Why is sports such a common, and effective, metaphor for teamwork? Why not cub scout packs, or ballet companies, or marching bands? After all, those are basically teams, too. What makes sports so special?
Well, I think the answer has everything to do with the scoreboard. I believe the scoreboard is what makes an athletic contest compelling, and provides the context for teamwork.
A scoreboard provides players, coaches, officials and fans alike with the framework for why they should care about what is happening on the court or field. And it informs them about what needs to be done, in what period of time, and to what extent, in order for the team to succeed. Without a scoreboard, there is just too much room for ambiguity and interpretation about whether a team has succeeded, and what they need to do to get better next time.
Which is precisely why teams within organizations—starting at the top—need to do a better job of creating and using scoreboards to drive their actions. As obvious as all of this may seem, effective scoreboards aren't really being used correctly by executive teams in many of the organizations I've encountered. Most of them are either putting too little information, or too much, on their scoreboard, leaving people confused about how to affect the outcome of the game, or overwhelmed about how to interpret what is going on around them.
Sports scoreboards contain just enough information to help people on the field or court make informed decisions about how they can increase the odds of winning the game. This almost always includes a few simple metrics like the time remaining in the game, the number of timeouts the team has at its disposal, and of course, the score itself.
What is the right scoreboard for you? That will depend somewhat on the size of your organization as well as your industry. But whatever it is, it should be designed expressly to guide the actions of the company's leaders. That means the scoreboard will most likely contain between two and seven items that correspond to a period of time that is within your company's foreseeable and actionable horizon. Finally, the scoreboard should also be easily understandable by people deeper in the organization. That is, of course, if you want them to be focused around what really matters, and motivated to make a difference.