Performance lessons for organisations from football, tennis and F1 

Soccer Football Championship: Blue Team Forward Attacks and Scores Goal, Win the Match, Players Happy, Celebrate Victory, Win Tournament. Sport Channel Broadcast Television Concept.

Techniques used in elite sports offer valuable insights for business to improve performance and wellbeing. John McLachlan shares the strategies 

Our research on organisational performance originated from two key problems. Firstly, that organisations were demanding approaches that balanced performance with employee wellbeing and sustainability. And second, that academic research into organisational performance lacked real-world practical application.  

Defining what performance means for the organisation or role is essential  

Elite sports offered us an ideal context to study because it defines performance and achievement very specifically and takes into account the health and fitness of the sports people involved.  

In studying three very different sports, we found they all have lessons that organisations can benefit from. Key aspects include defining a performance window – the period you are required to be at maximum performance. In sport this is clear, it is the race or the match itself. While it is more complex to define a performance window for roles in organisations, doing so avoids the ‘always on’ culture as people know when they really need to be focused.  

Sports people also have an interesting approach to resting. We all know the importance of taking a rest to avoid burnout but, in elite sports, people do not stop completely. They just rest that which is lost in the performance window, and frequently a rest from the pressure of competition. They may take up other sports just for fun, for example.  

Let’s take a look in more detail at each sport, the type of organisation they map to and the lessons to take away. 


Football is a team sport where most of the team members are all performing at the same time on the pitch. Organisations that mirror this type of rhythm present a clear brand – the retail industry and the creative arts.  

In organisations that fall into this type of leadership, communication and collaboration are essential to maximise co-ordination in the performance window. These should be skills that are prioritised in training and development plans.  

The team will also need to bond and develop deep levels of trust, so they might ‘rest’ together, taking retreats and breaks together to recover and build relationships at the same time. 


When played as singles, tennis is an individual sport where extensive behind-the-scenes effort ensures the player performs optimally on their own. If your organisation is based around a key role or person, then this rhythm might work for you. This set up is common in founder-led businesses, architects, financial advisers and sales organisation.  

Key to success in this approach is to make sure their key person has everything they need at just the right time. They need to train key skills at key times, and combine strategic thinking with rest.  

It is important they are not overwhelmed by the needs of the supporting team. They may contribute to the design of a particular process, but they need to depend on everyone to do their bit without too much input from them, so that they are ready for the performance phase.  

Formula 1 

F1 is a team sport where each team member completes their performance window at different times. The designers, engineers, strategists and drivers have different peaks, where they need to be in performance mode. The race itself is a performance window for the driver and the pit crew but is a rest phase for much of the team.  

This is a good design for organisations in R&D type rhythms, such as innovative technology organisations. Work may go through cycles and hand-offs, and so it is possible to design a working rhythm where people can take rest periods just after a focused and intense period of work.  

Organisations who have this kind of rhythm can also use pilots and tests to try out new ideas, as they do in F1. 

Find your rhythm  

For organisations serious about building in sustainable working practices, consider using sports as a model. Work out which kind of rhythm best matches your organisation and develop a rhythm from that starting point.  

Defining what performance means for the organisation or role is essential and from there you can work back from there in terms of working out the right type of rest and what skills and capabilities are needed to optimise performance. With this approach organisations can develop ways of working that mitigate against burnout, improve employee wellbeing and boost performance at the same time. 

John McLachlan is Co-Founder and CEO of Monkey Puzzle Training and Consultancy Limited and co-author of ‘Rest. Practise. Perform.’  

John McLachlan

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