Large and small businesses have come to value the benefits of taking a team approach across the board. From creative brainstorming to adaptive problem-solving, well-constructed teams bring to bear the kind of collaborative thinking and acting needed in today’s uber-competitive marketplace.


Teamwork and team building are two heavily studied areas when looking at the performance of organizations. Astute business leaders can avail themselves of learning opportunities to assist them in getting better insights into their companies and making necessary corrections.

Another ready source is afforded by observing the world of sports. There certainly is a relative transparency of teams made possible by the omnipresent media. It is interesting to use the diagnostics available through well-researched motivation theory to identify problems or potential ones. In successful situations, such analytics help spotlight best practices.

As we reflect on the recently concluded professional seasons in baseball, and the past ones in football and basketball, it is apparent that certain coaching techniques leave something to be desired from what we know about human motivation. Here are a few areas where coaches are vulnerable to frustrating players’ intrinsic desire to succeed on the field/court. The analogy to business success or failure is readily apparent.

Failing to encourage teamwork

Joe Torre, of New York Yankees managing fame, spoke often (especially in commercials) about there being “no I in Team.” While this is a warn-out cliché, it captures a reality worth noting. Otherwise good coaches often try to appease rather than speak candidly to a team or player for not giving 100%, even if in a slump. One former all-star player I spoke with expressed that he felt if he were unable to hit well for a time, he could contribute to the team by encouraging younger players and offering advice, when appropriate. And he did. He put the interests of his team ahead of his own.

Not confronting aberrant behavior

One team was said to be dealing with a curious motivational issue. If a player on this team, new to the “Bigs,” hustled to first after hitting a ground ball to the infield, it was not uncommon for him to be greeted upon return to the dugout with derisive chants of “Rookie! Rookie!” If a manager becomes fearful of having a star player turn on him for correcting such aberrant behavior, then — in effect — the manager reports to that player. Not a good organizational configuration.

Triangulating — speaking poorly of one not present

There are coaches who routinely lay the blame for things gone wrong on others, from players to officials. This undermines trust and has a negative impact on a team’s motivation.

Neglecting the team’s motivational environment

Self-motivation is the gold standard when it comes to motivation. This intrinsic drive is linked with better performance, fewer injuries, a greater readiness to collaborate, and a host of additional positive outcomes. With intrinsic motivation, the focus is primarily on doing well for the satisfaction inherent in achieving a challenging goal.

So, what is it that happens that causes a team to not perform up to expectations? Perhaps some recent disappointments come to mind?

Clearly, if the energy seems to have gone out of a team’s effort and they are just not playing “in the zone,” there could be a number of motivational factors at play. For those who are proponents of extrinsic motivation (the “carrots and sticks” kind), it would be likely be puzzling, since carrots were being handed out readily. That did not seem to help some high-profile teams.

To have the superior intrinsic motivational drive energizing a team, three psychological needs must be satisfied. Autonomy describes the need to have some input or influence on the task at hand … to be informed. The competence drive involves taking on doable goals and getting feedback on performance. Relatedness is the need to connect — with colleagues and managers … to care for and to be cared for. When driven by having these three needs met, a team has found the “secret sauce.”

I think there are many lessons to be gleaned from sports for business.

Dr. Paul P. Baard is an organizational psychologist, specializing in motivation. Formerly a full-time professor at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Business and a senior line executive in the television industry, he is the lead author of a book on leadership and motivation, and has been published broadly, including in Harvard Business Review. He and Veronica Baard, a former managing director responsible for HR at a major international investment banking firm, head up Baard Consulting LLC, a firm in the greater Boston area, focusing on motivation, conflict reduction and team building. Questions are welcomed at

Monday, December 09, 2019