Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

What can sports teach us about strategy execution? 10 lessons

Strategy is integral in both sports and business. Furthermore, the dynamics of competition are universal. In sports, every game is a full cycle. What can sports teach us about improving execution? Here are a few observations:

  1. Grit wins over brains every day—but neither alone is enough for the long run.
  2. Anything can happen. Play is dynamic. Never assume. Always be ready.
  3. Every event affects momentum (every play, every hit, every heckle). Lean in to positive, brace through negative, focus on realization objectives.
  4. Plays are important. Competencies are essential. Synergy drives higher performance.
  5. Play through (not to). Impact does not generate results; follow-through does.
  6. Playing and watching are different. Players know. Great leaders (advisors) have played.
  7. There’s only one coach. Players, parents, and spectators (employees, managers, and extended leadership teams) commit or leave.
  8. Your perspective depends on your position. Great leaders speak to every perspective (forward/defense, rookie/veteran, coach/parent, beginning/end of game, winning/losing).
  9. Skin in the game strengthens commitment (ambition, grudges, purses/bonuses).
  10. Records are made to be broken. We can always do better.

Have you got more? Let’s hear them. Comments welcome.

We are Conner Partners, a niche consulting firm, who senior leaders have come to because:

  1.  They are launching a high-stakes strategy and worry (from painful experience) that their organization might fail OR
  2. A current major initiative is losing momentum and getting bogged down

We have a 40-yr track record of delivering with companies such as Abbott, Lowe’s, Merck and Premier Health Partners, to name a few.  Would you be open to an exploratory call? You can reach me at

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10 Comments so far
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Love your post. I have a few more;

-Teamwork is key. there is little room for individualists.
-Self discipline and team discipline are essential.
-Although skills, knowledge and experience of each player are important, you need to train and practice and practice and practice…as a team.
-Team agility i.e your capacity to adjust plays and to influence as situations unfold is paramount; having full confidence in your players.

Comment by Jean Deslauriers

Outstanding. So grateful that you commented. Gail

Comment by Gail Severini ©


Good choice of words. I told a colleague once that HR is sometimes about grit. While HR sees themselves as supporter of employees, the employees are sometimes the opponents in the game.

I work in HR and it’s the employees perception and expectation of us is helper. So when I performed my more strategic work within HR operations (helper), people did not think too kindly of me. I think the one thing they were most surprised of was how I managed to close the loop holes in our policies and processes and they felt “outsmarted”. And when I wasn’t responding like a trained monkey, they were suspicious, even competitive.

The attitudes and persona that go with a support role and a strategic role are different. I go from nurturing to “Ruthless Execution ” (good book btw), and people thought I had a split-personality. I reminded them what my job was. I’ve adapted to the different situations without thought but people’s perception did not catch up, or they refused to. It’s like their context of me was stuck in time.

Your 10 lessons will help me push through when people are still expecting me to make the coffee in the morning. As always, thanks for making me think.

Comment by Helene

Thanks so much for taking time to post, Helene. Your insights take us deeper into application. Gail

Comment by Gail Severini ©

I enjoyed your list. One I might add would be that the really good leaders know when to speak and when to listen. This is helpful when the inevitable changes occur with sports and business. I just wish this observation was easier to do than it is to say.

Comment by Beverly

Thanks Beverly. This IS great advice. Thank you for making time to comment. Have a wonderful day. Gail

Comment by Gail Severini ©

Hello Gail,
This is a very insightful article. As industries become more competitive, players in the business must have the same level of competitiveness. I train different companies on organizational development among others. This is a simple and straightforward way to describe implementing strategies.

Comment by JP Carlos

Hi JP. Thanks so much for sharing. Gail

Comment by Gail Severini ©

Hi Gail,

Great players can not only overcome conflict but also use it to make themselves and the team better.

Both sports teams and organizations are faced with conflict ( between players/employees, coaches/managers, Owners/CEO’s, etc…) at some point. When both are able to get past and learn from conflict they are stronger for it. Avoidance or unhealthy confrontation usually leads to failure.

Comment by Justin

Great add, Justin. Thanks for commenting.

Comment by Gail Severini ©

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