The similarities between businesses and sports are more than skin deep, says Daniel Leidl, a business and leadership consultant who has a Ph. D. in sports psychology. They're both about winning and they're both obsessed with metrics and detail.
Leidl and fellow sports psychologist Joe Frontiera are the managing partners of Meno Consulting, a firm that specializes in team and leadership development. They have distilled five years of research on business, government and sports teams in their new book, "Team Turnarounds" (Jossey-Bass, 2012), which explores what it takes to get a failing team back on track.
They spoke with CEOs, frontline managers, governors, and owners and general managers and coaches in the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association.
When it comes to business and sports, "the intersection is very robust," Leidl told BusinessNewsDaily. "There are a lot of similarities between the two. I think that business can learn a lot from sports and vice versa."
He and Frontiera determined that six stages of development were common among all the teams across every sector that did a 180-degree turn from failure to success.
These organizations led past losing, committed to growth, changed behaviors, embraced adversity, achieved success and nurtured a culture of excellence.
Leidl recently discussed those stages and the importance of shared goals.
Working side by side
The commonalities that bind business and sports include a focus on goals and performance, a strong ethos of accountability, and well-defined standards.
"In both worlds you look at groups of people trying to achieve goals," he said. "And they have to operate and work together in an effort to ultimately achieve their goals and be successful. To a large extent that's not unique, but it feels unique. That concept is sometimes eye-opening to people—we're trying to work side by side so we all can win."
In sports, the scoreboard and the standings provide unambiguous signals when a team needs to undertake a turnaround. However, "with business it's not as clear-cut that a turnaround is needed," Leidl said. "It's not as clear as winning or losing. Oftentimes we have metrics available to us where we can see that we're not winning. There are a lot of metrics we can use to measure our progress and our success, though. People as often as not know if they're hitting their numbers."
People also know if they're struggling. And there's the intangible element of employees and customers not being satisfied, he said.
"If you see over a period of time an increase in customer complaints, there might be a need to start to look inside and start to work to get better."
Your team doesn't have to be in last place or have the smallest market share to enter the turnaround cycle, Leidl said.
"Organizations do not necessarily start at stage one," he said. "They might enter the process where they have been successful in the past and they want to get back to some of the success they saw a few years ago. Or they might want to achieve some goals that have always been out on the horizon that they never put all their resources into achieving. You can also be a successful company that wants to re-evaluate what it means to be successful."
The recognition that you're doing as well as possible can be a defining moment for any organization, Leidl said. But to move past that realization and regain that start-up feeling , companies and teams need to wrap their arms around whatever adversity they face.
"If you want to reset the clock, you're going to have to accept and embrace where you struggle," he said. "You're going to have to accept and embrace where you failed."
The key factor in moving the organizations from here to there and achieving success, whether in business or sports, is setting a new vision – setting a North Star for the group, Leidl said. And the more conviction behind the vision, the more apt people are to get on board. But you can't gin up that conviction; it has to be genuine.
Aiming for the Super Bowl
"You genuinely have to be able to walk into the organization and truly believe we can win a Super Bowl," he said. "At a certain point in the organization's trajectory, you have to get to the place where it has the confidence that it can overcome any challenges that will come its way. And in the process, it truly starts to embrace challenges and recognize that the challenges in front of it are meant to test it. And these tests essentially serve as a measuring stick."
Above all else, the leader behind of vision must be all in, Leidl said. There is no place for half-measures; you do have to sweat the small stuff. Leidl cites the example of Marilyn, the owner of a diner in Chester, N.J., profiled in "Team Turnarounds." The owner's attention to detail served as an example for her entire staff.
"You have to truly believe you can change people's lives by serving them warm toast," he said. "That sounds trite to some people, but it's not trite to the people involved in that process. It's an eternal process of being a cheerleader and rallying the troops and getting them excited about what they're doing. When you look at people who are generally successful in what they do, you'll notice there is a focus and attention to the details."