Business Success Through Sports Analogies

Matt Havens Business Sports Analogies Article

During a recent conversation with a mentor of mine, I was discussing a project we just completed and going through some self-reflection on how the project went. Did we accomplish our goal? Why/why not? If given the opportunity again, would I do it any differently? On this particular project, I wasn’t satisfied with the result, and (let’s get real for a moment, I’m not ashamed to admit this) I didn’t think the result – or lack thereof – was my fault. There. I said it. It wasn’t my fault. I did my part, but some of the other parties involved in the project dropped the ball*.

We’ve all been there before – and we’ve also all been on the other side of the coin*, too. I’ve failed many times in my career and in my personal life. I’ve been a ball dropper before. But all of us will occasionally be confronted with moments where it was someone else – or a group of people – who had their “drop the ball” moment, and how we respond is critical to our own growth.

In my case, I was debating with my mentor about the role of leadership in these situations. In leadership, you aren’t privy to every conversation or every minute detail. You can’t DO everything yourself. I had to delegate some of the work and let our team carry out the vision or goal, if for nothing else than their own personal development. But as a leader, how do you balance the desire to get your hands dirty and also recognize when you’re overstepping your boundaries and micro-managing a project to death? These were the types of questions my mentor and I were discussing when he hit me with one of those great sports analogies: Do you trust your teammates to make the block?

His point was simple. Pick any team sport you want – with the exception of doubles tennis. (Which shouldn’t exist, by the way. That court is way too small for 4 people and a tennis balls flying around at 100 mph.) In my case, my mentor was referencing football. On the offensive line, you’ve got 5 players trying to keep the defense from sacking the quarterback. Each lineman has his person to block. And you can do everything right as an individual, but if a teammate misses his or her assignment, it’s going to be all for naught.

What my mentor was getting at was related to how to build trust. Unless you’ve been working with someone for 20 years, it’s very likely you might have some hesitancy in relinquishing complete control of a project or task. Unfortunately, you might not always have a choice. You might be forced to relinquish control due to time or resource constraints. And these are the moments where you have to trust your teammates to make their blocks.

So what do you do if you don’t have the trust built yet? Well, here are a few things I learned about building a stronger sense of trust in working relationships:

More frequent interaction.

Trust is built over time and often AFTER you’ve seen someone produce consistent results. But it can also be sped up by frequently communicating. Find opportunities to connect more often with new business partners and you’ll speed up the time it takes to build trust.

Be intentional with delegated responsibilities on new projects.

Whether you’ve assigned responsibility to a teammate or an outside party, ask specific questions about the project to gain insight into the project’s progress. For example:

When is the last time you met with ______? What did you learn which is impacting the project?

What are some early results you think will come from the work?

Are you seeing any red flags*?

Are we going to meet the deadline and be ready to execute Day 1? Why or why not?

Don’t hesitate to speak up.

Your gut telling you something’s not right? Haven’t heard from the project team in too long? At the end of the day, you’ve got just as much skin in the game as anyone. There’s nothing wrong with asking for updates or a quick meeting directly from the source if you need a little more comfort to feel confident.

Give those ideas a try next project and I’m sure it will help make your result even stronger. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to play some doubles tennis with my wife. Because I love nothing more than being afraid for my life as a person 10 feet from me tries to impale me with hardened rubber. Have a great day!


*That’s sports analogy #1.

*Sports analogy #2, as long as you count slot machine poker as a sport.

*Yet another sports analogy – thanks, bullfighters!

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