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Teamwork at work and sports teams, a closer look.

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

So much depends on effective teamwork but not all teams are the same!


Much of our work is focused on teams, teamwork and helping clients create the conditions

within which high performance teamwork is more the rule then the exception. Organizations

are complex systems and not all team models fit every organization, department or situation

equally. Team sports are complex systems as well, they come in several varieties and we can

learn a lot about how to fine tune and or retool teamwork in business by looking at team sports.


When I prepare for teambuilding with a client I listen to understand the type and quality of teamwork that is in operation and the type and quality of teamwork that is preferred / required. This helps me and the client better understand where the opportunities are, how to purpose the teambuilding as well as the system, process and leadership adjustments required to change and sustain improved and or different teaming.


Organized team sports encompass activities such as recruitment, talent development,

strategizing/planning, goal setting, scorekeeping & performance measurement, coaching/leadership, roles/responsibilities/assignments, feedback, penalties, fines, lessons learned, etc. While these activities are constant across sports teams (and organizations) they can purposed to support three significantly different forms of teamwork (Robert Keidel, Game Plans, E.P. Dutton, New York, 1985);

Situational teamwork (baseball model)

Systematic teamwork (football model)

Spontaneous teamwork (basketball model)


Below are some key differentiators between these three team archetypes.


‣ A. Situational / Baseball. The nature of this game (baseball) is that members don't all get involved in any continuous or systematic way as player interaction in baseball is situational and "rule-based". Helping members understand what their part is/could be in key/unique situations is critical to success. Staffing for specific and or differentiated skills / levels of proficiency is critical to success. Getting the best players is a main focus. While most

players bat, field and throw, more is made of the differences in player skill sets and skills are

viewed as specific and linked closely to position play (first base vs second). Members are

spread out physically and of all the sports the need for interdependence, unit cohesion, trust, rapport and compatibility between members is lowest- these teams can perform rather well despite neutral or lack of cohesion. "Bad" team players are often tolerated. While there is an overall team score and scorekeeping, this game's key performance indicators (kpi's) are heavily slanted toward individual metrics and statistics.


‣ B. Systematic / Football. The nature of football is that members belong to system of

interdependent sub-teams and success requires coordination of these sub-teams to execute

a strategy/game plan. Developing and executing plans is the main focus. Helping members

understand and execute plans as well as understand their role within and between work

groups is important. Sub groups are defined by players with similar capabilities, skills and

disposition. Combined capabilities are as important as individual skills. For success, unit cohesion at the whole team level can be moderate but unit cohesion at the sub-team level should be high. "Bad" team players are sometimes tolerated. While there is an overall team score and scorekeeping, this game also balances sub team kpi's with individual performance statistics. In-process and during-game metrics / performance indicators (score, time, down, distance, time of possession, etc.) play a major role in motivating and directing the team's efforts.


‣ C. Spontaneous / Basketball. The nature of basketball is that members are engaged in fluid and spontaneous interactions. Helping members build relationships, interact fluidly and member-to-member compatibility is a main focus. Compared to the other sports, the court of play is small, members can see each other at all times and peer-to-peer "awareness" is important. The need for member compatibility and unit cohesion is strongest in this type of team. "Bad" team players are not tolerated and to be avoided. All players posses similar skill sets; dribble, pass, shoot, play offense and defend. While there is a team score and scorekeeping, this game also has a focus on individual member statistics, including assists.


Application Questions.

1. Where in your organization do you need which type of teamwork? How does the focus, scorekeeping and coaching need to shift to optimize this type teamwork?

2. Which description sounds most like the team you lead or belong to? Do you need to improve (become a better baseball team) or shift (go from playing baseball to playing basketball) your teaming?

3. What are the different coaching models or styles for these team types and how could you become a better coach to your team?