I am not a strategic thinker. I would be the last person to be called politically astute, but it is never too late to learn. I teach a strategy course, but it is strategy at the organizational, not the personal level. I’ve unwittingly been taking a course in strategy for the last month. The strategy of playing doubles on the tennis court.
Before I began my lessons, I played doubles a few times, but I really didn’t enjoy it, I didn’t know where I should be on the court and, in truth, I didn’t think I should be there at all!
Manual, my couch, has been teaching me that tennis is a sport that requires incredible mental focus. One has to pay attention all the time and not just to the ball, but to the other people on the court and to one’s own position in relation to them. For example, he says that you need to react every time your partner moves; you move in sync and you always cover her. If she moves to your side of the court, you move to hers. If she moves left, you move left. It is almost as if you are joined by a rope.
He says that developing a routine is helpful. When I serve, I should follow the same routine each time. Bounce the ball a few times. Look at the other side of the net and think about where I want the ball to go. If I throw the ball up and it isn’t in the right place, I’m to catch it and begin again. There is no rush.
Manual says that he doesn’t play against the other player. He focuses on his own play and tries not to make mistakes. He has realized that a mistake means the other person scores, so avoiding mistakes is one of his strategies. This way he not distracted by the person he is playing, he is always focused on his game.
He tells me to look for the empty space on the other side so I can decide where to place the ball. It was hid comment about looking for space and having a panoramic view, that made me begin to appreciate that perhaps the strategy I am learning on the court is transferable to the workplace. I asked, and he said, ‘Yes, of course – it is all the same! Manual, who is the husband of my good friend, Debra, is from Mexico, and he speaks with his whole body. So when he launches into a topic, I listen. He says that if someone consistently calls the ball ‘out’ when it is ‘in’, you shouldn’t trust them off the court. The way people behave on the court is the way they behave in life. If they are overly competitive on the court, they will be in life too. If they are gentle on the court – that behaviour carries through.
While I’m not strategic in the workplace, I’ve often been able to see opportunities or spaces outside. Business opportunities spring to mind on a weekly if not daily basis, and I mull them over and share them with others, but until now I haven’t pursued them. Since I’ve been playing doubles and applying that strategy to the workplace, I’ve begun looking for space both inside and outside the college. I am wondering if it is possible to combine a business idea with my work at the college. I am wondering if I can involve a partner, remembering the importance of a partner on the tennis court and the way we cover for each other.
You may wonder what this has to do with Human Resource Management; believe me there is a strong connection. I have always thought that as long as employees are learning, they will contribute more at work. It doesn’t matter if they are learning to knit or to play golf or like me, to play doubles. From the time we are very young, we look for patterns, so when we learn in one area of our lives, we seem to be bound to apply it in other areas and many times we apply what we have learned outside of work, in the workplace. It is important to encourage your employees to expand their horizons, in sports, in arts and crafts, academia – whatever they are interested in. They will be more energized and alert and they will apply what they have learned in their work. It may be a tangential application, but it will change and improve, the way they work.
1. Morale – Small Steps to Success by Bonnie Milne, PhD
2. Making a Difference Through Our Work by Bonnie Milne, PhD
3. Motivational Team Building by Bonnie Milne, PhD