Golf: A Game of Inches and Degrees. What About Business?

Golf is a game of inches… and degrees. If you play the game, you know the frustration of missing a 3-foot putt that appears to be falling into the cup, only to do a 360 degree turn and stop right in front of the hole.  What I find interesting is the fact that golf is also a game of degrees.  The result of being off only one or two degrees when the face of a driver connects with the ball can be dramatic over a distance of 250 yards.  Instead of finding your golf ball on the left or right side of the fairway, you now have to make your second shot out of the deep rough. Good luck saving par! 

There are many business lessons that golf can teach us. For example, where golf is all about degrees, an organization can be negatively impacted by small disconnects in the executive team.  When issues and disagreements come up within the leadership team, a successful team can resolve these issues and move on. Often, however, a small issue might be swept under the rug because individuals on the team feel it is not worth spending the time and energy necessary to address the issue and so they pretend as if it doesn’t exist. Now, think back of the example with the driver: if you don’t correct your alignment before striking the ball, you will be off one or two degrees and the result over a longer distance can penalize you greatly. The same thing goes for small-unresolved issues at the top of the organization. They will trickle down into the organization and become larger issues that lead to time-consuming infighting among individuals and teams.  So, the learning here is to address the issue you are having with your peer, or the entire staff, even if it seems small. If not, those lower in the organization will find themselves fighting a battle that should never have been created.

In his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni describes the 2nd dysfunction as being the fear of conflict. He writes: “All great relationships, the ones that last over time, require productive conflict in order to grow. This is true in marriage, parenthood, friendship, and certainly business.” (p. 202) So not only does sweeping an issue under the rug lead to future issues but it also stands in the way of personal and professional growth. 

Productive conflict, however, will never take place if there is an absence of trust (1st dysfunction) amongst the team. Lencioni writes: “In the context of building a team, trust is the confidence among team members that their peers’ intentions are good, and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group.” (p. 195)

I’ve got tickets on Friday for the Wells Fargo Golf Tournament here in Charlotte.  I enjoy getting close to the players and their caddies and listening to their conversation.  Sometimes you follow them for several holes.  It will be interesting to see if  I hear any heated discussions about what club the Pro wants to play and if the caddie agrees with him or hands him a different one.