Family vs. High Performing Sports Team

Many organisations use the term ‘family environment’ to depict the employee experience. These environments at their core value people and create warm and inclusive environments. They also look after their employees, include accessible and transparent leadership and deal with mistakes made by individuals as a collective.

Many of these attributes are good and I believe foundational to good culture. Yet organisations are talking about moving from a family environment to that of a high-performance sports team. A key reason for this is pressure, as organisations have to dig deeper to achieve the results that were achieved in the past.

Under pressure, some family environments struggle when it comes to having the tough conversations, dealing with underperformance, giving difficult feedback, shifting people into new patterns of behaviour, moving people out of roles they do not have the capacity to handle or calling on people to take it up a level. Hence the notion of high performing teams.

During my varsity career, I rowed for the UKZN A Crew. We were a crew of 9, pitching up most mornings to work toward our goals. Whilst there was exceptional comradery, each of us knew exactly what was expected of us, and that the bonds between us were founded on the goals that brought us together. If we didn’t pitch up and bring our best the team suffered. We had a training schedule and held each other accountable to it, alongside our coach.

Regardless of what you term it, fostering healthy relationships and driving high performance go hand in hand. I wouldn’t have lasted long in a boat where I was not made to feel like I was a valued member of the team. I also would not have lasted long in a boat if I didn’t contribute and pull my weight.

Here’s a few ways to restore the balance:

  1. Equip leaders to have the tough conversations. Too often, the tough feedback that people need to receive in order to grow is not delivered, inhibiting accountability and delivery.
  2. Recognise your people. They are, after all, the reason you have achieved results in the first place. Show them they are valued.
  3. Be clear on what you measure. As a rower, I knew what was expected of me. It was easy to be called out as it was clear when I wasn’t delivering.
  4. Trust your intent. If you genuinely care about people you can communicate honestly when calling your team into higher levels of performance, without causing anxiety.
  5. Celebrate wins. Communicate and celebrate what has been achieved by individuals and the collective.

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