Cool fall days, the roar of the crowd, the smell of barbecues at the back door of the parking lot. If you still can’t tell, I’m a soccer fanatic. I love the game, from my days playing high school, to watching my favorite teams, training and watching my two sons, I love everything related to soccer.
So it’s no wonder you see so many similarities between the way a great soccer team works and a great business. Soccer is the best team game and successful businesses don’t succeed without great teamwork. Let’s look at five ways you can make your business run like the most successful soccer teams.
No football team, college or professional, gets anywhere on the field without first putting together a roster of top talent. Isaac Cheifetz, in “NFL Hiring Secrets,” notes that on every NFL football team, management must know what the “true duties” of each position are. Usually it involves a variety of skills and behaviors. For example, a quarterback must have great composition, conscientiousness, and be calm under pressure. Likewise, in the business world, a star salesperson must have great tenacity, communication skills and professionalism.
Let’s compare the way the best college and professional football teams select talent for their roster with the way your company selects its talent. Professional soccer teams in particular, subject potential employees to thorough analysis and measurement in every way. Not only do they measure physical attributes or experience, but they spend hours and hours interviewing candidates, their former coaches, teammates, and others who provide relevant information about their past behavior and performance.
How much time do you spend selecting new employees for your business? I am sure you are interviewing and checking qualifications. But are you really digging into what makes them better or worse than other candidates? How long are your interviews? What evaluation tools do you use to confirm your interview findings? How do you measure fit with your culture and environment?
Several years ago, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conducted a study on the habits of most hiring managers. They found that in a large majority, more than 65%, hiring decisions occurred in the first 4.3 minutes of an interview. They also found that only 11% of these hires lasted more than 6 months with the company. It’s not a great track record.
Soccer is the best teamwork game. No other game I’ve played before has relied so heavily on each player on the field. Everyone has to do their part in an exceptional way to be successful. Even the most physically gifted running back or quarterback can’t do well with an offensive line that takes too many plays, or just doesn’t feel like working today.
I have been fortunate to be able to coach youth soccer for many years, starting with children as young as eight. It never fails that after the first game, the two or three players who actually moved the ball into the end zone for a touchdown immediately feel like they suddenly did it all themselves. That doesn’t work very well on my teams and they soon realize that they didn’t come alone. Touchdowns happen because of the eleven men on the field (twelve if you play Canadian soccer).
How similar are our businesses? Do the salespeople who close the big sales really get there on their own? What about the great work that marketing or outstanding customer service reps are doing? And don’t forget about the production departments or engineers creating and producing quality materials that generate great word of mouth for the sales team.
The best soccer teams are those that have a lot of depth in their key positions. When a star player is injured or traded, they have premium talent ready to step up and take their turn as a hero.
A great example of this is the Houston Texans of the NFL. During the 2011 season, they had to deal with a season-ending injury to their All-Pro quarterback. This was bad, but they were lucky to have an extremely capable second-row quarterback with a lot of talent and great command of their offense. Three-quarters of the way through the next game, the second-row quarterback also missed with a season-ending injury. However, due to the tremendous visibility from team management, the Texans had recruited a rookie quarterback who was ideal to lead the team’s offense and they were able to not only make the playoffs for the first time, but also win. the franchise’s first playoff game. .
Your company must also expect who will be able to step up and perform key functions within your organization. Hopefully you won’t lose anyone to injury, but what about retirement, health issues, turnover, and other changes? You can do a better job of determining what talents and skills your current employees have and how they will be used in the future. Establish mentoring programs that transfer the knowledge and experience of your key players to those who have the raw materials for future success.
Strong leadership is a vital part of any successful soccer team. Every successful team has several key “field generals” that keep the team moving in the right direction. In fact, soccer teams always have half a dozen or more captains who act as leaders on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. When I think of leaders on the soccer field, I think of Peyton Manning, Ray Lewis, Dan Marino, Mike Singletary, and Warren Moon. Not only did each of these players lead during games, they were known to inspire their teammates to practice harder, study harder, and give their all in every situation. But never, nobody surpassed them. They always led by example.
Your managers and supervisors are the captains of your business. How committed are they to the success and long-term future of your business? In fact, there are no other positions in your company that affect the retention and development of high-performing employees more greatly than managers and supervisors. People leave people, not companies, and your internal leaders are key to attracting and retaining the kind of employees you need. As we talked about recruiting earlier, even the best recruiting efforts will be destroyed by poor leadership.
Which brings us to our last point. Top soccer teams have powerful coaches and are constantly teaching and learning. The unexpected success of this year’s Super Bowl champion, the New York Giants, shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as it sounds. Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is one of the consummate masters of the game. He is known as someone who is completely dedicated to his players, helping them learn and develop their skills to the fullest.
How interested are we in our employees as business owners or executives? Are we consumed with trying to help them improve their skill and ability or just doing the moves? Our key players will know. They will know if we are truly committed to helping them learn and develop their talents for their good and the good of the business. Great coaches understand that it has to contain elements of both. Great leaders and managers seek a win-win approach to learning and development.
Like soccer, business is a team sport. The goal is to do more together than we could on our own and harness the talents of employees for the benefit of customers, owners and shareholders alike. And just like in soccer, when a team meets in the boardroom, everything becomes more fun. Hard work, long hours, pain and suffering make for a pleasant experience in the field with a group that you have joined and that you enjoy being with. Wouldn’t it be great if every day at work was like this too?