Building a High-Performing Finance Team: Lessons from Elite Sports Coaching

Building a High-Performing Finance Team: Lessons from Elite Sports Coaching

The new football season is underway—sorry, Soccer season for my American readers. Listeners of the next 100 Days podcast will already know I’m a huge fan. It’s going to be a big season for my team, Newcastle United, as they return to the Champions League for the first time in quite a few years.

There’s a 4 part documentary released on Amazon Prime today, “We Are Newcastle United”, which will follow the team from the arrival of new owners 18 months ago, through the avoidance of an almost certain relegation, to a cup final and a top 4 finish. The reason I want to watch it is to find out what happened behind the scenes. How did Eddie Howe transform the team? You may say this was by spending money in the transfer market, but the real success story is about the players he inherited and how certain individual team members were transformed. Joelinton a failing no9 turned into one of the best attacking midfielders in the league is a case in point.

So, how do you build a high-performing finance team?

In the world of finance, just as in elite sports, the pursuit of excellence requires the assembly of a high-performing team. Just like a coach draws out the best from their athletes, a finance leader must cultivate an environment where individuals can reach their full potential, fostering a team that excels collectively. The parallels between elite sports coaching and finance team leadership reveal valuable strategies to create a winning financial team.

1 Recruitment and Talent Identification: The Drafting Process

In elite sports, coaches meticulously scout and recruit athletes with specific talents that align with the team’s goals. Similarly, building a high-performing finance team starts with selecting individuals with diverse skill sets, relevant experiences, and a shared commitment to financial success. Just as a football team needs both forwards and defenders, a finance team requires individuals adept at risk assessment, analytics, strategic planning, and communication.

I’m looking at the recruitment process for this week’s . Ryan Englin, CEO at Core Matters and host of the Talent Tackle Box podcast joins me for a really interesting discussion about going fishing for people. You can listen here, on your favourite podcast player or watch the video.

2 Skill Development and Training: Perfecting the Fundamentals

Elite athletes constantly refine their skills through rigorous training regimens. Similarly, finance professionals must undergo continuous learning to keep up with the dynamic nature of the industry. Providing regular training sessions, workshops, and opportunities for skill enhancement ensures that your finance team remains at the forefront of industry trends and regulatory changes.

This is one of the main reasons Dan Wells and I created GrowCFO. It provides finance leaders and their teams access to a range of courses and workshops covering every aspect of the role. 

There’s a new season kicking off for finance teams too as people return from summer breaks, so we’ve got boot camps kicking off in September covering business partnering; FP&A; finance transformation; and Power BI. There are also new cohorts of our flagship CFO and Future CFO programmes launching. Find out more at

3 Goal Setting and Performance Metrics: Striving for Excellence

Coaches set specific performance metrics and objectives for their athletes, driving them towards greatness. Similarly, finance leaders should establish clear financial goals for the team, aligning them with the broader organizational objectives. Regularly tracking and evaluating progress against these goals enables the team to remain focused and motivated, just as elite athletes do in their pursuit of victory.

I regard September as the start of the new season for my own personal planning and objective setting. Many folk do this in January but the first quarter is a really busy time for most finance teams with year-end and annual audit taking place. I think September is the right time to set objectives with your team. It’s a time of year for new beginnings too. Your brain is accustomed to change at this time of year, you have been conditioned this year since you were 5 years old. The new school year, the time of year you moved to a new school or college and the time of year you likely got your very first proper job. 

4 Team Cohesion and Collaboration: Uniting for Victory

Championship sports teams are known for their impeccable teamwork and coordination. Similarly, a finance team’s success hinges on effective collaboration. Cultivating an environment where team members can communicate openly, share ideas, and leverage each other’s strengths leads to enhanced decision-making and innovative problem-solving.

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Creating the right culture is something that fascinates me. Culture is really hard to change but is so important. Back in episode 130 of the GrowCFO Show, I spoke to Richard Nugent on “The CFO’s Role Aligning Strategy and Culture”. You can listen here

5 Adaptation and Strategy: Navigating Changing Conditions

In both sports and finance, adaptability is paramount. Just as coaches adjust game plans based on opponent strategies, finance leaders must adapt to shifts in market conditions and economic landscapes. Encouraging your team to think critically, anticipate changes, and develop contingency plans ensures that your financial team can navigate any challenge that comes their way.

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To do this you have to empower your team and allow them to bring their A-game. I spoke to author, speaker and leadership coach Myles Downey about this in episode 132 of the GrowCFO Show

Myles brings a lot of lessons from sport into the discussion, in particular tennis and golf.

6 Mentorship and Coaching: Nurturing Emerging Talent

Elite athletes often credit their coaches for their personal growth and success. Similarly, fostering mentorship within your finance team can accelerate the development of junior members. Encourage senior team members to share their knowledge, provide guidance, and offer constructive feedback, creating a supportive environment that cultivates rising stars.

Mentoring is a big part of GrowCFO. We take professional mentoring very seriously and we’ve put together a great team of professional mentors with a diverse range of backgrounds, For mentoring to work the right chemistry has to be in place and our aim is to have the right mentor available for everyone. You can find out more about mentoring here.

7. Celebrating Achievements: Recognizing Triumphs

When a sports team achieves victory, celebrations are in order. Likewise, acknowledging and celebrating the finance team’s successes boosts morale and fosters a sense of accomplishment. Whether it’s meeting financial targets, successfully completing a project, or overcoming a challenge, recognizing and rewarding achievements reinforces the team’s commitment to excellence.

Celebrate success with your team. Finance folk are always busy and finding time to do this is difficult. When you celebrate, make sure you create something memorable, something the team will talk about in the months and even years to come. “Do you remember when……” Special and memorable doesn’t mean expensive, but it needs thought and commitment. It’s the effort you put in to make it special that turns into the glue that holds your high-performing team together.

Find Out More

If you want to go deeper into the topic of developing your finance team there’s a great article on the GrowCFO website about maximising your team’s performance:


Creating a high-performing finance team draws inspiration from the strategies elite sports coaches employ to get the best out of their athletes. By recruiting the right talent, investing in skill development, setting clear goals, promoting collaboration, embracing adaptability, nurturing emerging talent, and celebrating achievements, finance leaders can build a team that not only thrives but consistently outperforms expectations. Marrying elite sports coaching principles with finance leadership can unlock unparalleled success in the dynamic and competitive world of finance.

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