How to Hit a Business Home Run

The month of October and Major League Baseball playoffs have become synonymous, and so have certain MLB teams that consistently make the playoffs (and others that don’t). The Chicago Cubs are sitting at home… again, while the St. Louis Cardinals are chasing another world championship. Here’s the ultimate question: What is it about some teams that they can consistently play at a championship level, but others struggle to find success in those same critical conditions?

Over the past two years, I’ve interviewed, studied and researched the habits of great teams and what they do best in both the sports and business worlds—and I have discovered long-running cultures and actions that contribute to the success these organizations have built. One defining championship-level quality of successful teams is that they know how to win in the fourth quarter, final inning—or those last crucial seconds before the game ends.

October is the beginning of the fourth quarter of many companies’ fiscal year. Almost every organization has the goal to close out strong, and I’ve found powerful sports insights that can be applied to just this kind of real-world business situation.

One of the greatest teams of all time was the Jerry Sloan-coached Utah Jazz, a team that spent a decade playing at a championship level, but had the misfortune of peaking at the same time as Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. The Jazz were so consistent because they were exceptional in closing out the fourth quarter successfully and efficiently.

Sloan sat down and spoke with me about why his team was so good at closing out games. He believed that critical situations and fourth quarter moments were meant for doing what the team did best: playing to their strengths rather than creating some new (or rarely used) strategy in crunch-time.

The Jazz followed proven methods, which cut down the margin of error and confusion and were strategies the players felt comfortable executing with precision when the pressure was greatest. They stuck with this philosophy even though everyone in the arena—including the competition—knew what was coming. These tried-and-true tactics ensured that the Jazz would stay in control—and most often come out on top—during the more chaotic moments of the game. 

The Utah Jazz didn’t deviate from what made them successful when they had limited time to go for the win. This is the challenge that a lot of companies face: Innovation is a wonderful thing, but is the fourth quarter the best time to try something creative, different and unproven? Instead, consider the most efficient path to success. Once you know your team’s go-to move, perfecting it and staying consistent will keep you organized, focused and confident.

Like the St. Louis Cardinals or the Utah Jazz, we should rely on our golden method of success. Does your team know how to win the fourth quarter consistently? What’s the secret to your late-game success? Leave me a comment, and let’s discuss finishing strong!

It takes more than raw talent for athletes to win. Find out why coaches are so vital to a team’s success.

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