What Game Is Your Team Playing?


Do you enjoy sports? I certainly do. I’m looking forward to the Olympics this summer. (I’m really looking forward to the re-introduction of rugby to the Olympics.) As a kid, my favorite game to play was basketball. I also played on some very successful soccer teams. Personally, I was most successful in track, running the 400m sprint. As an adult, I’ve shifted to martial arts, cycling, and arm-chair-quarterbacking college football. (Go Bison!) Sports play an important role in development of one’s character, physical abilities, social skills, and more. Recently, I also learned that sports can be an excellent tool for understanding work teams.

I just finished reading an excellent book on the development of leadership and staff teams in the local church. Sticky Teams is by Larry Osborne, pastor of North Coast Church in California. Today, North Coast would be categorized as a “mega church,” but most of the lessons Osborne shares comes from the days when North Coast was just a few hundred people. The insights he shares in Sticky Teams are the foundation his team laid to have a greater and greater impact for the Kingdom.

One of the chapters I thought was most insightful leveraged the analogy of sports teams for understanding the uniquenesses of teams as the organization grows in size. Osborne’s focus was on the local church but, truthfully, the lesson applies to almost any work environment. Osborne wrote about four different phases, or sizes, and used four different sports to illustrate the differences.

As you read through the brief descriptions below, try to identify two things:

  1. The sport that describes your natural style of leadership, and
  2. The sport that best describes where your organization is (regardless of your style).

The Track Star

  • Solo pastor or leader
  • Performs alone
  • May workout with others
  • Small support system
  • Small audience/crowds
  • Offers freedom and independence
  • At times very lonely

Golfing Buddies

  • Small group of leaders working very closely
  • Emphasis on relationships
  • Leisurely pace, time for each other
  • Lots of connecting after “the game”
  • Deep relationships, genuine sharing and caring

The Basketball Team

  • Focus on the team, not friendships
  • Emphasis on working together, sharing the ball, but not relationship
  • Strong esprit de corps for the game
  • Winning requires special roles and some stars
  • Team is small enough that everyone knows what everyone is doing
  • Some switching of roles occurs, even mid-game

The Football Team

  • When the team reaches 15 or more
  • Highly specialized roles, not interchangeable
  • Very complex game requiring lots of research and game planning
  • Teamwork is often more important than individual skill; people who try to be stars mess up the game for all
  • Sub-teams (e.g. offensive line, safeties, etc.) focus on improving their part of the game, somewhat independent of the rest of the team
  • Specialized coaches for sub-teams
  • Harder to maintain camaraderie for the whole team

Did you find yourself in that list? Did you see your preferred sport for leading? What does your organization need? Track star leadership, golfing buddies who hang out all the time, a basketball team that gets the job done well, or a well-oiled football team?

Fit is one of the key issues: providing the kind of leadership your organization needs. I’m convinced that, with great effort and the help of a leadership coach or mentor, most leaders can learn to provide the kind of leadership the organization needs.

The other issue, though, is growing from one type of team to another. How do you grow your leadership team from track star mode to golfing buddy mode? And then, from golfing buddies to a basketball team, and so on. That’s a difficult task, but I’m not going to answer the question. I’m going to shamelessly pitch Sticky Teams so you can read Osborne’s answer.

Here is where you need to start: It is critical to understand the kind of leadership you’re most comfortable providing and make an independent decision about the kind of leadership your organization needs. If there is a mismatch, get help in developing the skills required to provide the right kind of leadership. If you can’t do that, the right thing might be for you to move on.

Once you and your organization are in alignment, then you may be ready to handle the challenge of growing together from sport to sport as the organization grows.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.

Photo by morzaszum. Photo available at Pixabay under CC0 license. Image modified for size and space.

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