60 Minutes Sports recently aired a segment on the head coach for Harvard Crew, Harry Parker.  Mr. Parker coached Harvard Crew for 51 years, and according to some, is the winningest coach in all of sports.  Ever. 

As I watched the segment, it dawned on me how very different sports are from work when you compare employee/employer relationship to the coach/player relationship.  Everyone in business uses sports analogies and metaphors:  “We have to get this over the goal line”, “She hit it out of the park”, etc.  Unfortunately, that’s where the similarities between sports and work ends.

Here are 3 things the boss/employee/team relationship should inherit from sports:

1. The Coach Gives Real-time Feedback

At work, employees typically get an annual review, or a quarterly review in some cases.  We’ve all been through it in some form or another.  In sports on the other hand, each player receives coaching every day, every hour, sometimes every few minutes.  Harry Parker rides along the side of his crew and literally coaches them as they row in practice.  Now I’m not saying anyone at work wants their boss sitting next to them analyzing and ‘coaching’ everything they do.  However, work would be much better for everyone if bosses gave employees feedback more consistently, more regularly, and without exception.  This feedback should be positive, instructive, and actionable. Work.com allows any boss or employee to give any other employee feedback, in real time.

2. The Players Root for Each Other

All team sports have one thing in common: every player wants every other player to win.  When a player makes an amazing play, the rest of the team basks in their glory and holds them up high.  You never see a player diss a teammate after a successful play.  This isn’t always the case at work.  Too much success by one individual will sometimes elicit the opposite response: she got lucky, she had help, she takes all the credit.  We’ve all seen this, and it’s an opportunity to inherit from sports something that would make work better.

On the other hand, if a player makes a mistake, the other players let them know: don’t do it again, let’s move on.  No one makes 100% of the plays that come their way – occasionally you miss the shot, or drop the ball.  At work, when mistakes happen, we should learn from them, and get up and try again.  Giving people constructive feedback at work is a lost skill. Everyone makes mistakes, that’s part of doing our job.  What matters is that we learn from it, and that we support each other through the mistakes, just as we bask in each other’s glory in victory.

3) The Best Lessons Come from Defeat

During the 60 Minute Sports segment as his team was practicing to race their archrival Yale, Harry says, “make sure you’re doing it better than Yale would.

Harry probably learned the most lessions from losses to Yale.  While Harry was head coach, there was a four year stretch, from 1981 until 1984, when Yale beat Harvard in their annual Regatta.  What Harry said to his crew during the practice was a reminder of those losses, and helped to focus his team on doing what it needed to do. 

At work, losses happen.  Things go badly for one reason or many, sometimes all at once, just like in sports.  Where work could benefit from sports is to look for the lessons in defeat.  At work we often turn defeat into a blame game.  Instead of pointing fingers, we should take any defeat at work as an opportunity to learn.  Diagnose it, deconstruct it, understand what happened, and why.  And more importantly, take action to assure it doesn’t happen again.


Boost your performance with these sales tips in this Salesforce ebook.