Spring is here. It is finals time for some of our elite sports. I am an AFL fan and I love this time of the year. The entire season has been building to this point and for many clubs the season is over. For the teams that remain in the finals, the end of the season is imminent. Ultimately, one club will be the premier and reign supreme and to the victor go the spoils. To all other clubs, it is another season of regrets and missed opportunities. Questions abound about what it might have been if only this or that happened? Clubs review their year’s performance and take action to overcome what is missing. How can we apply the learning from elite sport to elevate performance in our own teams and organisations?

Has The Coach Lost The Players?

A question that frequently comes up for clubs, especially those that under-performed based on their players’ talent and expectations, is has the coach lost the players? Elite sporting teams recognise the necessity and importance of the coach having the players behind them. Without the full support and total buy in of the players the team’s performance is compromised. At the elite level, a drop in performance by only 1 or 2 percent could be the difference between winning and losing. Professional sport is all about winning and a coach deemed to have lost their players is quickly moved out and replaced. The same applies in the workplace. A leader that has lost the support of their team will struggle to motivate and empower them to succeed.

Relationships Overcome The Game Plan

Legendary AFL coach, Kevin Sheedy, shared in a 2019 interview his view on the key to coaching. “You need to be a storyteller, it’s not just about tactics or the talent, it’s about how you handle people.” Brett Ratten, the AFL coach of St Kilda reinforces this view. In an interview in 2019 he was asked to comment on the relationship between the coach and his players. Ratten commented that it is not the game plan that counts, it is the relationships with their players that’s most important. “Even the best game plan won’t work if the coach has lost the players.”

Elite coaches understand this. Adam Simpson, the 2018 AFL premiership coach of the West Coast Eagles, shared recently that in early 2018 he went out of his way on a trip to Melbourne to visit the dying father of Tom Cole, one of his young players, at his home in Bendigo, Victoria. Former AFL player, Andrew Krakouer, told a similar story about his coach, the late Danny Frawley, who visited his dad in jail. These stories highlight the extraordinary lengths that elite coaches will go to to build and nurture their relationships with their players. They do this because they understand that relationship building impacts the performance of their team.

Performance Is All About The Relationship

What lessons can we learn from elite sport and apply to the performance of our own team or organisation? In elite sporting teams, when performance is missing, it is typically the coach that is sacked and replaced. By contrast, in business, when performance is missing, a worker is more likely to be replaced or undergo ‘performance management’ rather than have their needs attended to or have their relationship nurtured by a line manager. Unfortunately, performance management often does more harm than good. It fractures relationships and ultimately may reduce performance even further.

We’ve all heard Peter Drucker’s quote “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” But what is culture? Ultimately, culture is the relationships that exist between people within our organisations. The question is, are the relationships collaborative and supportive or competitive and divisive? If you want to positively impact your culture, start by taking an interest in your people and elevate the nature and quality of your relationships.

Are you a leader and do you want to increase the performance of your team or your organisation? What lengths are you willing to go to? Are you willing to do what our elite sporting coaches do? Are you willing to go the ‘extra mile’ for a member of your team? Would you visit a sick family member of one of your staff or visit one of their family members in jail? My challenge to you is this, start growing and nurturing your relationships and see how the performance around you unfolds.

Does this resonate with you? Do you want to elevate your performance? Contact me today to unlock your leadership and empower the people around you by building and nurturing strong relationships with them.