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What Businesses Like Yours Can Learn from March Madness

You’re in your armchair after a long day at work. You can almost smell the popcorn as the TV blasts whistles and squeaking sneakers. There’s excitement in the air. You’re giddy at the prospect of 21 days filled with college basketball.  

Since 1939, college basketball teams have competed in the Division 1 NCAA Tournament known as March Madness. In 2020, with 68 teams and 7 rounds of play, there’s a lot to see! But there’s more to it than just the successes and failures of Duke and UConn. In addition to enjoying March Madness for yourself, there are a few takeaways you can apply to your small business – and a solid reminder why so many ‘business sayings’ were born in sports. 

It’s all about the teamwork…

As basketball is a team sport, this is an easy one. Nobody wins individually. As the old saying goes, “there’s no ‘I’ in team.” You get the idea.

When thinking about your business, make sure you foster an environment of collaboration. Encourage office-related events to boost involvement from all employees. Work to create a space where everyone feels included, valued, safe, and critical to the success of your business. 

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And the hard work…

To have a successful small business, you have to put in the hard work. It won’t just happen overnight (but you knew that). Just like the college basketball teams that practice constantly in hopes of performing well in their conference championships, you must put in the hard work to be ready when the time comes. 

It’s no surprise that many basketball sayings have worked their way into everyday business speech. Lay-ups and free-throws are the routine kind shots that good players should simply never miss. What’s the equivalent for your business?

Not every customer interaction has to be a slam dunk. What everyday question, call, or sale should your team never miss an opportunity on? Training this one skill could help you in big ways.

March Madness teaches us to never give up hope

You may be the underdog, the lower seed, the team that seems obscure. But that doesn’t stop you from trying. In fact, sometimes it gives you an advantage because no one is expecting you to do well. 

There’s nothing wrong with being the underdog. As you think about your small business, think about ways that you can continue to compete despite your size. Keep trying to grow. Keep trying to succeed. And never give up hope. You might just be the equivalent of the next March Madness Cinderella Team that wins when no one is expecting it.

…and keep working until you hear the buzzer

Just like you should never give up hope, you should always play until you hear the buzzer. Games can be won or lost in the span of one second as that final half-court shot is thrown into the air, the buzzer sounds, and the crowd holds their breath watching the arc of the ball as it descends straight into the hoop.

In the same way, don’t give up on a sale or a client until the buzzer truly sounds.  

Keep working, keep trying. This is true for a bad quarter or season. For that reason, yet another common business term has its roots in basketball: the pivot

Many companies have become defined by the way they handle adversity or unexpected challenges. There’s a reason the word “pivot” is so incredibly central to both basketball and business. Thinking through, growing from, and pivoting around the challenges you face is the only way to charge forward sustainably.

Study your competitors for valuable insights

College basketball teams spend hours and hours studying their competitors. How they shoot, how they defend, how they dribble, what side they favor for layups. In a similar fashion, you should know details about your competitors. Know about their marketing campaign and their pricing strategy. Know any developments or new products. 

If you lose, you’re out! (and other harsh realities)

In March Madness, if a team loses, they’re out! Now this isn’t always the real truth in the business world. But you want to operate with an understanding that every decision and company initiative is important. If something fails, it’s a big deal. If you upset a major customer, it’s a big deal. Make sure your team knows the urgency and importance of the work they are doing. Every play is connected!

Every decision matters. Every player has an important role. And every play (and position) influences your final outcome.

Learn from your mistakes and keep trying

A game of basketball really highlights mistakes. As a player, if you miss a shot, screw up a rebound or double dribble – it can be disheartening. In some cases, it can change the course of a single play. In others, it can change the course of an entire game.  It’s the same in the business world. Mistakes can be tough. But remembering that mistakes happen and you have to move on is key to continued success. Basketball shows us the importance of staying in the game.

As you watch 2020’s tournament unfold, think about how you can use valuable lessons from March Madness to build teamwork, grow your business, and compete like never before. 

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