In my spare time I play in a variety of competitive recreational volleyball leagues, both indoors and out. I’ve found that there’s nothing like a good team sport to bring out my competitive nature – I am one of those people that really wants to win. I don’t want to win at all costs, I am a proponent of fair play mind you but I do get pretty worked up about losing a silly game. I think that is because my team can be quite good – when we aren’t beating ourselves.
I find that a lot of the same things that can go wrong on the volleyball court can go wrong in business as well.
1. Teammates don’t have their head in the game. Getting distracted is one of the quickest ways to a loss. A good example of this is when there is squabbling amongst team members. Worrying about who is wrong and who is right leads to nobody worrying about what needs to really get done to win. Having teams with conflicting goals or direction at work can cause similar issues. Everyone is just looking for a scapegoat to pin the blame on rather than solutions to business problems.
2. Always worrying about the competition. A few weeks ago we played a team that wasn’t playing by what we thought were the rules (they apparently had changed for our league but no one was notified). Our team got so worked up about this that our play suffered. Instead of focusing on our game, we focused entirely on them and what we thought they were doing wrong. This can happen with your business competition too. If you are always thinking about what your competition is working on you aren’t allowing yourself the ability to be creative. You are going to end up in a role where you’re always playing catchup instead of in a role where you’re leading the industry with innovative ideas.
3. Not worrying about the competition. You can take #2 too far. For instance in volleyball the lineup against your opponent is critical. If they have a very strong server you do not want your weakest serve receiver dealing with that serve. You also have to make sure that you have a nice big block up against their biggest hitter. Failing to pay attention to the competition means that there are times when they surprise you and you end up scrambling to keep up.
4. Putting people in positions for which they are not suited. This one can be taken so many different ways. If you have a well-oiled machine of a team you don’t want to add someone that is way out of your league to the roster. This goes in both directions. Adding someone who isn’t competent can cause injury. On the volleyball court this type of injury comes from being knocked over or being hit in the face when someone is out of position. At work that person can inflict damage when they attempt to take on a task that is completely out of their reach. The higher up in the organization this happens, the worse the consequences. Imagine taking on capital financing that cripples the organization because of how it is structured. That is much worse than a junior programmer who doesn’t understand coding standards. At the other extreme you have someone who is leaps and bounds more proficient than the rest of the team. At first glance this seems like a win. The problem is that unless the rest of the team can step up to their level in a relatively short period of time that new person will be frustrated. That person will end up leaving the team and they might just end up at your competition with a lot of inside knowledge about your organization and its weaknesses.