Churchill Consulting

What sport performance has in common with business

What sport performance has in common with business

  • Posted:
  • Category:Thought Leadership
  • Offering:Strategy
  • Industries:Business, Project and Change Management

Churchill consultant Bailey Banfield has played for the AFL’s Fremantle Dockers for the past five years, giving him a unique insight into the similarities between building high performing teams in sport, and in business.

Over the five years that I’ve been playing at AFL level for the Fremantle Dockers, I’ve learnt a considerable amount about how to create high-performing team and how they operate.

In AFL’s competitive environment, we’re always looking for small advantages in how we function as a team, both on and off the field, from our processes to how we communicate with each other, our culture, our work in the gym and everything in between.

Through my work at Churchill and our clients, what I’ve found is that high performing sports teams have much in common with high performing business or organisational teams, with the same key elements required to create, develop and manage them.

Photo: Bailey Banfield, ABC news

Unity of purpose

A high performing team requires everyone to tip in and be working in the same direction. This sounds simple, but there are challenges aligning individual purposes with the purpose of the broader team or organisation.

In footy, there’s 23 players that play every week, but over 40 players on the list, plus the footy department of coaches, medical staff, and the sports science team. The team’s goal is to win the premiership, but there can be competing individual concerns within that as well, particularly for the group who’s not currently playing – how is my form, how do I win back my spot in the team, how can I contribute if I’m injured?

These are normal and understandable thoughts for players. The challenge is getting everyone to continue working hard for the team, in the face of these conflicting thoughts, and over the course of a long season as the team and individual fortunes rise and fall.

Achieving this level of buy-in and commitment across the playing group is critical to overall success of the team.

The same is required within organisations, that might be dealing with extended transformational programs, or new or changing priorities.

For organisations, to get that kind of buy-in, you need to be clear on individual roles and how each role is contributing to the team. By clearly communicating the value that each team member has to the collective, and valuing each role, you incentivise and empower individuals to maximise their contribution to the team.

Clarity about direction

In business, another challenge is when there is a disconnect between team and individual goals, which can occur if the overarching goal of the organisation isn’t clear. Or maybe the target is clear, but there’s a lack of clarity surrounding the actions and behaviours required to get there.

Sports teams are usually very clear on the objective – to win, but may need to work on how to get there, week after week. Organisations face a larger challenge in ensuring that clarity is there.

Something Churchill helps clients with is translating an organisation’s vision and culture into working norms and behaviours through frequent and consistent communication of what those actions are and how they help to deliver on the organisational vision.

This clarity is vital to ensuring that everyone is on the same page and pulling in the same direction and maximising the individual and collective talents of the team.

Strong feedback loops

It’s not just about the big picture and direction of your organisation and team.
Like a team constantly improving in training sessions, how you optimise your daily operations and engage in cultural maintenance is just as important.

Strong relationships and constructive feedback are essential elements to helping us achieve this. The two are interconnected – stronger relationships lead to more effective feedback, and vice versa.
The relationships that you build within your team are vital and will help feedback flow up and down the chain, improving the team’s performance.

Feedback comes in different forms. On the footy field, feedback must be direct, clear, and easily actionable. Often, it is blunt and aggressive. However off the field, conversations tend to be significantly more measured, and discussion based.

Similarly, hallway discussions and formal meetings require different style and approach to feedback in a group setting compared to individually.

The strong relationships that you have with your team provides a foundation for these different styles of feedback to be given and received. This includes creating a level of comfort and understanding, allowing feedback to flow both ways when necessary, and keeping conversations focused on improvement, not on personal attacks or criticism.

Every high performing team is different

While unity, clarity and feedback are all fundamentals of a high performing team, my time at the Dockers and work with Churchill clients has shown me that every high performing team is also unique, to its organisation and mission.

They are constantly evolving and reflect the characteristics of both those who lead and are a part of the team.

This means that the approach to ensuring purpose, clarity and feedback needs to be refined to fit the circumstance – something Churchill excels in, with a bespoke rather than templated approach.

Finding the right way to develop that team is where the Churchill can be a great support. By using fit-for-purpose workshops, leadership coaching and communication strategies that align with your values, we help to build the right foundation for your organisation to develop a high performing team.

If your organisation could use some support in developing a high performing team or culture, get in touch at and we can discuss your needs.

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