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Senior Correspondent

With fall approaching, I started thinking about sports and teams. Baseball is winding down, the NFL is just starting, and hockey is right around the corner.

As we coach work teams and individual leaders, we borrow practices and analogies from sports teams whenever appropriate. Many of us enjoy watching sports of all kinds at all levels. We have noticed that sports work. Our work teams do not necessarily work as well. And, we wonder why work teams cannot take a few lessons from sports teams. Here are a few of our favorites:

– People generally want to be on sports team.
– There are clear and shared goals for the game.
– Players always know the score.
– Performance statistics are kept and published. It is understood that improving the stats will improve team's performance.
– There are well defined roles for the game. Players are placed in roles for which they are most talented.
– There are a clear set of rules for the game, and a clear set of consequences.
– It takes self discipline and team discipline to win.
– The sports team trains and practices, before competing.
– The sports team takes timeouts and re-groups, as needed.
– A sports team has a head coach and specialty coaches.
– Teamwork is built upon trust and respect.
– Sports teams understand who their true competitor is, and focus their competitive energy on external competitors.
– Sports teams have their ups and downs, but the good ones, like our Cardinals, celebrate the ups and problem solve the downs, maintaining a natural focus on continuous improvement.
– Team spirit is palatable. Think, "rally squirrel"… or… cat.
– Conflict and change are inevitable and generally produce higher levels of performance.
– Everyone likes to win and knows what it takes to win.

If you have gotten this far, I can just hear the "yes, buts" kicking in. Work is not a game. Is it really practical to take lessons from sports team and apply them to work teams?  

What do you have to lose? Or, better yet, what do you have to gain? Continuously improving teamwork in the workplace naturally leads to improvements in quality, safety, productivity, work processes, reduction of waste and customer loyalty. 

It starts with being willing to take a timeout to assess the performance of your team.

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