Company Celebrations

Sport takes pole position in the world of business

The synergy between sport and business is often talked about, but just what do we understand by it and what, if anything, can business learn from sport?

At the recent IJL, star racing driver Alice Powell was on hand to talk to guests and customers on Pursuit Software’s stand. Aside from posting a lap time on the IJL Pursuit Grand Prix Scalextric Track, Alice was also talking about what it takes to be a top driver in the cut throat world of motor racing – and what it takes to be a winner.

Alice has competed and won at Formula 3 level and recently won the final round of the inaugural international W Series at Brands Hatch. The W Series is a championship exclusively for women drivers and, after a closely contested season, Alice finished an impressive third overall.

Tenacity, a will to win, ultra-competitiveness, drive and motivation – these are just some of the qualities displayed by Alice Powell and more generally attributed to successful sports people.The question is whether what happens on the sports field can really be transferred to the business world?

Sceptics would say that sport is an artificial arena, restricted and structured by rules and officials. There is a common, simple goal that everyone understands and is working towards. By contrast, the business world is far from straightforward. The nuances and complexities of the world away from sport surely means that sport’s input into business has to be restricted?

Many would say not. More and more, businesses are calling on successful sports people to add a little pizazz to their company. Whether it is employing an Olympian as a consultant on team building; engaging a sports star as a motivational speaker or bringing a retired sports person into the company as a full-time employee, there is a definite mindset that says sports people can add value to a business.

Let’s take a look at just a few examples of what sport can bring to the world of business.

If we focus on management level, two areas in which sport can offer its own perspective are culture change and people development. Within sport, coaches will often talk about changing the ‘culture of the dressing room’. England football coach Gareth Southgate has been notably successful at this as he seems to have changed the players’ mindset from one of individuality to a more collective responsibility. There are many business managers and industry leaders who would like to pick Southgate’s brain on how he has achieved change in a relatively short time.

When it comes to personal development, Great Britain Hockey provides some great examples, including taking the team to a military boot camp to develop leadership skills and resilience.

One area in which sport can really offer insight is that of performance. Feedback from a number of coaches suggest that performance is not merely about the individual or team who is ‘doing’, but also about the environment in which they are operating, particularly the constraints under which they operate.

Let’s look at practical examples.

Within a cycling team such as Sky, the cyclists are completely dependent upon the support team to achieve the target – a Tour win for example. If the support team falls short, by failing to get the nutrition correct or not being in the right place with the replacement bike, then the cyclist will not be able to perform at his or her best.

In the workplace, if the IT system is not performing at maximum efficiency; if the sales team is understaffed; if the car park is overflowing and staff are late to work – these are all factors that can impact performance.

On a more personal level, sports people can also help individuals identify and deal with stress. On the sports field or in the workplace, people can feel isolated, alone, and stressed. In both cases it is often difficult to identify friends and allies and that can elevate the feelings of stress.

Working with external or independent psychologists, sports people will often have discovered coping mechanisms that are invaluable to a person feeling stressed at work.

Leadership, team performance, group cohesion, motivation… the list of work-related issues that are mirrored in sport is endless. It may well be that sports people operate in a false and silo-ed environment but that doesn’t mean that, as business people, we can’t learn lots from them.