Knowledge Management’s Relationship to Sports Culture

The importance of "team" to your organization.

We use sports metaphors in business communications all the time. Nailing a product or presentation is a “home run,” executing tactically on a plan is “blocking and tackling,” and a customer acquisition or sale is a “win.” But perhaps most interesting is the use of “team.” The connotation is very similar to what comes to mind when thinking of a “team” in the sporting realm. However, beyond that lies even more similarities, both tangible and philosophical.

One of the themes we continue to return to on this blog is the idea of building a culture that supports knowledge sharing as a critical piece of knowledge management. We’ve talked about how successful companies value input from management and employees alike, and we’ve often used “team” as an interchangeable term when looking at this structure holistically. An article in the New York Times focused on the Golden State Warriors – an NBA team that broke the single-season record for most wins. Although there were a few different angles explored, one of the most notable was the idea of the importance of “culture” in professional sports. With regards to the Warriors, the writer found that from the ownership all the way throughout the rest of the organization, a culture of accountability and teamwork had been one of the most important developments for a franchise once a perennial afterthought.

The idea of demand-side knowledge sharing stresses the incorporation of input from all levels of an organization, with each person feeling as though their input is valued, if not necessarily always acted upon. Each year, in almost all of the major professional sports leagues, there are teams that seem to be continually successful from year to year, as other teams battle for relevancy. When articles are written about these teams, they almost invariably include a component of “the importance of culture.” Head coaches talk about the value of input from assistant coaches and thoughtful players, players talk about how much they appreciate having a share of voice within the organization, and owners talk about the importance of empowering everyone throughout the ecosystem.

Beginning to see a pattern?

It can be tempting at times to discount “culture” practices in the business world as all style, no substance, but the more we think about the role culture plays in successful business organizations, the clearer the focus becomes. If a business values its team members, then those members must be treated much in the same way top-tier professional sporting organizations treat its team members: each person is important, and the best ideas often come from all levels, not just management or head coaches. The way that knowledge management is currently implemented in practice can often be considered by employees as just another responsibility of the job, rather than a tool that can be used to help enable a process to work smarter, ideas to flow more freely and organic knowledge to spread throughout the organization. Perhaps, rather than approaching knowledge management practices as a business tool, organizations should instead look to the sports world for ways to more effectively implement the practice of true culture.