Leading Teams: Tools and Techniques for Successful Team Leadership from the Sports World

By Paolo Guenzi & Dino Ruta

Sport can use some managerial know-how, and managers have a lot to learn from the world of sport. Below, Paolo Guenzi and Dino Ruta offer a scheme to link sport characteristics and business variables, discovering how team management models typically used in traditional businesses can be found in or transferred to sports teams, and vice versa.

Integrating sport and management perspectives

Why another book on Team Leadership? Because managers have a lot to learn from the world of sport. Most books on this topic are based on the experience of individual coaches or offer a compendium of experiences and quotes from various coaches, but they make no reference to the immense store of knowledge on leadership, team leadership, coaching and management in general. Why waste this priceless inheritance? Our challenge was to merge the empirical/anecdotal viewpoint that springs from the experiences in the field by leaders in team sports with a more ‘scientific’ perspective based on research carried out in academic and managerial contexts. First of all, we systematically compare and contrast the worlds of sport and business, to avert any inappropriate comparisons and highlight the conditions that enable managers to make useful ones instead. The sports context is often used as a powerful analogy for analysing and interpreting teamwork, motivation, and leadership, with professional sports coaches held up as role models for managers. But it’s not always advisable to take principles, models, and best practices from the world of sports and apply them to business. Any comparison with the world of sports, if applied inappropriately, can lead to mistakes and end up being ineffective or even counterproductive. Transposing concepts and managerial models from professional sports teams to business teams can and should be done, but only to the extent to which the teams in both contexts are alike, sharing similar goals and tasks, and having similar structures and methods of operation. Successful leadership models in sports can be used in business contexts, keeping in mind that the greater the similarity between the specific sports and business teams the more expedient this transposition will be. We argue that managers who look to sports for useful tips to apply to their business should think carefully about which particular sport would best serve as their model. We identify six typical models of sports characterised by different levels and forms of interdependence and suggest the types of corporate settings that are most similar to them. We also explain how the degree and type of interdependence among team members affect team processes and ultimately team leadership. In fact, team performance is determined by team processes, which are shaped largely by the team leader’s characteristics, competencies, and behaviours. Then we give an overview of current thinking on leadership in general and team leadership in particular, to build a solid methodological foundation that can serve as a framework for interpreting our interviews with the coaches.

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