Multi-disciplinary teams composed of practitioners from different disciplines (perhaps coaches, medical staff, physical performance staff, psychologists, and others) are put in place in professional sport to help manage the health and performance of athletes.

Multi-disciplinary implies that knowledge from each discipline is drawn upon but, that each stay within their boundaries. Better decision making will come from creating greater inter-disciplinarity. This would still mean still drawing on the expertise from each discipline but challenging them to synthesise the links between themselves to form a coherent whole (1).

In professional sport we often talk about these teams being athlete-centred. However, if they are to find true inter-disciplinary solutions to the complex problems facing athletes (e.g. best development pathway, optimal rehab strategy) then, I would argue, they need to be athlete-involved.

The amount which you involve the athlete can be discussed as appropriate, to each individual. Remember, complexity nests and the person closest to the action has the most knowledge of the system, in this case, that is the athlete themselves. Experienced professional athletes should know their bodies better than juvenile athletes and should know them better than you as a practitioner. They can provide valuable insight into how they are feeling and what is best for them.

Because of the complex nature of any environment where people are collaborating, each person within the space will bring their own unique perspective based on their upbringing, education, and experiences. This means that even teams of practitioners from one discipline (say, strength and conditioning coaches) will have differing viewpoints and thus, value to add. Complex environments are shaped by the inter-dependence of the component parts. In a team from one discipline this is clearly less inter-disciplinary, but it is still inter-personal.

How then do we go about delivering on the promise of synthesised solutions from inter-dependent environments?

In the previous post we discussed the way that leaders can foster an environment conducive to better decision making in teams containing practitioners from different disciplines. We have also discussed how at certain moments in complex environments, we are all leaders.

For true inter-disciplinary solutions to be found, then our decision-making processes must make space for the honest opinions of everyone to be heard. This is the responsibility of the leader. However, it is the responsibility of everyone within the group to show up and offer an honest and informed opinion. These should be nuanced and open to cross-examination, which we should welcome.

As a leader in this environment, I should have made clear the challenge before bringing the team together. Given that, I am expecting my team members to have done the work to prepare. As a practitioner in a professional sport environment, you are employed for your brain and critical thinking skills, as much as then being able to turn that into effective practice. As a leader I want you to bring your knowledge and experience to the table and offer value that will make us all better.

What does doing the work mean? As a member of the team have you informed yourself of the situation by going away and studying the relevant data? Have you reflected the situation in hand and how that fits with your own knowledge? Can you identify some key talking points to bring to the meeting? Are you informed enough to be able listen to what others are articulating and offer the right balance of challenge and support?

The challenge in busy professional sport environments is making the space and time for the work to be done.  It is time you have to carve out for yourself. That could be first thing in the morning before the daily planning meeting, or an end of the day reflection (or both!). It is personal though and needs the personal discipline to make it happen.

This isn’t easy, as Jeff Bezos discovered when bringing his leadership team together at Amazon…

“executives, like high school kids, will try to bluff their way through a meeting”(2)

Bezos therefore, banned powerpoint from meetings at Amazon and instead required 6-page memo’s on the topic at hand to be prepared by the relevant executive. These memos are then read in silence for the first 30 minutes of a meeting, which forces them to carve out the time in the schedule for memo’s to be read. This ensures that…

“Everyone has actually read the memo, not just pretended to have read the memo” (2)

Bezos recognised the challenge of people finding the time to do the work and so formalised a space for it to happen.

Although creating space for people is important. The weakness in the Amazon system is that the author of the memo has the power to shape the narrative as they see fit. This will influence the thoughts and reflections of others and could lead to a level of group think.

Ultimately this should be a a creative process of going out, exploring, and letting your intuition take you forward through the available evidence to try and disprove your hypothesis (the scientific method). As with any creative process, it takes time and space to be in the right head space to complete.

In the fast-paced world of competitive sport, if the space is created for creativity, then each person will bring more original thought to any discussion. This isn’t always easy and often it will often come down to personal discipline.

Sport is also inherently competitive industry and if we are not learning and developing, we are not going to be better. If you are not doing the work to prepare for that, then you are doing yourself, your athletes and your organisation a disservice.

Sometimes you just have to do the work.

Things to consider…

  • When was the last time you arrived at a meeting fully prepared as opposed to relying on the leader to do the work for you?
  • How do you get into a creative headspace?
  • Where can you make the space to do the work?
  • Do you need to help from the person who leads you to do this?
  • What structures can you put in place to make this easier?
  • As a leader, what is the value of your team spending more time reflecting and preparing over being busy elsewhere?
  • How do you encourage diverse opinions from your team?



  1. Choi BC, Pak AW. Multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity in health research, services, education and policy: 1. Definitions, objectives, and evidence of effectiveness. Clin Invest Med. 2006 Dec;29(6):351-64. PMID: 17330451.