Lessons from Elite Sport- Is Your Team Truly "Competitive?"

A client reached out to me because he was not sure if his team was competitive. He knew they were smart, hard working and competent but he thought that perhaps they did not realize that they were actually competing against other companies. He wanted to build a more competitive spirit for his team. In sport competition is inherent within the activity, but in business despite companies competing in the market place their people do not often feel like they are competing.

Before we moved forward with the client we needed to define what makes a team competitive. Looking at some of the latest research, and working with Sports Psychologist John Coumbe-Lilley from UI-Chicago, we defined the attributes of a competitive team that made sense in the business context.

Each of these attributes need to be in place for a team to be truly competitive. Most teams that we have worked with express a few of the attributes but very few display all of them. This means that there is an opportunity for growth and improvement. Lets define each of these team attributes.


The ability to adapt and learn in the environment. Recognize that both failure and success are opportunities to adapt and improve.  Use organizational capabilities to complete tasks, but break organizational bureaucracy when needed.

Enhancing Skills

The team develops expertise that supports the team’s strategy and that complement each other. Team members share experiences and help others learn to spread best practice to others.


Bouncing back from a setback is a sign of toughness and resilience. You build resilience based remaining focused on the team’s outcomes and challenging the assumptions, beliefs and emotions of the situation.

Commitment to do your best

Commitment to do the best job we can every day and every task.  The quality of the work that we do is important to the team and we leave no stone left unturned in the search for a competitive advantage.


Persistence is the ability to endure in the face of adversity.   The team works through organizational barriers to get to outcomes that are required to implement strategies.

Marginal Gains

Instead of looking for the big idea to “move the needle” the team looks to improve all areas of the business.  Small gains everywhere means a healthier business. “Getting better” every day is a mantra.

Focus on the Important

In a complex environment this allows the team to direct themselves toward the most relevant and correct cues in their environment.  The ability to overcome the daily noise and fire drills that occur in the office and continually come back to the tasks that really add value.

When we have worked with teams to enhance competitiveness we have done an assessment to determine which attributes are strong and which need to be developed. The attribute strengths are often part of the overall organizational culture and true for all teams within the company. We then work with the team leader to work on enhancing team performance by focusing on the attributes that support the team becoming more competitive.

We believe that if a leader really wants to create a competitive team they need to consider these attributes as part of their team selection/recruitment. These attributes are challenging to change quickly and so should be what you look for when building the team. I am biased, but these attributes are inherent in rugby players!