Building a winning team: What HR can learn from sport

Some of the principles that guide the most successful athletes and teams can form the foundations of an effective workforce. Sport is a wonderful educator and HR can learn much from it. Whether it's building a productive team environment or creating the right company ethos, winning habits transcend all walks of life.

Through promoting a common set of values, which individuals are able to identify with, true potential is unleashed. People can achieve extraordinary results if their mentality is right. In football the shared vision of the club can accomplish this. My current team, Fleetwood Town, are a club that has amassed a world-record six promotions in the past 10 years. Ambition and daring to be different is what has made this a reality.

Likewise, a business must inspire through the shared vision of the organisation. If employees can consistently believe in and be proud of what they represent then the boundaries of possibility are endless. It is up to HR and line managers to clarify and communicate this message.

Strong and innovative management is necessary, but the best leaders will understand the importance of teamwork. Of course it is vital to excel on an individual basis, but any long-term success will be determined by an ability to interact and form positive relationships with those around you.  

One manager I worked with would often say that 'the chain is as strong as its weakest link'.  Effective leadership will ensure that the needs of each team member are catered for, and that every contribution is recognised for its own merit. This enables the individual to comprehend the role they have played in achieving the collective goal.  

A manager’s ability to motivate and retain the best talent has become just as important as attracting it in the first place. Research from Investors in People found 80% of staff cite their manager as the cause of their engagement or disengagement. Football is no different and I have been fortunate to work with managers who have inspired – but also those that have been fired. When the team aren't engaged there sometimes is no alternative. 

This is why it is not always possible to be so optimistic. Adversity will affect everyone at some point, and any team will need to overcome losses. Therefore the need to react quickly and turn negative experiences into positive action is essential. Self-doubt can never overtake self-belief. It can be a difficult learning curve but in the lowest moments the greatest amount of personal and collective growth can occur. 

This is when true leaders show their worth and inspire those around them to follow their example. The challenge in any difficult period is to see it as an opportunity to grow. The team that is able to do so will gain an inner strength that only shared experience can provide. It is up to HR to help build this type of culture, so that managers ensure their teams do not dwell on setbacks, but use them as part of the business's evolution. 

Team spirit is the same whether it is in a changing room or the office. A united front will not guarantee victory but it's a fantastic place to start. The strongest environments I have seen have been with teammates I would put my body on the line for, because I knew they were prepared to do exactly the same for me.

Only effective management can cultivate this level of cohesion. Would you describe the leaders and culture of your organisation in a similar fashion? If it’s not winning on the pitch, it may be time to consider a substitution.

Mark Roberts is a professional footballer. He plays as defender for Fleetwood Town, a league one team