It’s a team game – what we can learn from sporting principles to get the win

by Matt Wheeler |

I think of myself as a pretty straightforward sort of person – and perhaps a fairly predictable one!

During the week, you’ll find me at my desk, working on all kinds of different medical communications projects. At the weekend, I am almost certainly indulging my love of sports – generally observing, although I’m hoping to get back on the squash court soon. My absolute favourite place to be is at Franklin’s Gardens, home of the Northampton Saints rugby side.

The truth is that there is plenty in common between agency and sports teams. We have to be able to work in synergy to achieve a common goal, we have to be focussed, we have to communicate, and we have to have effective leadership.

If you’re a fan of tortured metaphors, then please do continue on…


“If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.”

Mark Spitz, 9-time Olympic champion swimmer

In the project run up, we get ready. We work to get the brief exactly right, make sure the project team is well constructed and has the right experience to deliver, and know what an ideal performance looks like.

3pm on a Saturday – (or hopefully not)

“Do you know what my favourite part of the game is? The opportunity to play.”

Mike Singletary, former linebacker and head coach in the NFL

This is the fun bit – the opportunity to ‘do what we do’, whether we’re crafting the beautifully-written claim, designing the perfect ad, or building a website with the best UX – we all want to put our best work on tape, and on the field.

Half time – no time for the hairdryer

“Champions keep playing until they get it right.”

Billie Jean King, former world No. 1 tennis player and pioneer for equality and social justice

So, the draft is back from review, and it’s time to push the project through to the end. We need to understand what’s happened so far, make any tactical adjustments and get ready for the next steps. The team needs to know the plan for the second half, and the leaders need to make sure that morale stays high.

The last five minutes – it’s money time

“Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.”

Dean Karnazes, ultra endurance athlete

The end of the project can sometimes be the hardest part – the team has given their all, and the ‘final whistle’ is approaching. It’s vital to stay switched on and give the last bit of effort needed to get over the line.

Post-match – collecting the corner flags

“I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Michael Jordan, world renowned basketball player

Before we can move on, we need to learn any lessons we can for the next go around. It’s easy to see where to improve when you lose, but the best teams strive to learn from their victories too.

So, a tortured metaphor, and not a totally original one – what’s my point?

Nowadays, in top level sport, coaches have access to vast amounts of sport science data, and can watch their players out on the field, giving them the information they need to optimise performance.

For agencies working in remote teams, that kind of immediate feedback can be harder to come by. Effective communication is paramount in helping all members of the team deliver their best – whether it’s veterans coaching up the newer recruits, or if the manager needs a lift from their charges after a challenging couple of weeks. It’s something we work hard at, no matter the stage of career or job title, whether it’s through regular catch-ups, or providing concise and actionable feedback.

Working in that kind of environment leads to success – and some trophies on the mantelpiece. It’s no coincidence that we have that kind of award-winning squad at Makara – talented players, of course, but supported by a set-up designed so that we can flourish: working remotely physically, but very much part of a team.

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