Earlier this year, I wrote a blog for GamePlan A entitled “Turning Teams from Good to Great in 3 Easy Steps”. My blog highlighted three Continuous Improvement tactics that help teams, whether in sports or in business, achieve great levels of performance.

The blog provoked a really interesting point from a reader, who asked why these tactics are more readily assimilated in sports teams than in business teams.

Sports teams spend 90 percent of their time training and team building just so they can achieve a peak performance during the remaining 10 percent of the time when they’re actually in a match. In contrast, business teams are in the match 100 percent of the time.

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Invest in training to make your team shine.

Any time spent on activities that are not perceived as “business-critical” (e.g. improving processes, developing people, etc.) are at risk of being seen as an opportunity cost and not generating a significant enough return to justify doing them. As a result, many business leaders choose to focus 100 percent of their teams’ time on the “business-critical” activities, and not the other activities which sports teams have the luxury to spend 90 percent of their time on.

A changing mindset

However, more progressive leaders understand that at the end of the day you can “cut more trees” if you take a few minutes each day to “sharpen the saw”. These are the types of leaders who will invest time into Continuous Improvement, team building and people development. These types of leaders are not a dime a dozen… but they do exist. During the implementation of the “Continuous Improvement Initiative” at adidas, we’ve encountered many such leaders. Many may have not initially been aware of our three tactics, but they were progressive enough to give them a try.

Here are four specific characteristics these leaders had in common:

1. They made Continuous Improvement a priority

They defined a Continuous Improvement ambition and became ambassadors of the Initiative.

2. They set a performance framework for Continuous Improvement

They translated their Continuous Improvement ambition into actual targets for their teams, departments or functions and they monitored progress during their recurring leadership team meetings.

3. They enabled Continuous Improvement

They allocated resources to drive Continuous Improvement, drove quick decision making and empowered their teams to do the same.

4. They engaged with their teams

They coached their teams in relation to their Continuous Improvement ambition and targets, they passionately communicated about them beyond their direct teams and they actively participated in Continuous Improvement activities within their departments or functions.

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Good coaches lead from the front. ©iStockphoto.com/Vernon Wiley

Of course, the above characteristics can be readily applied to leaders in any change initiative, other than Continuous Improvement. And, no matter how great a change initiative may be, leaders have the power to enable it or disable it with their behavior.

We found the four behaviors described above were the perfect recipe for successful implementation of the Continuous Improvement Initiative.

So… are you a progressive leader or know someone who is? If so, what other characteristics or behaviors come to mind in terms of leaders’ enabling continuous improvement or turning teams from good to great?

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