What Sports Doesn’t Teach Us About Winning

basketballI started this post back in January, but just realized I never published. Hope you still enjoy…

I’m at a basketball tournament in Kearney, NE this weekend where my son’s team is getting hammered by the competition. It’s not their fault really. There are a number of reasons they don’t play well (which I won’t go into here), but needless to say, their coach has a very difficult job ahead of him as we look towards two more difficult games tomorrow. It reminded me of a very important principal we should apply to our projects and other organizational initiatives: How do we define winning?

The goal of a sporting event is usually evident to all of the participants (i.e., spectators, players and coaches). Sports are usually made up of winners and losers as measured by score, time, distance or finish line. In the real world, wins and loses may not be so obvious (even in sales, which is more blood sport than most business areas). As a project manager, I often find that the project participants start out with differing assumptions about the goals and objectives of a particular initiative. Unless project leaders take care to define project goals, the team will have no hope of measuring wins and loses, successes and failures.

As most project managers know, the key to success is setting measurable goals. It’s not enough to just have goals, but those goals need to be SMART. They also need to be in alignment with a vision for the project, team, division or organization. Ideally, our goals should allow us to get at least part way towards realizing our vision. One of the best methods I’ve used for goal development is to lay out the vision and allow the team to come up with the goals. Not only is this a phenomenal way come up with realistic goals (since the team probably understands how to get there better than you do), but you are also communicating those goals with team and getting buy-in all at the same time.

As for my son’s team, coach better figure out how to get that team focused on the little goals that lead to wins. If those boys can improve their rebounding, turnover ratio, shots in the paint and free throws, they will have concrete measures of progress and success. If, however, they stay focused on the more “obvious” goal reflected on the scoreboard, it’s going to be a very long weekend indeed.