Know Your Position on the Field
Structure is massively important for a sports team: From practice schedules and game plans, to uniforms and pregame meals, structure makes a team perform at its best. This usually starts from the top, with a coach or manager creating a team culture and keeping everyone organized. Through this, the coach sets the tone for how the team will complete everyday tasks to achieve a greater goal.
Teams demand role clarity to be successful. You need to understand your role on the field and in specific situations, but more importantly, you need to know you can focus on your job while others do theirs. Each teammate has a specific set of duties, and though roles may overlap, team synergy hinges on defined roles.
The same applies to teams off of the field—whether that’s at our companies, in our communities or with our families. Here are three positions from the sports world that illustrate the importance of role clarity.
I was a soccer player my entire life, and though I played many positions during my early career, I settled into goalkeeper. This is a highly specialized position with unique permissions. I was the only player on my team who was allowed to touch the ball with my hands, but only within a certain area of the field.
Because of these specific allowances, my duties were to guard our goal, meaning that not only were my superpowers limited to a specific area of the field, but it didn’t really make sense for me to stray far from that area. More than just stopping shots, goalkeepers are also responsible for organizing the defenders in front of them. The unique perspective and relatively lack of direct action goalkeepers have make us well-equipped to be generals to the backline.
The takeaway: It’s important for individuals to know how far their responsibilities reach. Sometimes, a team member’s primary duties can be supplemented by support roles for other teammates. Their specialities are greatly needed, but they can also be an asset in other areas.
Football Defensive Backs
A football team has three distinct units that play at specific times during the game. On the defensive side is a unit called defensive backs. They work together to defend the offensive passing game, usually comprised of speedy, agile players. Both safeties and cornerbacks are specially trained members of this group with key responsibilities.
Unlike other players on defense, cornerbacks are directly responsible for covering the wide receivers of the opponent’s offense. They focus on running in-step with playmakers from the other team, but their single-focused role is covered by safeties. These players play behind the other nine defensive players, providing cover in the passing game and a stop-gate for big plays.
The takeaway: These two specialized positions work together in one function, much like people with similar job functions—or even the same job function—work together to ensure the job gets done. When everyone on a team knows what role they play, team members know when and in what areas they can step in when someone else needs help.
One of the greatest examples of highlighting specialized talents and using them as part of the machine of a team is the volleyball libero: a defensive specialist that can (mostly) freely substitute into the game as a back-row player. They are typically shorter, spry players that usually come in for the tall, lanky middle hitter, whose anatomic and athletic prowess lend them to hitting and blocking superiority. This trade-off is a great example of maximizing talents of your team members.
Instead of asking the tall middle to use agility to receive the opponent's attacks in the back row, a coach plays a smaller, quicker, more nimble player to find the correct positions on defense and make quick adjustments to hits. This switch means the team gets the best of each player while circumventing their shortcomings.
The takeaway: As much as we want to be versatile and adaptable in all areas as an employee, we must understand our strengths and weaknesses. Further, leaders need to see the limits of their employees’ skills and find team members who complement one another to complete the entire skillset.
Leaders must balance versatility and specificity with their employees. They must make sure their staff is not stretched too thin, so they can keep their priorities aligned with their duties. If you realize employees are juggling too many hats, it’s time to evaluate their position and your staff. Maybe you need to provide them with a teammate, or create a new role entirely.
The essential task of a coach is to give each player clear instructions on how to play their position, so they can effectively do their part in supporting the team and enabling it to succeed and flourish. Providing role clarity to your team not only provides them structure for their priorities, but it affords them freedom to be creative and to branch out as a team member.
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