Learning From Sports: How To Build a Successful Team for Business

3 Steps to Building a Successful Team

I’m not a huge sports fan, but I can still appreciate the effort that skilled, professional athletes put into their craft, working together (in most sports) to align their strengths in the pursuit of a common goal — winning together as a teamBut players don’t build a team themselves. Owners, general managers and coaches know how to build a successful team, so they scout, recruit, draft and develop the talent they need to reach their ultimate goal: a championship. 

With the NFL draft coming up in just a few weeks, it’s an excellent time to talk about the value of approaching your company’s talent acquisition and development process just like a sports team does. But what does building the perfect team look like? Here are three key components of developing winning teams. 

  1. Identify and set your goals. 
  2. Draft the right talent for the right roles. 
  3. Coach up your employees. 

Identify and Set Your Goals for Team Success

The first step for every leader wondering how to build a successful team is to identify your goalsUltimately, every sports team strives to win a championship, but not every team enters a season in position to actually compete for that prize. In the NFL, a team that went 2-14 the season before probably needs to set a more realistic goal, one that will hopefully serve as a steppingstone to a Super Bowl victory. 

So what are your goals? If you are ultimately looking to build a Fortune 500 company, that’s going to shape your approach differently than if your goal is to have a philanthropic impact on your local community. It’s important to identify your goals at the outset, for your company, your team and for individuals, because they will shape your approach every day. You also need to make sure that the lower-level goals all build up to support the overall organizational goal — none of your goals should be developed in a silo. 

With your goals established, you know where you want your business to go. Now you need to find the teammates who can help you achieve your vision. 

Successful Teams Draft the Right Talent for the Right Roles 

Just like coaches and GMs, one of the responsibilities managers have is finding quality employees to bring into the organization. You need to find people who can successfully execute on the daily requirements of a given role, but you must also keep a keen eye out for exceptional talent that can take a leadership role within your company  the equivalent of a first-ballot Hall of Famer for your company. When you hire within this framework, your company will thrive. 

There’s a lot riding on this process, and you want to make sure you’re drawing from the best pool possible. These days, remote work is commonplace; if this situation makes sense for your company, you can easily expand a candidate search beyond local talent and recruit national — or even international — prospects. Iremote work isn’t on the table, do yourself a favor and go beyond the usual online job boards when you post an open position. Casting a wide net will let you discover the best qualified professionals, who can bring the drive and passion you’re looking for in your search. 

Once you have a pool of candidates, it’s time to narrow it down and begin the interview process. While interviewing, your goal is twofold. You of course have to measure a candidate’s ability to deliver on role’s accountabilities and KPIs. You also need to determine whether he or she fits with how you’ve been building a team culture. These are both critically important aspects to consider. 

Just like a star player might be a locker room cancer, hiring an exceptional talent who brings down morale for everyone else can be incredibly damaging to your company. Conversely, a linebacker might have great leadership potential and position-specific value, but if you draft him to be a punter, you’ll be looking for a replacement again before long. It’s important to look for employees who share both the values and the work style/ethics of your company in addition to looking for talent and skills. 

Coach Up Your Employees 

Once you hire the perfect candidate, your job is done and it’s up to the employee to succeed on his or her own. 

As preposterous as that statement is, it’s even more unbelievable how many managers seem to believe it to be true, at least based on their actions. If an NFL head coach gathered his team together at the start of training camp and said he expected them to win the Super Bowl that season but then only checked in with his players once a week, he’d be picking #1 in the draft the next year (or, more likely, his replacement would be). Why should the expectation be any different in business than in sports? 

Building effective teams requires a manager to set new employees up for success from day one. The first step is a comprehensive training and onboarding plan — one of the best methods of improving employee productivity, building employee loyalty and engagement, and helping new employees become successful early on. There should be a natural flow of communication, including who does what, company policies and procedures, manuals and forms  providing information and answers to their questions  throughout the onboarding process. 

Crucially, during a new employee’s first 90 days watch for signs of distress — either from the employee or in his or her work. If you see those signs, provide immediate feedback, extra training and any other resources or support necessary. When you catch issues early, you can more easily correct them, and as the manager it’s your responsibility to coach the employee to success. You are there to develop teams and individuals, and that goes beyond the hiring process. There was a reason you chose him or her in the first place; while it ultimately may prove to have been the wrong choice, work with a new employee to make sure there’s a clear understanding of goals and expectations. If there is a misunderstanding, work to resolve it. Give grace and provide the training necessary. 

With that said, sometimes it’s best to acknowledge that, for whatever reason, a new hire just isn’t the right fit. It may be a performance issue, related to skill, ability or motivation. It may be a culture mismatch. In any case, be prepared to make cuts to your roster. Keeping an underperforming worker, or an employee who doesn’t align with team or company vision or values, is going to affect your ability to meet your goals, and it might even cost you some of your best workers. 

With the right goals in place, the right talent in the right roles, and a manager committed to coaching the best performance out of each employee, building a successful team is within reach. 

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