Are You Helping Your Business Team to Warm Up?

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Not so long ago, a friend of mine walked into a meeting moving with all the fluidity and grace of the Tin Woodsman after a rainstorm. He was doing a credible job of moving forward while doing his best to not actually move his legs. As a form of locomotion, I would not have believed it possible if I hadn’t seen it.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I was practicing layups last night, and this morning I couldn’t move.”

A serious amateur basketball player, he had done some serious practice the night before. Unfortunately, he had neglected to warm up: he was in a hurry and felt that he didn’t have time to do a slow warm-up. Instead, he had “warmed up” by doing a number of fast, sharp moves, which ended up straining his lower back and legs. It was no wonder he was having trouble walking. The time he “saved” by not warming up, he paid back with interest over the next several days.

At this point, I suspect many readers are nodding sagely and thinking that only an idiot forgets to warm up before an activity. Unfortunately, they’d be wrong. Very smart people, very knowledgeable people forget to warm up. Furthermore, it’s not just individual athletes who forget to warm up; teams do as well. Moreover, it’s not just athletic teams that occasionally forget. Work teams routinely forget to perform the functional equivalent of warming up; even worse, most of them believe that it’s not necessary. In sports, many an athlete has learned the hard way that no matter how often you can get away without warming up, it only takes one time when you didn’t get away with it to drive home the error of your ways. Unfortunately, businesses tend to be slower learners, perhaps because the pain is not so obviously connected to the actions taken or not taken.

What does it mean for a team to warm up? In sports, the answer is pretty easy. They run, they stretch, they practice the skills of their sport. They might eventually play practice games. In business, however, it’s less obvious. However, just as athletic warm-ups are based in understanding the activities that the athlete needs to perform, the equivalent behaviors can be deduced for a business team.

In sports, an athletic team needs to be able to function as a seamless unit, each member automatically moving to where they need to be. Top basketball players often seem to have an almost uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time to assist one another.

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