7 Ways Business is Like Hockey

With 2017 being the 100th Anniversary of National Hockey League, and the hockey playoffs in full swing, I thought it only fitting to share my views on how successful hockey teams and successful businesses are similar and what you might learn from hockey that could make your business score.

Being a Canadian kid who grew up at the hockey rink you can imagine I love the game. In fact I love a lot of team sports. I also happen to love the game of business. As I watch the hockey playoffs I appreciate once again can how business and hockey have so much in common.

Here’s 7 ways hockey and business align and where business leaders can learn from the great game of hockey.


Hockey: Every team’s vision is to win the Stanley Cup. A well-led team knows its strengths and weaknesses, and can hold this ultimate vision and an interim goal with equal value and motivation — a successful “building year” is every bit as valuable (and measurable) as the year they win the Cup.

Business: A good vision statement is designed to describe the ultimate prize a business is playing for. Strong interim goals, aligned with this vision, allow the right people, processes and behaviors to move steadily toward the vision.


Hockey: For each game, coaches study their opponents, consider which players are available for that game and then choose a strategy they think will result in a win.

Business: Leaders determine what a win looks like, thoroughly vet their competitors, assess the talents of their own team and then create strategies they believe will deliver the best results.


Hockey: Once the game plan is in place, hockey teams get out on the ice and play the first period of the game. Hockey coaches will tell you they are trying to win by focusing on one shift at a time.

Business: In the businesses we work with, the “period” is usually the 3-month quarter. Companies go out and run plays they think will help them win their quarter game.


Hockey: At the end of the first period, teams get off the ice and head to the dressing room. Here they quickly check in on what worked in that period, what didn’t work and what they want to try to do in the second period. This pattern repeats itself at the end of the second period.

Business: Similarly, in successful businesses there are reviews (including the very formal ones required of publicly traded companies) at the end of a quarter. Unfortunately for businesses they don’t get an actual break, as they’ll be reviewing the first quarter while the second quarter is well underway. However, that “where-are-we-at and where-are-we-going-next” quarterly review is vital if you don’t want to repeat the behaviors and patterns that were not successful in the past quarter.


Hockey: Note that coaches don’t tell players how to skate, shoot or other basics of playing hockey. They talk more about the outcomes that happened as a result of their actions. Hockey players are still allowed to bring their creative talents to winning the game.

Business: In successful businesses, employees have clearly communicated expectations of the outcomes entrusted to them. They aren’t told exactly what to do and how to do it. This unleashes their creative talents in service of solving the biggest issues the company is facing.


Hockey: Once the game is over the scoreboard paints a clear picture of exactly who won.

Business: In a great business, measures of success are clearly defined, both financial measures and less tangible results. Successful businesses know exactly what a win looks like.


Hockey: After the hockey game ends there is more time available to see what worked and what didn’t. Players are brought in and given feedback about their performance and the areas where the coaches would like to see improvement.

Business: A successful business provides plenty of formal and informal opportunities for feedback and coaching. The annual performance review is only a part of the feedback process (imagine a hockey player only receiving specific coaching at the end of each season). This is one area where business leaders could learn a lot about managing people’s performance.

I could go on and on (as I am often told).

My point is there is a lot of similarities between the way people play the game of hockey and the way people can play the game of business. As a metaphor, a team sport is a great one. We, as leaders, can utilize the concepts used by great coaches to win the games our company is playing.

Don’t underestimate the power of organizing your efforts in a similar fashion to how great sports teams organize themselves. You could be missing a key component to claiming ultimate victory.

Supporting leaders to create superior results, true to their values, through the use of a Game Method is what we do at Culture Counts. Contact me if you’d like to learn more.