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Careers From the sports arena to the office, how winning teams get it right

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

Sports metaphors aren't ground-breaking when we discuss the workplace, but there's a lot we can learn about strategic employer branding from how the most successful sports teams attract and retain the best talent.

When I look back on 2016's high-performing teams, Canada's national women's soccer team stands out – it's clear that it is doing something right. The passion that the girls feel for not just the sport itself, but their team is evident every game. But what is it that draws them in?

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It's not just about money and paying for the best players – yes, money helps, but most professional teams don't earn top-dollar. Building a winning team is less about money and more about creating a prestigious, attractive brand that draws in great talent.

Brand identity is what puts Google, Microsoft and Apple on the most reputable companies list year after year. In fact, when considering a new job, 56 per cent per cent of professionals agree that the most important factor is whether the company is perceived as a great place to work.

It's the same with professional sports teams – athletes don't want to be part of a team that has a bad (or even non-existent) reputation. But they will support and stand by their team if they see its value and perceive it as prestigious.

Stakeholders, including employees, are the ones that shape brand identity and reputation. What can we offer them in order to create brand champions who make a positive impact?

Teamwork

Soccer is a team sport. No matter how talented Ashley Lawrence, Janine Beckie and Jesse Fleming are individually, championships and medals are won from the aligned efforts of the whole group. Many of today's most prestigious firms know that focusing on improving individual workers is simply not enough when work is becoming increasingly team-based. The Harvard Business Review recently published a study that found that ''the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 per cent or more'' in the last 20 years. Companies are realizing that teamwork is key for business success, and studies show that people working in teams tend to achieve better results and report higher job satisfaction – resulting in happier employees that shape and reinforce brand reputation.

Challenges

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There are no winners without opponents. The women's national team had to face many tough challenges to get to where it is today – women's soccer wasn't in the Olympics until 1996, and the team's defeat in the 2011 World Cup was a huge setback. Fast-forward five years, it beat the toughest teams from across the world to clutch the bronze medal in Rio. Just like the best soccer stars thrive in big game situations, the best professional talent thrives when faced with challenging work and meaningful problems. Prestigious brands know the value of challenging their employees to keep them engaged and committed to the organization's overall goals. This is especially true for millennials, where intrinsic passion for a cause is a primary motivator.

Leadership

Every successful sports team has a strong leader: a captain like Christine Sinclair or a coach like John Herdman and every high-performing team is led by exceptional leaders who share in their team's successes and failures. The best companies offer ongoing learning opportunities and cultivate a culture where senior leaders are willing to mentor and coach. Mr. Herdman is known for his ability to empower players to be their best – which ultimately leads to team success. In the workplace, employees need to know that the leadership team is equally committed to organizational success as well as the individual employee experience.

Stacy Parker is co-founder and managing director of the Blu Ivy Group.

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