do their best just because they are told to. They also work hard to support their peers, to impress their coaches, and to share in the camaraderie that emerges when a team works together. They feel connected to other team members, and this sense of connection brings out loyalty, hard work, and a deep sense of commitment.

Managers should strive to create a similar sense of camaraderie by fostering community among their employees. When people feel a personal connection to their workplaces and the folks within them, they’re more likely to give their hearts and minds to their job and not just do the bare minimum of what’s expected. This loyalty translates into big ROI for your business, namely around increased retention of your star players.

Tip: Encourage peer-to-peer connections by providing opportunities for employees to interact with every employee–not just small or specific groups of close teammates. The more leaders break down barriers between departments, management, and teams, the better chance they have at building lasting connectivity.

Drawing conclusions

Business management and coaching have a lot in common. In both fields, engagement, feedback and connectivity are key to making team members feel appreciated, informed, and committed. Anyone who wants to build and maintain a winning team, one that consistently overcomes obstacles and exceeds its goals, should remember to take some simple lessons from history’s winning coaches.

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