Avant’s Kristin Ihle Molinaroli Explains the Sports Psychology Behind Corporate Team Building

Dr. Kristin Ihle Molinaroli has built an impressive career that spans more than three decades. She began as a seven-time All-American collegiate athlete who landed a coveted Nike sponsorship and spots on 7 USA teams. She is also a two-time USA Olympic Team Trial Track and Field finalist. Known then as Kristin Ihle Helledy, she ran track and field and cross country, and engaged in road racing before completing her clinical residency at the prestigious University of Notre Dame. Much like in the sports world, winning is her focus in business. Training, coaching, and continuous feedback are key components of the process, according to Kristin Molinaroli.

For more than 25 years, Kristin Molinaroli has been assisting high-performing teams to help them define and reach their goals. Her work has appeared in numerous peer-reviewed journals, and her high-energy, can-do demeanor has inspired a significant number of people at all levels of the corporate spectrum, as well as NCAA athletics. Offering pragmatic solutions to everyday workplace scenarios, Kristin Molinaroli motivates others to lead more effectively.

Her athletic roots and competitive spirit have helped her lead team members over corporate hurdles throughout her career as a business psychologist and the president of Avant. The consulting firm specializes in talent management (e.g., succession planning, coaching), team performance and organizational development. It services clients in a cross-section of manufacturing, technology, financial, healthcare and service businesses.

Kristin Molinaroli is an avid sports fan who enjoys watching her sons play hockey and attending sporting events. She has played on everything from softball teams to a boys’ soccer team. “Sports is relevant to self-discipline and chasing goals that are larger than yourself,” Molinaroli says. “It is a core value, self-discipline. Whether focusing on my team’s reputation or my family, one must be willing to put in the work. Consider the notion of working hard versus having talent. One’s nice to have, but if you don’t work hard, it doesn’t matter how much [talent] you have.”

Self-discipline and chasing goals are still fundamental to the foundation for success, according to Molinaroli. “Really understanding who your competitors are and how you stack up is important,” Kristin Molinaroli says. “It became clear to me in sport and even clearer to me in the business world.”

Over the years, Kristin Molinaroli has watched sports psychology move from the playing field to the boardroom. “It is more commonplace to have a sports psychologist on staff than it was in the 1980s when I was competing,” Molinaroli writes in a blog post on Avantleadership.com. “Now, sports psychologists are an accepted, even expected, part of individual and team training.”

But the true test of a team comes during times of turmoil, according to Molinaroli. As UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden once said, “a good coach can change a game, [and] a great coach can change a life.” And Molinaroli is indeed in the business of transforming lives.

Regardless of industry, for Kristin Molinaroli, it’s all about roles, goals, and relationships.

“[Patrick] Lencioni also has a great model which addresses the Five Behaviors for a cohesive, high performing team” Molinaroli says, “which are trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, and results. I use that model regularly as it is both straightforward and substantive,” she adds.

“We have a model that has four interconnected planks:

Plank 1: Honest communication,

Plank 2: Purpose,

Plank 3: Joint ownership, and

Plank 4: Delivering results”

Molinaroli says. “What cuts across all four of those planks is clear process and procedure because, in my mind, it’s clear process and procedure that builds dynasties. It’s why Alabama continues to have a good football team and attract great talent.”

Innovating a way to empower employees to take ownership of their development and make development scalable is what led Kristin Molinaroli to create her brainchild, LUMEN. The revolutionary technology app drives employee growth and performance by providing interactive, real-time feedback from select stakeholders to allow immediate action toward accomplishing tasks and reaching goals. The app is being applied beyond its original scope and is demonstrating positive outcomes in areas such as sports teams, higher education (e.g., clinical training), and healthy habit building (e.g., exercise, nutrition).

“If you don’t have communication and feedback on a team, whether it’s sports psychology, a sports team, or in a business, you’re kind of dead in the water,” Kristin Molinaroli explains. “Maintaining open and honest communication, trust, and respect are the foundations for excellence. Individual and team performance, be those in the sports world or corporate arenas, are predicated on communication, alignment, and continuous feedback on performance. The tools for effective sports teams and business teams are generally the same,” Molinaroli says. “The difference maker is often whether leadership consistently leverages those tools to enhance team effectiveness and performance. It is never a straight line to exceptional performance and it takes (formal/informal) leaders to stay the course especially in tough times.”

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