In my 35 years of consulting with business teams to lead breakthrough change efforts, I’ve learned one surprising thing: Professional business teams act like amateurs!
If you want to learn about high-performing teams, pay attention to teams that have to perform well together. The success of sports teams, dance companies and music groups depends on their teamwork, in the moment, live. They practice their coordination, perfect their skill independently and together and prepare for recovery from inevitable mistakes.
Business teams, on the other hand, don’t perform live. Because the feedback of their poor execution isn’t immediate, they can get away with a certain amount of sloppy teamwork, poor accountability, divisive infighting and task-oriented performance rather than results-oriented execution… but only for so long. The good news is that business teams can be just as professional as sports teams or music groups; they just have to adopt the same habits and behaviors. Below are three differences between amateur and professional teams.
1. Professional teams meet to practice cooperative execution. Amateur teams meet to review metrics, give updates and share information.
2. Professional teams have shared ownership for results. Amateur teams emphasize individual accountability for tasks.
3. Professional teams practice recovery plans. Amateur teams plan for perfect results.
Professional Habit #1: Practice Cooperative Execution
Business teams take a lot of time to meet. In fact, they take so much time in meetings that employees complain they can’t get their work done during normal working hours. Unlike a practice or rehearsal, not much gets done in a business meeting because they focus on status updates, metric reviews and sharing information that could be shared using alternative formats.
What isn’t being done is solving breakdowns, getting alignment on recovery plans and ensuring effective communication with others outside of the team. These are the outcomes that professional teams in sports and music are reviewing and getting alignment on in their practices and rehearsals.
The purpose of having meetings that take time away from daily tasks is to solve problems, remove obstacles, improve coordination and collaboration and gain alignment on executing at a higher level — the same as professional sports and music groups. Solving problems and making collective decisions for improvement have a direct impact on increasing efficiency and effectiveness — the only way to get a return on investment for the time taken in meetings.
Professional Habit #2: Share Ownership And Accountability For Results
Shared ownership and accountability are the most misunderstood concepts in business. In the professional sports and music industries, shared ownership means that every player not only performs their position but supports the team in surfacing and resolving breakdowns with others on the team. In fact, it’s not uncommon for individual team members to help each other improve by practicing with them, helping them to solve a problem or breakdown or honing their execution skills and habits.
In organizations, the focus is on individual accountability that oftentimes leads to blame for breakdowns, and/or individual performance improvement plans. In fact, businesses tend to play “hot potato” with breakdowns, passing the responsibility to other people or departments.
Shared ownership and accountability do not mean that everyone is accountable for every decision, resulting in consensus-based leadership, which is hugely inefficient and ineffective. They also do not mean that no one is accountable. These are complete misunderstandings and excuses made by poorly skilled leaders.
Shared ownership and accountability mean that every individual team member has ownership and accountability for the overall results of the team — even when it’s a cross-functional team. This means that any potential breakdown, constraint or obstacle is raised to relevant team members to surface and resolve those issues — the exact way professional sports teams and music groups operate.
Shared ownership and accountability mean that each team member is accountable for their own high performance that supports team success and also does what they can to support other team members in being the best they can be.
Professional Habit #3: Prepare For And Practice Proactive Recovery
The pressure to make decisions and implement change quickly is required in today’s fast-paced business environment. Yet, while some organizations support iterative decision-making and project management at the lowest operational levels, they either act in a reactive manner or in a paralyzingly slow manner with endless consensus building and buy-in approval approaches for significant change efforts. Both approaches demonstrate an amateurish approach to decision-making and project planning.
There is no way to perfectly predict the future and be a pioneer in setting up your organization to thrive in the unknown future. You can’t wait for buy-in. You can’t wait for a perfect plan. You can’t wait for everyone on your team to understand your vision of the future and what it means to change their role or expectations in order to move into the future.
One of the biggest keys for success that is practiced by all sports teams, music groups and acting companies is proactive recovery. Effective professional teams anticipate any kind of likely breakdown that could impact the change effort, involve all of the different functional areas involved and map out how they will solve problems and make decisions to address the breakdown.
This doesn’t mean that the team has all the answers to create a fully implementable contingency plan. It sometimes means that they have an agreement about how to convene the key decision-makers and problem solvers in the room together immediately when something goes off-plan. Instead of going into crisis-mode and blame-game posturing, the team can quickly pivot their execution to achieve success when a breakdown occurs.
Recovery plans are used for accelerating decision-making, change efforts and responses to unforeseen changes in the business environment. It results in alignment, greater proactivity and less reactivity within the organization.
This article was first published as a Forbes Coaches Council Post