What I learnt from watching tennis

tennis ballI’ve been watching the tennis, at the Australian Open, and there’s a lot to learn that can be applied to my work.

The players demonstrate great skill, fitness, mental strength and athleticism, but that’s not what got my attention.

I found myself watching the ball kids.

At the Australian Open the ball kids are aged between 12-15, and they demonstrate fantastic team work.

  • The have a common purpose, they’re there to serve the players.
  • They know their roles, whether it’s on the baseline, where they pass the balls to the players and provide towels during play, or at the net where they retrieve the balls at net and support players during change of ends. It’s hard work being a ball kid.
  • They communicate, they’re watching each other, making sure they’re ready to pass and receive balls.
  • They demonstrate their knowledge, they know the rules and the system they need to follow. That system makes things run incredibly smoothly.
  • They show good judgement, it’s unpredictable on the court, they have to figure out stuff on the go – but they also know when to ask the chair umpire a question.
  • There are individual moments of genius, in one game I saw one of the net ball kids extend backwards, cat-like, to snap up a stray ball mid-air, she quickly returned to her starting pose. It’s a team thing, and the game isn’t about them.

Throughout the matches the ball kids did their job with pace, focus and attention to detail. Sometimes their attention to detail was so extreme it amused the crowd, and the players, as in the Nadal’s water bottle incident.

These attributes of teamwork apply in a company. When a team has a shared purpose, clear roles, expertise / knowledge, good judgement, and communicates well the performance will be greater than the individual contributions could deliver. If you’re a team leader watch your team and look for those characteristics, reward them, build on them. And take some time to figure out the shared purpose and define the roles and systems of working.

As for me, my holiday is almost over – I can’t wait to get back and start working with my team again.

Image; Glowing Tennis Ball | Lynda Gibbons | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

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