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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

Sports teach valuable lessons, October 20, 2006, 9C.

Playing intramural sports during my undergraduate years in college were some of my most enjoyable experiences as a student.  As a member of a small student group that participated in my university’s intramural program, it was not uncommon during some times of the semester to run between games of multiple sports in a single evening.  As the coordinator of intramurals for the group, it was my responsibility to ensure that we had enough players at each event and to coordinate and sometimes “coach” our teams during practices.

The skills and coaching requirements needed to build an effective tennis team are quite different from those required in volleyball or flag football.  Softball, team bowling, basketball, team racquetball, team golf, and team track and field also required different coaching skills to bring about the types of teamwork needed for success in the various sports. 

Team golf and bowling require working with team members on their individual games— the team score is the sum of the individual scores and there is little interaction or dependence among team members.   In team racquetball and tennis, players compete in singles and in doubles matches.  Singles players compete much like the bowlers, as individuals, while doubles players have to learn to work with a partner.  Softball requires individual performance when batting and catching balls, but requires teamwork when relaying the ball around the field to other players.  Runners must also be aware of the actions of defensive players and those of other runners.  Relay racers in the track and field competitions practice handing off the baton to teammates as well as develop their own racing skills.  Basketball, football, and volleyball require players to perform individually and as part of a team.  Those sports require considerable teamwork and mutual adjustment.

Organizations are defined as “social entities made up of two or more people who work together interdependently to accomplish common goals.”  Organizational scientist, James Thompson, identified three forms of interdependence—pooled, sequential, and reciprocal.  Pooled interdependence is characteristic of golf and bowling teams.  Group performance is the “pooled” performances of the individuals on the team.  Relay teams in track and field events are examples of sequential interdependence.  Here, performance of one team member does not begin until the performance of another team member ends.  Under sequential interdependence, time must be spent practicing the transfer of responsibility from one member to another.  Reciprocal interdependence describes the basketball team.  In basketball, players continually act and react to the actions of teammates and competitors.  Play is constant and dynamic and requires individual players to work as a team in order to succeed.  Baseball, football, volleyball, and other sports are hybrid-combinations of Thompson’s three pure forms.

Sports teams provide organizational scientists and educators with great examples for studying and analyzing teams, goals, performance, and interdependence.  The ways that organizations are structured affects coordination, communication, control, and teamwork processes.  Thompson’s forms of interdependence exist within all types of organizations.  Managers must identify the forms at play within their organizations and formulate proper strategies to maximize team and individual performance.

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© 2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved