Some people dislike sport. For others, too much is barely enough. But whether you’re screaming from the sidelines or sipping champagne at a gallery opening, sport has a lot to teach businesses about creating a positive, winning culture.
Sport is thrilling because it’s competition at its most extreme. There’s no dodging instant judgement. You either win, or you don’t.
To stay at the top of professional sport, everyone in and around the team must be the best at what they do and perform to their best on competition day. In the peak of motorsport, Formula 1, a tenth-of-a-second slip of a wheel gun can mean the end of a manufacturer’s multi-million-dollar campaign for the year.
Sport shows us what continuous improvement really looks like. World records are constantly being broken. Individual athletes are always striving for the tiniest edge, as are team doctors, physios, trainers, coaches and support staff.
Winning at sport takes planning, preparation, strategy, training, communication, selflessness, leadership, the best people, the best equipment, honesty, collaboration, empathy and of course, teamwork. So does winning at business. It doesn’t matter if you like it or not — you’re always in a race with industry competitors.
The X factor
There’s a mysterious X factor — also called a winning mindset — that can only be created by culture. It’s that special trust bubble between coaches and teams, leaders and staff, where the winning edge lives.
You may have been among the record-breaking 4.71 million Australians who watched Australia versus Canada in the Women’s World Cup.
Everything was against the Matildas. The match stood the risk of knocking the host nation out of the game. It followed a mediocre loss to Nigeria, just four days earlier. In addition, the team was without its captain and superstar striker, Sam Kerr. It was a high-pressure, nerve-jangling situation that could have ended in disaster.
Instead, the Matildas delivered one of the most electrifying performances in the history of Australian sport, smashing the Canadian team out of the World Cup, 4-0. It seemed like a completely different team to the one that had lost a few nights before.
How did that happen? Coach Tony Gustavsson knew. “We have something that no one can take away from the team. That’s their identity, DNA, belief.”
After years of preparation, training, strategising, performance evaluation, brutal selection and personal sacrifice, the Matildas’ 4-0 victory against Canada came down to one intangible factor — the X factor. The winning mindset.
“We thrive under pressure — it’s the Aussie mentality,” says Matilda, Alanna Kennedy.
You can’t see it, you can’t bottle it, but it can blast both sports teams and businesses to thrilling new heights; that showcase of self-belief, the ferocity of authenticity.
The X factor springs from culture. Leaders can’t demand a winning mindset but, like a super coach, they can create one.
Experts in workplace culture around the world agree on two things:
- There is a direct, quantifiable line between a great workplace culture and increased growth and profit (winning).
- Great workplace cultures are built on trust.
If trust flows both ways, leaders will trust staff to deliver their best performance, and staff will trust leaders to respect them and create the best possible working environment. It’s from this trust that a winning mindset can grow.
Being a good sport
It’s important to note that the strength of team culture isn’t only measured by wins. It’s easy to feign humility at the top, but handling a hard loss is just as crucial.
In our competitive world, on the field or in the office, we’re never going to win all the time — no matter how much we want to, or how hard we work for it.
Australia’s semi-final match against England looked promising — until England scored a third goal in the last few minutes, putting the team at 3-1. Australian hearts sank, but the Matildas didn’t hang their heads in defeat. They kept playing like they could win, right up until the final whistle blew.
It was a huge moment for the Matildas, who had just played an entire World Cup almost to the finals, with the whole nation hoping the team would take the win. A potentially devasting loss, magnified in the public eye, televised to 11.5 million viewers, and how did the Tillies react? With grace, dignity and respect — for their teammates and for the victors.
Sam Kerr summarised the team’s thoughts in the wake of defeat: “We’re all just really proud of each other and just wish we could’ve got over the line. But no matter what happens I wouldn’t want to be on any other team. This is my team, my mates, my best mates.”
How we lose is just as important as how we win, if not more. Losses reveal our true strength and character; do we give up, make excuses and crumple, or do we learn from the experience, congratulate the winner and try again?
The winning mindset
Sport is a clear illustration that a team’s culture and mindset is the magic X factor that creates the win. It’s simply an objective fact.
So, the lesson for businesses is simply this: a winning mindset is your culture, who you are, why you believe in yourselves and your ability to deliver.
If you want your team to believe they can win, you need to create a culture that reinforces success. If you do, they will.
As professional basketball player and businessman Michael Jordan once said: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”
The Being Group knows a thing or two about creating a winning culture. In fact, we’ve been named among Australia’s Best Workplaces for 2023.