What volleyball has taught me about team collaboration at work

Victor Boscatt
4 min readFeb 15, 2021

Seven years ago, I joined an amateur volleyball team in my hometown. As I came to know more about this sport, it became one of my biggest hobbies. While learning about the technique and the game rules, I found some parallelisms with my professional life that I would like to share in this article.

I went to university in a small town of Southern Germany right at the border with Switzerland. We had an open-air volleyball field on the grass where we would play long games during spring and autumn. Our games consisted of people divided into two teams passing the ball to each other until it fell. There was no strategy, no plan, just pass the ball. Not even the taller people knew how to use their advantage. Years later, when I joined a volleyball team and came to understand the rules and sport technique. I then realized that what we played was not volleyball. We had fun, lots of it. But that was not volleyball.

For those who are not familiar with volleyball, it is a sport where two teams consisting of six people each play with a ball. Each team can touch the ball up to three times before passing it to the other side. Ideally, the first touch is a reception where the ball goes to the setter, who does the second touch. The second touch puts the ball in a spot where an attacker can hit it using the third touch to send it to the other side. To make sure that this happens, each player has a role in the game. But just like in life, things do not always go as planned. The ball is often not received by the defense in the right way, or it does not go to the setter to make the second touch or is not even set in the right way to be hit by the attackers. For this reason, even though each player has a role on the court, they are all trained to do everything so the game can go on. All the players learn and train all the movements and techniques, even those that are the specialty of their position.

Lately, I have been reflecting on how volleyball is, or at least should be, similar to our professional life. Whether you work in HR, finance, operations, or sales, or if you are a senior or a junior, we all have roles in our teams or departments. These roles imply a responsibility for things that have an overall impact on the ecosystem of our business. But when things do not go as planned, we often fail. Failure happens because we are focused on our responsibility, but we became spectators of what is happening around us. It is not our problem to solve. Someone else is responsible for it. I think it is essential to have clear responsibilities, do not get me wrong. But I do believe that we should not strictly stick to what our job is to do. Here is where accountability becomes key.

For example, my role as an employer branding manager is to promote my company as a great place to work. My job is to communicate our culture, values, and how great it is to work here. It is my responsibility. On the other hand, I should also make sure our employees have a good experience, get what they need to do their job, and be motivated to do so. I should be accountable for that. The moment we realize that we need to participate in someone else’s responsibility actively, we become accountable for it.

To illustrate this, I identified three principles used in volleyball that we can easily apply in our professional lives:

  • Eyes on the ball: It means to focus on what is happening. We need to have our focus on the game, and that is, on the ball. We never know when we will need to run for it or ding on the floor to catch it. Being focused helps us identify when things go wrong and enable us time to react quickly.
  • Bend your legs: it means to be ready to act any time. When playing volleyball, if you have your legs bent, it is easier for you to catch the ball in whatever way it comes, high or low. Being ready means no surprise. A good player is always waiting for the ball.
  • Hug your team: it means always celebrate. You will see that the whole team hug each other after every point. But you will also see that the team that just lost the point will always reunite in the center of the court. As mentioned, sometimes things do not go as expected. However, the team still gets together to encourage each other and start over.

I will never forget my coach yelling at us every time we failed to save the game by simply not applying any of these principles. There was no excuse for not stepping in and doing something that another teammate could not do, even if it was their responsibility. Even when we failed to make a point, we always got together and started over.

  • Can we finally stop making excuses when things go wrong?
  • Are we ready to step in and save the game?
  • Will we stop being spectators and start being accountable for those who work with us?

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

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Victor Boscatt

Communications · Employer Branding · Employee Experience