The perfect match: Seven tips for building effective teams

09 Jul 2020 · 4 min read
PMI’s former Ireland field hockey international gives her advice on building high-performing teams through effective leadership and teamwork. 
Nikki Symmons content planner global communications

Written by

Nikki Symmons, PMI Global Studio planner

Hands placed one on top of the other as a team would do

Sports analogies abound in the world of business—and for a reason. Sport has a clear objective: Winning. And a clear deadline, with the final whistle either a moment of elation, or of wondering what might have been.

In business, conditions may change, the pressure may rise and fall, and different approaches may prove more or less successful over time. Your colleagues, like sportspeople, must be quick on their feet, adjust to what’s around them, and work together to achieve success.

Does this mean that you should act like a sports coach? The short answer is yes. As a former international field hockey player, and EuroHockey Hall of Fame inductee, I’ve gained insights from the world of sport that fit the world of business like a glove. So here are my top seven tips on creating a team that wins every time:

(Image above. © Myak Homberger)

1) Be prepared, and ask for help

Think of life like being on a sports pitch: your teammates are passing you the ball, the opponents are pressing, the umpire watching, the bench screaming, the ball heading your way at 100 miles an hour. Your muscles ache and your heart is pounding. While all this is going on, you have to decide quickly. That’s why you should always be prepared, and train yourself to react quickly to the situation.

Also, it’s important to ask for help. Sometimes, things get so quick and intense, and the only thing you can do is ask for help. Don’t be afraid, your team will love to help. So, it’s a win-win.

2) Consider everyone’s unique skills

Just as in a sports team, you want a multi-skilled group who together can respond to anything, so consider the skills of those in your team, and note it down privately. Some of us are good at operational stuff, others are more creative, and that’s good because we have a variety of people who can jump in and help. Also, you need grinders, who keep on going non-stop. Of course, most of us are a blend of many skills, and we’re all adding to our skillsets. None of us should stand still and wait for the ball to come to us.

3) Be a compassionate leader

I had many coaches in my sports career, and worked with many leaders in my business career. A successful trait is calmness under pressure, and compassion when times are hard. A good leader knows what they want from you, but lets you do it. That’s trust, and it’s essential.

Embrace change. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes—it helps you to learn, as long as you put time aside to know why things didn’t work.

4) Build bridges

Your network is your wealth, you have to look after it, because you never know what’s going to happen. Even with people you may not naturally chime with, you have to find common ground, and build bridges. Tomorrow may bring a project where you’re working together, so you should be ready for that.

When our field hockey team was traveling the world, I always reached out to other teams to get to know them better, to create contacts, or to simply learn from them. I learned this from my grandfather, who had friends in every corner of the world. My advice is to talk to people, engage, be curious, surround yourself with people who know more than you—people make you better.

5) Be humble

The world of sports is a lesson in humility: no matter how good you become, you’ll always have to train every day, eight hours a day, six days a week to get better.

In a corporate environment, no matter how important you are, and how busy your day gets, you still are a human being, and you still have to learn things from your colleagues.

6) Listen to your team

Captains who issue strategies and bark orders never lasted long in the field, and they’re not welcome in business either. Even when you’re super-busy, time for your team is golden, and must not be squeezed into a weekly or monthly schedule. Value your team, and they’ll follow what they say.

I have to say that our Senior Management Team leads by example on this. For example, when we campaigned to support LGBTQ+ inclusion within our workforce by celebrating Pride month, they listened, and gave it their full backing. People value leaders that listen, and act on what they hear.

7) Make mistakes, but pause to learn from them

Playing safe is not always the most successful strategy. Embrace change. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes—it helps you to learn, as long as you put time aside to know why things didn’t work. Understand why things didn’t work, or reach out if you can’t see the reason.

Leadership, in the end, is having the ability to shift your energy and tempo while the ball is coming at you. You were not born knowing how to play the game, but you can train and cultivate this skill like a muscle. This will help you build the skills—in yourself and in your colleagues—that will allow you to become the dream team you always wanted to play for.

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(Top image. © Getty Images)