By Ian Taylor
What might sports organisations do so that they are well prepared to face the unknown challenges that are posed by changing societal preferences? Of course, these same organisations also need to continue to deliver to core customers while also not alienating employees, athletes or fans who also care about the views the organisation and its athletes profess.
The following ten principles have been developed with High Performing Organisations in mind. The thrust of these principles focuses teams on developing Adaptive Ability. There are particular values and characteristics that high performing teams are characterised by. Once put in place as a part of the furniture, these values produce ways of working that ensure the organisation is prepared from many perspectives to produce championships.
These values include:
Accountability – Organisations aiming at high performance pay attention to both the tasks assigned to them and those assigned to others. As New England Patriots head coach has painted on the walls of the Patriot locker room, Do YOUR Job. The Patriots are fanatical about assigning very specific jobs to players and then letting them do that job, while checking on performance regularly. High performing organisations are more concerned with HOW you do a task than they are about the RESULT of a task. Profitability (or winning) at the expense of the team, or by incentivising poor behaviour through too much attention to accountability for results leads to losing.
Collaboration – Organisation have four key jobs to do, and the industry and context give emphasis to which are most important. High performance organisations also master the one key job that rules them all. The four tasks of collaboration include task minding, relationship building, sense making, and, most importantly, self-awareness. Most individuals are only great at one of these four and must rely on colleagues to execute at the pace needed to win championships regularly.
Courage – Sports teams face the opportunities to activate this trait regularly on the fields and courts, but their organisations are not always as fast to follow. It can be just as courageous to stand on principle and not follow the fad, be it societal pressure, spending on expensive players, or binning a long term strategy when early returns are not favourable as it is to make bold decisions on moving the organisation forward by changing management teams, engaging fans in new ways or moving towards including more diverse perspectives in forming that cumulative talent within the organisation.
Diversity – there are many dimensions to seeking diversity of thought. Bruce Arians, new head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, recently hired the first female position coach in the NFL. The San Antonio Spurs have had a female assistant coach for a number of years. Rugby Australia has a female CEO. Diversity should be approached as a way of not only finding ways of inviting not-obvious-partners to the dance, and not stopping at allowing them onto the dance floor, but engaging them as dance partners with special knowledge to offer. Gender, Age, Organisational Role, Experience, Ethnicity and other lenses make your organisation both wiser and richer. All people benefit with the ability to create shared meaning, and the organisation benefits with greater trust, better communication and faster innovation.
Empathy – one non-intuitive characteristic of High Performing teams is the high place empathy has within groups. In research validated globally by Development Dimensions International (DDI), the characteristic of ‘helpfulness’ was found to be most predictive in terms of team productivity. Helpfulness is the ability to sense what others will need and provide for it ahead of being asked. On the field this is easy to see, as a seamless pass leads a teammate to an easy score, or when teammates see a colleague has tripped and work to fill a gap. The ability to do this for people in terms of how they think about their safety and ability to thrive in the organisation we call empathy.
Innovation – At heart, innovation simply means the ability to improve. For a sports organisation aiming at championship performance in all aspects – fan experience, employee experience, on-field success and financial prosperity, this will mean making trend spotting, idea making, fan cultivation key skills wound into the DNA of the organisation. This often changes the nature of the organisation from ‘pushing a product’ to ‘having a conversation.’ These conversations happen by thinking of the organisation operating a platform connecting people with interests rather than controlling an organisation top down.
Learning – High performing teams keep note of what they have learned, return to it, seek information about what caused success or failure and compare those notes to current conditions to see what may have changed that will prevent success or enable an idea to succeed. In addition, these teams take time to reflect on individual, position group or team data in may forms to find new insights about performance. The Auckland Blues track player time running, distance and position on the field using readers that then allow for insight into performance and improvement as well as individualised recovery programmes.
Performance – Bill Parcells, a Hall of Fame NFL coach, is famed for saying to his players often, “You are what your record says you are.” This quote came in response to a member of his team saying to the media, “We are not a 5-5 team; we are much better than our record.” Coach Parcells thought otherwise, and high performing teams look at their record, individual data, the game tape (because ‘the big eye don’t lie!’) and other forms of data to objectively break down communication, actions, behaviours and triggers to understand both self and opponent. This obsession with performance improvement has led to the British cycling team achieving the best outcomes in the history of the sport over the last decade, with 170+ championships, several Tour de France victories, and wins for over half of the gold medals available. They concentrate on aggregate improvements of 1% adding together to make something much greater.
Resilience – High performing sports organisations move beyond simply being resilient into what industrial psychology calls ‘hardiness’. While resilience allows a person to withstand difficult circumstances, hardiness allows people to move meaningfully to control or challenge the circumstances. The New Zealand All Blacks experienced this in the transition from Graham Henry to Steve Hansen. The team could have experienced a drop off when many players from the 2015 World Cup team retired from All Blacks’ service and Graham Henry stepped down as well. Instead, an unprecedented run of success continued under a new leader with a new generation of player-leaders stepping up as well. This was not by accident and had been cultivated in the organisation after the transformation of the All Blacks culture began after the heart-breaking loss to France in 2007.
Trust – Trust in organisations is a combination of four characteristics acting in concert. As people in the organisation act with benevolence (people believe you mean them well), integrity (people see you act as you say you believe), competency (people see you acknowledge the limits of your knowledge and include those who do know), and with predictability (people see you as the ‘same’ person on a day to day basis). High performance teams look for these characteristics in those they welcome into the team and keep people accountable to these behaviours as ‘keys to the kingdom.’
Championship organisations work on these as diligently as championship teams work at their fitness and game planning. In order to stay match fit, sports organisations must keep these values ‘fit.’