If your team was anything like ours here at Sifter, you spent quite a bit of time last month watching the Olympics down in Rio.

Amidst the stellar displays of athleticism and sportsmanship came a funny realization: the dynamics of team sports have a lot in common with the dynamics of teams managing an issue.

The business metaphors write themselves

Take, for example, indoor volleyball. Have you caught any of the matches? The players hit missiles left and right. They play complicated chess matches of power and finesse. This is not your niece Tiffany’s high school volleyball. For one thing, there’s more grunting. The stakes are higher, and with medals on the line, people leave everything on the court.

Every player has world-class talent, and every single person knows his or her responsibility. No matter the rotation, three front row players hit the same spot. A key defender dominates the back row. A fourth attacker serves a double role as defender, and perhaps most important of all, each team designates someone to set up the attackers.

The business metaphors write themselves: When a coach assigns responsibility and when each player, in turn, accepts accountability with the team, they can embrace the madness. They can only succeed if they act as a single cohesive unit.

The key is accepting both responsibility and accountability.

Responsibility and accountability

Once they know their responsibilities, the team can practice and train to become better at doing specific tasks. If something goes wrong, everyone can quickly diagnose the problem.

Because of the fast-paced nature of the environment, the competition, the person at fault can quickly recognize the breakdown, apologize, and re-engage. The goal is never passing blame. The goal is to overcome breakdowns and, of course, winning.

Imagine if your team at work functioned like a volleyball team.

Sometimes the ball comes flying at you unpredictably. Sometimes, an erratic trajectory creates chaos. People scramble to cover one another, to catch mistakes before they happen. When the emergency passes, the team resets. Each member resumes his or her position of responsibility and accountability.

Sifter sets the plays.

Sifter is the perfect tool to assign such positions to designers and engineers. Your key defender passes the initial report to the proper dev who can assess the situation and fix the issue or set up a third person.

In volleyball, the ball always comes back over the net. In business, new issues will always arise.

Take 15 minutes right now to answer these questions for your team:

  • Is each role clearly defined in your bug and issue-tracking process?
  • Are team responsibilities documented in a GoogleDoc available in an easy-to-access place like Slack?
  • Have you established clear accountability?
  • Have you facilitated a brainstorming session about process improvement? This article is a great springboard.

Toyota is famous for their Toyota Production System, which relies on front-line workers to help improve operations. You are sitting on a treasure trove of insights and improvements. Use some interviews and brainstorming to bring them to the surface.

Your customers will thank you.

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