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A few years ago I walked into an early morning meeting and was surprised to see Brian Sloan. Yes, it was the same Brian Sloan that set bone-jarring screens and played on the 1987 Hoosier team that won the NCAA national basketball championship. He told fascinating stories about playing for Coach Knight and the intense culture of IU basketball.

After graduation, Brian decided to give med school a shot. His family and friends told him that he wasn’t cut out for med school. He decided to apply the things that he learned while playing for coach Knight. Using those principles, he not only got into med school, but graduated #1 in his class.

Dr. Sloan has been practicing emergency medicine for 16 years and now leads an ER. He’s built an amazing culture around the principles he learned from Coach Knight. One of those principles is to treat everybody with respect, from the most junior team member to the most senior executive. As a result of this, his ER runs like Jesse Owens.

That experience got me thinking deeper about sports cultures and business cultures. I’ve been lucky enough to coach some elite teams and players as well as run successful software companies.

Great sports teams are special. You can feel the love coming out of the players’ DNA. There’s a level of non-verbal communication that only the team understands. Do you find that on great business teams? It seems much less common. How can you take the lessons from elite sports organizations and use them to build powerful and truly special business cultures? Here’s my take:

1. Bring out the emotions.

The beauty of sports is that they naturally bring out powerful emotions. Big plays get the endorphins pumping. There are plenty of big plays in your business as well. Find a way to celebrate your big business wins and watch the energy levels rise.

2. Create a scoreboard.

How much would you pay for a ticket to watch two hours of a game where the teams decided not to keep score? Lose the scoreboard and suddenly the game isn’t much fun. The drama and tension are gone. Think of your business the same way. It’s easy to put clear and motivating dashboards in place in your business.

3. Replicate the pregame.

Sports teams and individuals raise their energy level and mindset to get ready for battle. What if your team entered the work day with the same high energy, focus, and mindset of a fighter entering the ring, a relief pitcher walking to the mound, or even a speaker before going on a big stage?

4. Celebrate the playmakers.

In sports, when the guy next to you makes a great play, you get fired up. You can’t help but think, “Man I’m happy that guy is on our side of the ball.” In sales we never get to witness the account exec make a big hit on the quarterback. Typically, we find out later that a key deal was closed. Reverse that. Find a way to put the big wins on a stage so the whole company can participate in the experience.

5. Solidify experiences with highlights.

Sports have highlights. Highlights are fantastic because they solidify the experience in our minds. Even at the high school level, there’s a lot of film study. The players get to clearly see what’s working. When something is working in your business, capture it. Roll some video. Shoot some pictures. Don’t be afraid to outsource them into a one minute video that your team can rally behind.

6. Create rituals.

Drew Brees is famous for his pregame huddle chant ritual. He put it together after visiting a military base. It’s clever and definitely gets his team pumped up and ready to play. We created a similar chant at greenlight.guru that we can use to jump start the day. We’ll pull it out for any occasion where we need to get some energy flowing. Build rituals that work with the personality of your business. Rituals are fantastic. They contribute to the construction of your identity.

7. Commit to practice and training.

Sports teams practice. They prepare for games by improving skills. Do the same. Invest in the top skills training that you can get your hands on. Train your team up, buy them some cool weapons, and send them out into battle.

8. Invest in great coaches.

Great coaches typically inspire a sports team to do more than they ever thought they could. Why are business leaders typically not inspirational? Demand that your leaders bring great energy to every one-on-one, every call, and every team meeting. The energy of the team is always going to match the leaders.

9. Don’t be afraid to cut players.

If a player is not performing, or has not bought into the mission of the team, sports teams replace that player quickly. Businesses tend to hang on to those players. Allow them to move on. Work with them to find an opportunity that’s a better fit for them. Everybody wins.

10. Compare against the best in the world.

The top athletes are on TV every weekend. They’re everywhere. It’s easy to find and study the habits of the best in the world. Their example inspires other athletes to be improve their game. It gives them an understanding of what’s possible. The top business leaders are also easy to find and study. Their stories, habits, drive, and example should inspire you equally.

11. Bring the high energy of a sports arena.

From little league to the NFL, the playing fields tend to be well taken care of. The environment provides significant energy. Put the same energy into your office space.

12. Capitalize on home court advantage.  

There’s no doubt that the home fans can pump up the team. Home court advantage is a real thing. Businesses have fans too. They’re called customers. Customers turn into evangelists and ambassadors. Let them push some of that energy to the team. Make an effort to let the team see how much the fans care.

13. Hold your players accountable.

The offensive line has clear accountability to keep the quarterback on his feet. Marketing has the same accountability to provide leads for sales. Formalize that accountability and have fun with it. At greenlight.guru we built a system using legos to represent the commitments that each individual makes to the business. The legos snap into our core values when they’re completed. We can watch our core values come to life. Create your own system that works for you.

14. Be willing to get flowy.

Athletes get into the zone. They lose track of time. They get lost in the experience. If you’re not getting that same level of engagement in your business, you’re dead.

15. Recognize that the stakes are high.

In sports, there’s always a next level for both the team and the individual players. The team is looking to move closer to the championship and the players are looking to level up to the next league. It’s easy to forget how obvious that is in business. I need to remind you that this is your profession. This is what you commit a high percentage of your life to. You have to clearly define what the next level is and find a way to get there.

Bonus Secret: In the end…have fun.

If sports weren’t fun, we wouldn’t play. If you’re not dancing in the office, cutting loose, and leaving it hanging out there, you’re missing out on the benefits of an extraordinary culture. Fun leads to passion, which leads to flow states, which leads to elite performances. Build fun into both the workday and after-work events.

These are 15 secrets I’ve picked up over 25 years in business and a lifetime in sports. Have fun with them. Give them a shot in your business and see if you start winning more games.

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