What team sports can teach us about DE&I

Felm labor lawyer and author Jathan Janove writes for SHRM online on how to inject more humanity into HR compliance. He welcomes your questions and suggestions for future columns. Contact him at the email address at the end of this column.

AAchieving diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in the workplace continues to be a challenge for most organizations. Despite a substantial investment of time and money, many companies fall short of their DE&I goals. In contrast, in team sports, the principles of DE&I seem to be flourishing.

What is it about team sports that makes it easier to achieve DE&I? What lessons can employers learn from this? Here are some characteristics that set the typical workplace of a sports team apart.

Clear shared objectives

In team sports, the objective is clear: to win. Everyone from coaches and players to administrators and support staff cares and shares the same goal of winning. They also share stepping stone goals – the various steps and signposts needed to reach the goal.

Team leaders make it their mission to ensure collective understanding and commitment to the same goals. In contrast, employees at most companies either don’t have a clear understanding of the organization’s DE&I goals, or the goals are uninspiring. As a worker, how am I supposed to rejoice in this effort?

Christopher D. Lee, Ph.D., CHRO at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., makes another point about common goals. “A boss can win while the employee loses. While a coach and a player win together or lose together.”

Measure what matters

Sports teams don’t waste time measuring meaningless subjective performance metrics. Don’t expect the Lakers to give LeBron James an annual performance review. “Uh, LeBron, for the 2021-22 season, we’re giving you a 3.5 rating. Please try harder next season.”

Sports teams are constantly identifying and measuring the metrics that matter: not only the end result, but also the contributing elements (depending on the sport), from games won, to points scored, to yardage won and beyond.

Maximize strengths

How many times have you had a boss ask you, “How can I maximize your talents to help you succeed?” » It is more likely that you have been given a detailed job description to review and adhere to. Your boss hasn’t adapted to you. You made the adaptation. This approach leads to thinking “that’s not my job”, as well as “that’s how we’ve always done it here”. Rigidity comes first.

In contrast, a good coach continually seeks to identify, develop and maximize the strengths of team members. It means being flexible and adapting as needed. Karl Mecklenburg’s NFL career got off to an inauspicious start. He was on the sidelines. Things changed after his coach figured he’d be better off playing linebacker, a position he’d never played in his life. What followed? Six Pro Bowl selections, three Super Bowl appearances, and induction into the Denver Broncos Ring of Honor and Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.

How many bosses have you had that worked to make you feel included?

Responsibility at all levels

In most companies, accountability tends to be transactional: “Follow the rules and keep your job.” In good sports teams, responsibility takes a different turn and starts at the individual level. Each player feels a personal obligation to support the team.

Notice how often, when asked, the star of the losing team says, “I have to improve. The player does not point the finger elsewhere. It’s not “them” – it’s “I.”

Accountability also extends from one team member to another. There is a willingness to call a colleague if necessary for the good of the team. And the coach is the ultimate responsibility. From the individual to the peer to the authority figure, responsibility is omnipresent.

Discipline and dismissal

Readers of my column know that I am not a fan of the “progressive” discipline. In my opinion, this is a demoralizing, judgement-oriented, punishment-oriented approach that is ineffective and tends to combine insult and injury.

In sport, there is no leeway to let things escalate. If you are underperforming, your coach will proactively tell you what the gap is between what is needed and where you are, without ambiguity or avoidance. Plus, there’s no “first, second, third warning” nonsense. “Breanna Stewart, you shot 2 of 12 in yesterday’s game. Therefore, we are putting you on corrective action, step one.” There is no need to dwell on the past. No one distributes ballots. The focus remains on the future.

If a player is fired (cut), it is not because the player is a failed human being. It’s just that the coach believes there’s someone else who can help the team win better.

Some organizations, such as Precision Tools Service in Columbus, Ind., are replacing the traditional command and control management model with a coaching approach. Managers and HR have subscribed to a “Cultural Commitment” which is displayed in all its facilities and serves as the basis for training, coaching and talent development. He lists the following traits of a coach-leader:

  • Acts more like a coach and mentor than a traditional command and control “boss”.
  • Combines humility, courage and discipline.
  • Lead by listening rather than telling.
  • With respect to professional expectations, responsibility and accountability, treats people fairly and consistently.
  • Demonstrates genuine interest in employee ideas, contributions, growth and development.

“As a Japanese company operating in North America, one of our diversity challenges relates to native origin and language,” said Precision Executive Vice President Tsutomu Ehara. “We find that a culture of coaching helps us meet this challenge.” Director of Human Resources, Diana Stephens, added: “In addition to promoting DE&I, a coaching culture enables HR to be seen less as a ‘compliance cop’ and more as a coach who helps our leaders lead. . »

Similar efforts are underway at Bridge Property Management, a national property management company based in Sandy, Utah. The company’s management is committed to replacing a traditional “boss” culture with a coaching culture, in which each leader:

  • Ensures that all team members share the same goals and empowers others to use their abilities to better achieve goals.
  • Actively listens to employees in order to engage and learn from them.
  • Generously shares credit and recognition and accepts responsibility when things go wrong.
  • Does not shy away from confronting others, but does so with a solutions-oriented mindset rather than a blame-oriented approach.

“I’ve been in sports almost my entire life,” said company president Matt DeGraw, “from participating in competitive sports as a youth to coaching competitive sports as an adult. , and I remain active in many sports as a hobby and actively watch sports as a fan.”

DeGraw explained that “a good coach holds their team accountable to the team’s goals and helps ensure that each teammate holds themselves accountable for fulfilling the team’s mission. At Bridge Property Management, we promote a culture of coaching to advance our DE&I goals and create a strong sense of teamwork.”

To create a DE&I-rich work environment, start thinking like a coach. Move from traditional management thinking to a team sports model. And may your team win!

Jathan Janove, JD, is the author hard-earned wisdom: True stories from the trenches of leadership (HarperCollins/Amacom, 2017). He is president of the Oregon Organizational Development Network and was named in Inc. magazine as one of top 100 leadership speakers for 2018. If you have any questions or suggested topics for future columns, write to [email protected]

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