Why you should run your business like a football team

Any successful sporting team has a key ingredient that is vital to continuing high performance.

That ingredient is reflection. A large part of a footballer’s life is taken up with pre-game strategy meetings, appraisals from coaching staff at each break in a game, post-game reviews, group team analysis and individual reflection. All this happens every week.

So how is it that the majority of our workplaces only have annual and – if you are lucky – half-yearly performance reviews?

Not only is the opportunity for reflection and assessment limited in business, but it is carried out in a format that encourages defensiveness, negativity and a sense of self-doubt. How can employees continuously self-check, reassess and improve without a system and support network that allows them to do this?

“There is a constant awareness of exactly what you, as an individual athlete, bring to the team.”

The yearly performance reviews that most businesses currently undertake can rarely be described as a positive arena of feedback and development. Instead, they tend to lead the employee to think they are being overly managed.

People may accept that there is a need for improvement and development, but what they do about it is often questionable.

Think like an athlete

An improvement mindset is vital if we are to change workplace thinking and boost growth. If employees can start thinking the way our greatest athletes do, a culture of continual growth and high performance will grow.

Here’s where we can learn from the way our greatest sporting teams operate. Their processes of reflection are positive. Opportunities for development are welcomed with open arms. Players play to their strengths and, as a secondary endeavour, work on development areas.

Professional development: Monitoring and improving performance

There is a constant awareness of exactly what you, as an individual athlete, bring to the team. There is also a shared acknowledgement that there is always a need for continuous improvement.

What is pivotal is getting employees to see reflection as a positive experience and a way to improve their own performance. In the Australian Football League (AFL) competition, for instance, defensive players must develop their ability to run the ball out of the opposition’s scoring zone.

Former St Kilda Football Club defender Jason Blake recalls how watching a video of the team’s defensive work made his group realise the importance of reading the play as their defensive situation changed. “We could not achieve the progress we did without the concept of reflection,” he says.

Playing to your strengths

How do we start this reflection process within organisations? By focusing not only on the employee’s self-awareness, but more importantly on the self-awareness of the leader in the situation. Every leader needs to be honest with themselves and their employees about what their strengths are.

If leaders are honest about what they do well and what their opportunities for improvement are, they instantly gain credibility with employees and the process can become a positive one.

This approach is termed strengths-based management, and it puts the focus on the individual’s innate strengths. Everyone should be working 90 per cent to their strengths and 10 per cent to what they are trying to develop.

This is not to say that we should ignore weaknesses. It simply recognises that self-improvement can be a lot more enjoyable if the focus is on strengths, rather than the things we are not achieving and are not doing well.

With the right training, and ultimately the right processes in place, this sort of accountability can be pushed into all businesses. Just as a coach holds you accountable for your actions, businesses can hold individuals accountable for their own continuous improvement.

There is only one constant in business, as in sport: change.

By building systems that encourage positive reflection and work to individuals’ strengths, we can build people’s ability to change, to progress and to achieve.

Are we Ready for Self Management?

This question was posed in a Harvard Business School article and immediately got me thinking. I have spent years studying the art of self-management and creating models to assist people in mastering this art, however this article forced me to stop and consider…Are employees and managers REALLY ready for self-management?

When confronted with a question such as this, I tend to strip everything back and remind myself of the initial problem. The biggest challenge for management today is that most managers are busy and don’t have the time to spend with their people in order to truly understand how to get the most out of them. This results in an increased level of disengagement as employees start to feel ‘unloved’ and ‘unappreciated’.

So – ‘What is the solution’? Most of the time this question is met with silence but I think I can shed some light…

In my opinion, traditional command and control management practices are dead. People are continually evolving and employees of today will not respond to archaic management styles that don’t allow them to engage and feel valuable in their role.

We need to stop using yesterday logic for tomorrow’s challenges and embrace the new paradigm of management. The new management style for 2015 and beyond is to focus on the individuals and create a high performing team that is positive, solution centric and self-managed.

The most challenging part of this is creating a self-managed culture. In order to take the pressure off managers we need to encourage employees to stand up and take accountability for their own progress. We need to upgrade our management software and provide the tools and training needed to allow the individuals to effectively manage themselves with support of their manager.

So to ask the question again…. Are we ready for self-management…..ABSOLUTELY!

In fact, it is what employees and managers of today need in order to thrive and succeed.

Performance Management – A Year Round Commitment

The term “performance management” in business can tend to have dirty connotations as it is often used to describe the process of managing an underperforming employee person out of the business. This perception of the term could not be further from the essence of what performance management should be about.

Managing an employee’s performance is only possible through regular communication and monthly reviews. In high performing sporting teams, player’s performance is relentlessly reviewed. At the end of each quarter of football, the coach heads straight out onto the ground to address the team. Players receive immediate communication and feedback on what the team has done well, what they can do better and what the plan is for the rest of the game.

Whilst most organisations have an annual review system, this is far too infrequent and often ends up being a salary review rather than a performance review. How are we meant to change the course of the game if we wait until the final siren to review our performance?

Review and reflection is essential for continuous improvement and forms a fundamental part of the Kaizen model which is a philosophy I have personally used throughout my career;

Kaizen means continuous improvement involving everyone in the organisation from top management to workers. Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy for process improvement that can be traced to the meaning of the Japanese words ‘Kai’ and ‘Zen’, which translate roughly into ‘to break apart and investigate’ and ‘to improve upon the existing situation’. It is a philosophy of never being satisfied with what was accomplished last week or last year.

The way we review our employees is also important in ensuring its effectiveness. A review should not be about the Manager telling the employee what theirs strengths and challenges are – let the employee take control and talk. Reviews should not take more than 30mins with the employee speaking for 25mins and the Manager for 5mins.

This approach indoctrinates self-management into the essence of a performance management system and allows employees to articulate their accountabilities and understand what makes them successful and what makes them unsuccessful.  Employees become responsible and accountable for reviewing their own performance to their managers, which keeps them in tune and aware with their day to day wins and area of improvement.


Managers need to encourage their employees to become ‘addicted to progress’ through regular reviews and constant focus on development and continual improvement. Employees remain engaged when they feel like they are moving forward, not standing still.

Combating Disengagement

76% of Australian employees are not engaged in their job*

This statistic came as a shock to me considering the average Australian spends two thirds of their waking hours at work. So, what can be done to raise the level of engagement in businesses?

The way I see it there are 2 levels of disengagement

NOT ENGAGED – these employees just turn up, clock in and clock out on time. They don’t get promoted and they don’t go beyond their job role. Despite a lack of engagement, these workers are not necessarily a bad thing for the business and don’t tend to create negativity.

ACTIVELY DISENGAGED – These workers have a toxic impact on the culture and cost Australian business owners millions each year in increased sick leave, lack of productivity and recruitment costs associated with high staff turnover.

It is time to broaden our minds and change the way we manage people. Despite an obvious shift in people’s professional needs – “We are still using yesterday’s management skills for tomorrow’s people challenges”

Gone are the days where employees remain loyal to one job. People have evolved. They are driven, assertive and need to feel like they a contributing and providing value to the business – or they will simply move onto the next role. In order to increase levels of engagement, we need to change our thinking and the way we approach key areas of management;

RECRUITMENT PROCESS – we employ people for what they know and fire them for who they are. It is time to traverse this old approach. Skill can be taught but how a person relates to the company values is a vital in their level of ongoing engagement. Follow the SKILL / WILL / FIT model and use tailored assessments to understand people’s hardwiring and how their personality will fit into the culture

PERSONALISED MANAGEMENT APPROACH – there is no “one size fits all” approach to management. Every employee has different learning styles, needs and motivators. Take the time to understand what drives each employee and use a tailored approach to manage them based on their strengths.

ENCOURAGE YOUR PEOPLE TO BE MORE SELF MANAGED – take some responsibility off the Managers and put it back on the employees. Developing a self-managed team who are engaged and invested is the key to any businesses success.

*Statistic courtesy of the Gallup worldwide survey on employee engagement

The Rise of the Business Athlete

Business would be easy if it weren’t for other people and the challenges surrounding people management are a real part of every business owner and manager’s daily struggle. If you are constantly asking yourself – How do I keep my team engaged and on board? I invite you reconsider the way you manage your people.

Throughout my 30+ years in business, it continues to astonish me how unaccountable grown adults can be for their own actions. Time and time again I came across cultures of negativity, defensiveness and finger pointing. To combat this, I quickly realised I need to draw on my experience competing in and coaching high performance sporting teams.

As business owners and managers, we need to encourage our people to look at every day with the same attitude as an elite athlete and WANT to be better. But how?


If you are focused on developing a team of self-managed individuals your people will take responsibility and accountability for their own actions and choices and encourage their colleagues to do the same. They will choose exceptional over good every day of the week.

Athletes are experts in the field of self-management. They know their intrinsic and extrinsic motivators intimately and understand how to get the most out of themselves in order to release their untapped potential. They recognise that their success rests entirely on their own shoulders.

There are endless qualities instilled into elite athletes that translate into the day to day operations of any organisations. Some of the fundamental ones include;

5 Traits of a Business Athlete

  1. Self-Awareness – the ability to get the most out of yourself by intimately understanding your own key drivers, strengths, blockages and challenges.
  2. Confrontational – ability to address any situation with manners, professionalism and clarity, regardless of fear of offence or negative reactions
  3. Dedicated – focused and loyal, they never take their eye off the main objective or waiver off course
  4. Positive – the ability to focus on the positive in every situation no matter how challenging and block out negative internal thoughts.
  5. Self-Managed – accountable and take responsibility for their own actions, they are self-motivating and know how to manage themselves effectively.

Businesses can learn a lot from successful sporting teams and elite athletes and by translating their key principles into everyday business and doing things a bit differently you may just discover the perfect game plan for you and your team.

The Meaning of Self Management

Self-management means different things in different fields:

In businesseducation, and psychology, self-management refers to methods, skills, and strategies by which individuals can effectively direct their own activities toward the achievement of objectives.

It includes:

  • goal-setting
  • planning
  • scheduling
  • time-management
  • task-targets
  • self-evaluation
  • self-intervention
  • self-development

What does it mean to you? If you’re not sure, analysing and identifying that should be your very first step.

If you’re still not sure, that’s where I can help. Outside perspective is a wonderful, empowering thing. It can bring great clarity – that ability to see things from another angle often reveals a lot of interesting information. I then help you how to use that information to benefit your team – creating great leaders that will take those skills with them elsewhere within your organisation…and beyond.

Remember this: people management is an art…a true skill. It can be taught and, usually, it needs to be. However, it is only with smart self-management that we can gain respect and credibility and that’s how our leadership qualities truly shine.

Consider this statement:

“We WANT people to work for us, not HAVE to work for us.”

Is that true of your current crop of employees? Are they happy? Are they engaged and giving you the best value from their skills and knowledge? By helping them, you’re helping yourself. Step up – it’s time to lead by example.