Tag Archives: sports vs work

Three More Ways to Make Work More Like Sports

Euro 2012 concluded yesterday. For those not into soccer that’s the European championship. It happens every four years, kind of like the Olympics or the World Cup.

Spain won as predicted and although Italy lost, they showed up in the finals as a complete surprise to most folks. They made a fantastic run and came up just short when all the luck, ans skill of the Spaniards, seemed to turn against them.

During their run to the finals I was captivated by Gigi Buffon, the Italian goalkeeper and captain. This guy has been around for quite awhile and is still considered one of the top keepers in the game but what impressed me most was the man beyond the play.

  • Camera’s couldn’t stay off him during the Italian national anthem and commentators kept coming back to the passion with which he sang his countries song.
  • During their semi-0final penalty shoot-out against England he could be seen slapping hands with Joe Hart, England’s keeper, between penalties.
  • After the loss in the finals the cameras followed him as he comforted his teammates and even his coach.

Back in January I posted “What’s the Difference Between Life and Sports?” where I explored some of the ways in which our work environments often conspire to make life a whole lot less exciting than following sports. As this summer wends its way though Euro 2012 and the Olympics more and more Gigi Buffon’s are going to come across our radar screen.

So what can we learn from Buffon’s example?

1. We like to play for something bigger.
That’s why Buffon belting out his national anthem is impressive. He gets that, he connects to it, he’s proud of his country. How often in our work places to we as managers try to instill in our people a sense of something bigger than just a paycheck?

The opposite is true in sports as well…we don’t care for the selfish player who is just in it for the money. How much heat, pun intended, has Lebron gotten for that?

2. We like a class act.
Even in the tension packed moment of a penalty shoot out Buffon makes the effort to connect with the opposing keeper, a guy who he openly respects as an up and comer. That’s class.

How do we create an atmosphere of class even in the midst of competitive tensions in the work place? How do we reward “class”? Typically I find we don’t. We like it, we applaud it, but we hope it doesn’t get in the way.

3. We like team guys who lead.
I watched this world class athlete who had just loss put aside his own grief long enough to comfort guys who may well get a second and even third chance at this tournament. This was a captain leading his men even after the battle was finished.

How many leaders in business have you seen take that approach? We more often see them focused on responsibility and blame for the loss. How do we instill not only this level of teamwork, but leadership in our people?

I wonder who we’ll see emerge from the Olympic games in a few weeks time. I wonder what lessons we’ll be able to take away from these games about how to create more passion, more life, in our work environments.

How much of this connection to class, leadership, and a connection to something bigger is cultural? Do you think it is the same for people outside the US?

What’s the Difference Between Life and Sports?

I’m bummed.

Last weekend the Broncos lost, which I thought might happen anyway, but tonight the 49ers lost. I really though they had a shot at winning it all.

I grew up rooting for the 49ers. I’ve personally known some of the players. I DJed a couple team parties back in the day. I’m bummed. And that has made me wonder…

How is it that we can get SO passionate about a team, or a single game, or a season and we rarely experience that kind of passion in the rest of life? Allow me to share a couple observations:

1. Sports span a wide emotional gamut.
There are studies that show that fans actually like games better when there is a chance their team could lose. Blows out are humdrum either way. If we blow out the opponent that’s nice, if we get blown out that’s too bad, but if the game is close our elation of depression are much more deeply felt.

We’re emotional beings so that range of emotions is intoxicating. Threat, risk, despair, hope, anticipation, elation…they’re all there. We like the emotional ride.

2. Faster team sports generate bigger emotions
I don’t have any science on this, I just think it is true. You don’t see fans of individual sports like golf or tennis go as crazy as soccer, hockey, or football fans. I would contend that baseball fans are less crazy too, except perhaps on a hot afternoon when there has been a lot of beer consumed.

We’re social beings made to be in relationship. Team sports are about relationship and interdependence and team work. We love it when all the parts click and wish we could be a cog in that well honed relational mechanism.

3. Sports require split second decision making.
This plays into why faster sports spawn bigger emotions. It is also why soccer fans pick on football fans and football fans pick on baseball fans…the amount of relative dead space in their games. This need for instant decision mixes physical, cognitive, and intuitive skills in an oft times artistic mix that amazes us when it all comes together.

We’re creative beings. When adrenaline courses through our veins our cognitive and physical functions work at max capacity and we are at our most creative. We not only love to feel it, we love to see it in others.

So if that’s how we’re wired why isn’t day to day life more like that?

Probably because we spend a large proportion of our time at work!

1. The workplace engages fewer emotions.
At work we’re asked to operate predominantly out of our brain, sitting on our butt. Emotions are against company policy to a large extent. It’s not: go big or go home, it’s: go big? and we’ll send you home. We’re asked to dial back the range and the volume on every emotion. We must be in control.

2. “Teamwork” takes on a different connotation.
We may be “team players” or “individual contributors” but we rarely, if ever, find ourselves in a place where teammates must connect one after another like a quarterback getting time in the pocket and completing a pass.. (I’ve never worked on an assembly line but I do wonder if it feels more like a team in that setting.)

3. Decisions are generally made over time
…and then second guessed, and then changed. Sports contests are confined to 90 minutes, or nine innings, or the couple hours it takes to play four quarters. Sales cycles are days, weeks, months or sometimes even years. Product life cycles are even longer.

What if we allowed emotional expression in the work place without fear of reprisal? What if we created teams that had to consistently connect the dots one after the other? What if we set up cycle times that put teams in a position to have to do that daily, or even before lunch time?

Would we find ourselves being as passionate about work as we are about sports? And if we were…what might we accomplish?

What can you do to bring the fan experience more realistically into your workplace?