5 Things Sport Has Taught Me About Teamwork at Work

Date: February 2016, Category: Uncategorised, Author: Dan Lewis

With a long sports coaching career combined with a long business career, I believe there are a number of similarities and crossovers, and that we can learn a lot from sport to help in the business environment

Here are my 5 things sport has taught me about teamwork at work.

  • Team Focus is Crucial

While we are keen to openly encourage the creative thought process of our individual team members, it is worth making sure that those around us understand the common direction- like a game plan! Plans in business and in sport often need to change to suit opponent, financial climate, customer needs, or to accommodate a creative idea. The key to making the most of this is sharing the idea and developing it in a team framework. That way, you have a common goal, something to work towards together and share in the successes or failures of the initiative.

  • Identifying Strengths and Weaknesses

Being honest, we all have strengths and weaknesses, right? Sport in any form is a way of exposing weaknesses in a skill set, which may be highlighted by score-lines, decisions and results. Not too much different in the office environment but having the bravery to admit your own weaknesses is something which can, in the right team, ultimately bring out the best in others.

Honesty is an integral part of any team but the identifying of weaknesses may also create an opportunity for another team member to help you to achieve a common goal. There may be for example a particular part of your role that you do not enjoy or do well but which may be exactly the skill that another teammate possesses and loves to do. You could benefit from passing on this role, learning from your teammate or sharing roles to achieve the common goal.

Such honesty is also a massive boost of trust in the office and particularly sports environments where fear of admitting weaknesses is commonplace.

  • Performance is Underpinned by Hard Work and Support

Behind every elite sports person is a team of supporting staff. Strength coaches, analysts, doctors, physiotherapists, psychologists, nutritionists…the list goes on. They are cheered on by fans and rewarded with victory or recognition. How does that relate to a business environment?

Well, for starters in a world of compliance measures, CPD and changing markets we undoubtedly put in some considerable time to re-train, research and monitor our underpinning knowledge of our role, job or product. This may not come in the form of hours spent at the gym, but it is true that our performance will certainly benefit from it.

The business support teams can come in many shapes and forms, and while we would always hope that we would not need the support of the doctor in the business environment our teams of support workers, administrators and co-workers certainly have a key role to play in helping us achieve our goals.

Success? Well in sport there are distinct measures that can highlight success- like trophies, titles and victories. In business (and sport) the rewards can be financial, recognition of a job well done, or importantly, being happy in the role you play individually or in a team.

Undoubtedly though, in both environments, there are few success stories that are arrived at without hard work!

  • Understanding Teamwork

Are you really a team player? My experience leads me to accept that outstanding individual talent can foster many amazing reactions within a team framework. It can also lead to success in business, but understanding the roles people play within the team is key.

In televised sport as an example it is very easy to see how a team fits together. We have analysts with scientific measures and statistics to help us understand how each team member plays a part in (for example) the scoring of a goal. How do we measure the importance of each individual in the office? Quite simply, we must make an effort to understand not just our role, but the others involved in making things happen. While the roles may be different they can lead to a common outcome.

An example….

The office celebrates the signing of the company’s biggest deal of the year…. who typed the offer, who posted the heads of terms, who banks the cheque?

Another example…..

I recently walked into the office of an accountancy firm. I was greeted by a very positive and bright person who made me feel (as a first time visitor) very special, welcome and important. I noticed before I left, her name was on a small desk plaque with her job title underneath…Director of First Impressions!

There will inevitably be people in the business environment who receive wholesale praise for success (and they may deserve their part in it) but where a team works together in order to achieve such success, it’s important to recognise others that contribute to it. If you truly believe in teamwork in business, you will most likely appreciate that even the most mundane tasks can impact on the end results. Certainly the lady in my example above was highly valued by her team for the role she played in giving a good first impression to visitors.

Sharing the rewards of success with your team can come in many forms. You often see images of sportsmen being congratulated by their coach, manager or teammates. Try it in the office! Start with a thank you, a well done or a pat on the back. Sometimes being appreciated is reward enough, and the impact of being recognised for playing any role in success is enormous.

  • Dealing with and Embracing Change

Professional football may provide us with a very good example of change. Players are bought, sold, injured, retire…and more! The team however, remains. How do you deal with change in a team environment?

My personal thought is that change can be good. It brings with it new ideas, new vision and often new enthusiasm. While it is natural to feel disappointment if for example a colleague leaves for pastures new it is key to integrate new members into your team. Equally important is allowing them to change it, to influence it and to be ‘them’. So, some simple suggestions which may help this in a business context.

In a rugby team, you would expect team members to show the incoming player the moves so that they can be effective. Try and offer incoming team members tips to help them on their way. It could be as simple as a tour of the facilities, locating stationary, or as important as helping them use your all-important database…just be helpful.

Be willing to accept them, too. If the colleague you thought so highly of has left, they may have done so for a reason. Try and be the team member the newcomer values highly. Remember the quicker a positive relationship is built the sooner you will reap the benefit of it.

Be happy to learn from your new colleague! Don’t be offended if they offer you advice on improving a system. Take it on board, discuss it and remain open to change.


Steven Colwell is an RFU Level 2 coach. He is Head Coach and Director of Rugby at Bishop Auckland RUFC and a selector for RFU (North). He is a coach of the England Students, having previously spent 6 years as part of the coaching team at Durham University.

He has worked as a Commercial Finance Broker for almost 20 years and has a wealth of experience in all aspects of commercial and corporate funding. He also has vast experience in insolvency and complex restructuring funding.