I love coaching and teaching.  I do it for a job and it’s what I spend my weekends doing.

On weekends I spend my time coaching Australian Football.  I am lucky enough to play a small role in a local Australian Rules team called West Adelaide and I also coach both my daughter and my son in their junior football.

Coaching in business and in sport has taught me one simple thing.  Teams learn much faster, and they form trust much quicker when your training simulates the real time decision making they need to execute on game day.  In Football we call this the ‘Game-sense’ method which my great friend Shane Pill from Flinders University taught me during many cold nights watching West Adelaide train. The basic premise is using small game scenarios and adding constraints to the games to teach different aspects of the game, but with a focus of maintaining game day pressure and allowing the footballer to learn through practice and experimentation rather than listening to the coach speak or doing structured drills.

This concept is so powerful for coaching bid teams and project teams.  We must train to win and how we wish to execute on our bids and our projects.

Spending too much time as a coach talking, on theories or spending time on cute team building drills like the old stuck on an island game has some benefit in explaining the “why” behind your approach. However, even though it may be interesting, it has marginal impact on team performance.

The real learning and team building comes when the teams can simulate real time decision making with real issues they are facing. For example, when they are put under pressure to perform in the workshop or interactive process like they would in front of the client or within their project teams.  This is game-sense for business or another way of looking at is collaborating with purpose.  That is, training with real intent linked to the outcomes we are looking to achieve.

If a project requires teams to be decisive and make quick decisions then design your workshops and group exercises so that people are put under pressure to be decisive and make decisions.  Make the team a little uncomfortable so they are learning to perform under match day conditions.

If a project requires a customer focus, design your workshops and group exercises for the team to practice performing in front of the customer using role play.  As a coach you can be the customer or evaluation team and get individuals familiar with what it will be like to perform in front of the customer.  In fact arrange for some of the team members to role model the customer and their key people so they can form empathy and understanding with the customers view.

If a project requires the team to align, then use the time to flush out issues such as expectation, role clarity, issue escalation etc.  Include expectation exercises, role clarity and RACI activities and then challenge the team around some scenarios.  A great one I often do is to identify all the key decisions that need to be made and then discuss who can be the lowest level in the hierarchy to make the decision to get the teams practicing empowerment but also learning to align and resolve issues.

To quote from James Kerr’s book “Legacy” about the All Blacks leadership principles:

Ko te piko o te māhuri, te-rā te tupu o te rākau.

The way the sapling is shaped determines how the tree grows.  Train to win.