What lessons can we learn in business from the world of professional sports?


Hi there. Russell Stratton, President and Leadership Champion with Bluegem Learning. I work with organizations just like yours to help managers be even better at managing individual and team performance to get you the business results that you need.

Now, like many of you, I'm a big sports fan, and one of the things that got me thinking recently was what lessons can we draw from the sports world that can be applicable in business. And in thinking about this for a while, I came down to four things that are worth us thinking about slightly differently.

The first one was that systems and structure often outweigh the benefits of individual talents.

Now, that can seem a little bit like heresy. If you've got the greatest player in the league, why are you not the greatest team? But as often we've seen in sports across the world, whether it's hockey, whether it's soccer, the team with the best player doesn't necessarily mean that they're the most successful team.

What does work is having the system and structure in place. Teams that have a clear way of playing, and an understanding and can systematically repeat this again and again and again are likely to be more effective on the long term than a team that are relying on one player's mercurial talent, no matter how good it is.

And that's the same in business. You might have one really good team member, but if you can't systemize what they do and how the rest of your team can perform at a similar level and have the structure in place to do that, then you're not going to be that successful.

What happens if that person is away on leave, or vacation? What do we do then? Are other people able to step up into their shoes and fill their place in the system?

Second point, linked to that, was about flexibility.

Sports teams often find that they might have a preferred way of playing, but it doesn't mean they have the same way of playing game after game, regardless of the opponent. Sometimes we need to bear in mind who the opponent is, and what the conditions are. If we're playing a sport that's played outdoors, there could be a difference between playing in the summer and playing in the winter. Anybody playing in the CFL would recognize that. A game played in July could be very different to a game being played in November, and we have to be flexible and adapt what we do.

And the same in business. We can't just have Plan A, and that's what we go with, regardless, over and over again, because what happens if things change? What happens if the context changes for what we're doing? What happens if the customer requirements change, or the people that we have in our team? We need to have a Plan B, and sometimes even a Plan C, so that we can be flexible and change things up when we need to.

The third thing that we learned from sports was that the idea that pressure is natural, and it's with us all the time.

Sports stars often talk about pressure being part and parcel of the game. You can't avoid this, regardless of what level people are playing at. If we look at our elite stars playing in some of our top professional leagues, there is pressure for them to perform all the time. If they can't learn how to deal with the pressure, they're not gonna be as effective as they could be.

And, again, it's similar in the workplace. There are always going to be pressures for us, whether it's time pressures to get a project done for a client, whether it's financial pressures to get in under budget, or whether it's just a case of managing absences and trying to our team together to be able to get the job done, it's gonna create pressure of its own.

Now, most companies have got health and wellness programs. I would encourage people to look into that. How can we actually find that we can de-stress, and how can we help our managers and teams be able to deal with the pressure that little bit better? And perhaps that will be a topic of another vlog session for you.

And, finally, we've got our point in here thinking about belief.

The best sports stars always understand that belief is key. You have to believe that you can do it. In some ways, you have to put to one side the doubters who tell you that you won't make it. Professional sports is littered with examples of people who were told they weren't good enough, but still came through and had highly successful careers, and the same could be true for us in business. Don't be too quick to take the voice from the doubters who say "That isn't gonna work. We don't do it like that. No one's ever done it like that before."

If we truly believe that we can do something that's gonna be different, that's gonna have a positive impact for our customers and clients, then we should go ahead and do it. That doesn't mean that we're being reckless, but we have to believe in our ability and the ability of our team to get things done.

So, don't listen to that negative voice on your shoulder. If you believe it can be done, go for it.

Well, I hope you found those musings interesting. If you'd like to find out a little bit more about what I do, then click on the link below to bluegemlearning.com, and I'll speak to you soon.

#leadership #management #business #performancemanagement #changemanagement #creativity

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"Bluegem Learning & Development and Corporate Culture Shift have presented two very effective and interactive workshops with our organization. Their comedic and engaging presentation style in the ‘Managing the Unmanageable’ workshop has left a lasting impression on our staff. I highly recommend this workshop if you are looking for a valuable, cost effective customer service training option."

- Jeff Gerestein, City of Brooks

"Russell produced a highly engaging HR programme that reflected our organisational issues. He is without doubt an outstanding training deliverer, challenging managers to address what can be difficult HR issues. I highly recommend Russell, and would always seek to engage Russell on future learning development opportunities."

- Sharon Gartland, DSG Consultancy Services

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Russell Stratton

Leadership Champion

RUSSELL STRATTON is an international Leadership Expert, Professionally Certified Trainer and Coach, with a Masters Degree in Human Resource Management. He is co-author of the book 'I Need to F@#king Talk To You - The Art Of Navigating Difficult Workplace Conversations'.


He is a Master Facilitator for Bluegem Learning's ground breaking "Leadership Success" workshop series - providing a practical toolkit for building engagement and improving individual and team performance. Using live actors in a stop/start forum theatre approach and a combination of dynamic experiential learning techniques, participants come away with a greater ability to actually perform better as employees and leaders in your organization.


He is an accomplished management education, learning & development professional with a proven track record of working with clients in the public, voluntary and private sectors to achieve lasting, measurable step changes in business performance.


Russell works internationally with a wide range of organizational cultures and with all levels from front line customer facing staff to executive management boards. Having worked as both a Personnel Manager and Operational Manager he works at both strategic and tactical levels.

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