Comparisons between sport and business are often made with terms such as “winning”, “team” “talent” and “high performance” commonly used in both worlds.
But that doesn’t mean that it necessarily follows that the formula for success in one field, necessarily would deliver the formula for success in another. Or does it?
Back in 2006, UK Sport, the body that is responsible for elite performance in sport, was charged with getting GB to Fourth in the Medal table in London 2012. They faced exactly this transference problem – how to identify the formula that had delivered relative success in Rowing and Cycling and apply it to other sports, where success had proved elusive. Faced with the hugely complex task of trying to understand how different sports were administered, and what were the real factors for success, UK Sport realised that a better way was to help teams set their own ambitions and then help them identify and quickly rectify the issues and challenges they faced in realising these ambitions.
Funding would be focussed only on those sports that achieved agreed performance targets, which the sports themselves were responsible for reporting on. UK Sport’s role then moved away from one of attempting to control the complex to one empowerment and support. Thus they were able to focus on other activities such as developing an Elite Coaching Programme, and activities that would ensure that British Athletes had access to the best support and preparation available. This approach was entitled Mission 2012, and was so effective that Team GB realised its 4th in the medal table target 4 years early at the Beijing Olympics (helped in part by the dominant performance of China at their home Olympics). Third at London 2012 has now been followed by second at Rio.
Perhaps the lesson for business and leaders in all of this is when faced with difficult and complex challenges, not to invest huge amounts of effort and time trying to understand the complex, but instead focus on supporting and empowering people working in those complex environments, and help them identify and realise their ambitions.