This past August, 27.5 million viewers tuned in across America to watch Olympic athletes go for the gold. Team America didn't disappoint, winning 46 gold, 37 silver, and 38 bronze medals for their country, leaving fans feeling proud and patriotic.
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The Olympics and other professional sporting events aren't just for entertainment. There are lessons to be learned from watching these athletes – including lessons that you can take into the office. It takes years of intense hard work to be a professional-grade athlete, and companies can learn something from that sort of dedication.
"In order to succeed, athletes must understand how each individual on a team is important to the big picture, a concept that is also critical to workplace goals," says Angel Bovee, a retired Olympic boxer and currently the athlete career and education program specialist at staffing agency Adecco Staffing. "It's no surprise that teams with transparent and consistent communication are the most in sync and efficient in meeting objectives. In addition, teams that champion the strengths of diverse players or workers are likely to be the most resourceful, innovative, and effective in working together toward a collective effort."
The Power of Positive Thinking
There are many things to take into consideration when building a successful team in your office, and a critical one is a positive environment. To that end, remember that nobody likes a bad attitude.
"Another truth for both athletes and employees is that attitudes are infectious, whether they are positive or negative," Bovee says. "When one teammate has become disgruntled or unfocused, the whole team can suffer."
For this reason, Bovee says that managers must pay attention to their team members' states of mind and intervene quickly whenever trouble starts to arise.
"On the flip side, passionate and dedicated individuals who prioritize relationship-building can raise team morale," she adds. "Supervisors should verbalize their appreciation for these actions so that top performers feel encouraged and know they aren't being overlooked."
Competition Is Good – as Long as It's Healthy
Another important lesson that can be learned from events like the Olympics is that a little healthy competition can go a long way toward driving employees to succeed. But you can't just pit team members against each other. You have to encourage employees to compete in a way that won't build resentment among your workers.
"Competition is something that drives me forward, whether I'm competing on a team or trying to outdo my own best work. On the other hand, some people feel differently about competition, seeing it as an added pressure and a disruption," Bovee says.
The first thing to know about fostering friendly, productive workplace competition, according to Bovee, is that you need to be sure you set out clear policies, guidelines, roles, and goals from the very start.
"This will help with engagement and avoid potential confusion down the road," she says.
Bovee also suggests encouraging competitions between teams, rather than between individuals.
"While some people – like myself – thrive in competition, others really shy away from it, so it's a safer bet to make contests a group effort, allowing colleagues to feel more comfortable and less pressured," she says. "That said, prior to implementing competition in the workplace, employers should put a great deal of thought into what motivates their employees and how competition will fit into their company culture."
How the Best Teams Work, According to an Olympic Athlete
To cultivate a positive, successful office team, Bovee recommends managers focus on three areas:
Managers should have clear and consistent conversations with individuals and with the whole team to provide feedback on progress made towards goals. This will help maintain transparency and build trust amongst colleagues, whereas under-communicating can cause team members to feel disconnected and unsure of the value they bring to the team. Moreover, a lack of communication will inhibit teammates from understanding and recognizing each other's strengths.
Employers should aim to build diverse teams. If everyone on a team has the same skill set, strengths, and/or weaknesses, the team will likely come up short in some areas.
In addition, this lack of diversity can hinder creativity and innovation. There's no need for an employee to seek out another employee's ideas if their backgrounds and specialties are basically the same. Teams that include a varied and unique set of proficiencies are best equipped to innovate and collaborate.
The world of work is always changing and often disruptive. That's why it's a huge benefit to foster adaptability within a team. Individuals who are adaptable tend to perform well under pressure and demonstrate a can-do attitude. Their positivity also boosts morale, and their resourcefulness can help a team push through difficult times.