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Handball: 8 Lessons for Corporate Teams

Handball is one of the most physically challenging sports ever.

It is very fast, you lose and gain people along the way, get damages for sure and you never know who might win until the last second of the game. I believe that it symbolises the business world quite well.

I grew up with handball – played for 8 years, sometimes in 2-3 teams at the same time. I also worked in teams in different contexts, businesses and cultures. I am convinced that being a team is a tough journey! I guess you would agree with me…

Let’s have a look at what we can learn from handball to be better team players and create successful teams.

1. Make a promise to each other out loud before the game begins.

Handball players decide on their intention as a team and shout it out from the top of their voices at the same time which is generally followed with goose bumps all over the body. The commitment and the promise they give to each other make them walk towards the field feeling bigger and stronger. What is the common purpose of your team? What do you promise to each other when you are heading towards your team objectives?

2. See opportunities and create space for other team members to dive in.

If certain team members are better than others in certain areas, we need to create space for them to carry us forward faster and stronger. In handball, the tactics are designed around this principle. For example, if a player has the ball, a team mate comes and blocks the defence for the shooter to have the space to dive in and make the goal. One of them creates the opportunity, the other one finishes the job – for everyone. If a team member is better at closing a deal do you hand over the task to them when you do your successful planning?

3. Plan and execute - altogether.

No action is meaningful without a plan. We cannot rely on being lucky every time. In handball, there are always sets of plans and strategies that are designed according to the weaknesses of the competitor. The plans involve most or all of the team members depending on the strategy. If someone gets stuck somewhere the rest of the team can still continue as they know what is being executed and how it should be done. Just like, it can and should in business. How do you plan your strategy as a team?

4. Fill in the gaps for the missing member with no resentment.

In handball, if you make a serious fault the referee can kick you out for 2 minutes - the longest 2 minutes of each handball player’s life. The rest of the team shuffles and fills in the gap for those 2 minutes and they focus on where they need to go and what they need to do without wasting time with resentments. Unfortunately, resentment is becoming a contagious illness in organisations which has a huge negative impact on people’s performance and level of fulfilment at work. How do you react when a member is missing in the team?

5. Be your best whilst fighting for the team.

Every handball player would like to be the best – why wouldn’t they? Yes, it is a real ego booster when you hear the fans calling your name over and over again when you are heading for a goal. However, no player is bigger than the team otherwise polarisation stars and the team spirit gets broken. We all should work hard to be our best - we owe it to ourselves as we invest time and effort in our careers. However, one needs to decide in advance if they are there to win as an individual or as a team. Intention is always reflected in behaviours and can rarely be hidden. What is your intention?

6. Have the same attitude with your teammates towards your competitor.

Generally there is unity in the attitude of teams. Each team has a culture and reflect the same energy. Have you ever noticed that energies can be different in different parts of your office? When you meet the members of the same team separately you will notice that they all have a similar approach towards their competitor if not the same! Daring, respectful, observant etc. Having unity in your attitude comes from and feeds back into the culture and spirit of your team. What is the culture of your team?

7. Apologise for your mistakes.

When a handball player misses an opportunity or does something wrong, their hand raises as a reflex to say 'sorry' and they have eye contact with the person they let down. The other person nods to receive the apology. This is the case most of the time if not all the time in handball. Because, whoever makes the mistake the team needs to bounce back as a team to keep its unity. Also laughing at the mistakes afterwards is another virtue handball players have. They laugh at their own or others’ mistakes, tease each other but they do not make fun of each other. That's how they can remain as a team. How are mistakes received in your team?

8. Celebrate success.

I guess this is obvious but not always done from the heart in organisations. Someone organises something for the team because that's how it is done. Handball players look forward to the final whistle to run for a group hug and a get together after a game. Then it is time for that 'cheers' moment with big smiles in the pub and the first synchronised sip as a team. Does your team do that from the heart?

You might be thinking, this is a lot to do for others – yes, it is! Who would be worth doing it for? The ones you share the same purpose with. These people are out there. It is up to us to build the right teams where we share a common purpose. It is also up to us to create a common purpose with the teams we fall into. It is not easy but it’s possible!

Each professional can choose to invest in themselves and others to become more like handball players and live that team spirit! What are you choosing every day?

All the very best,


Melda Ekmen is an associate at Lea_p. She works independently as an Executive Coach and has done so for the past 4 years. She has also worked at L'Oreal Group in Turkey, France and the UK as an HR Manager and Learning & Development Manager on programme design and delivery, project management and ongoing operational responsibilities. She was also a Psychologist and Principal of a preschool.


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