In People Skills

A Triumph for ‘Teamwork’ over ‘Individuals with Talent’


Photo – Claudio Ranieri, Leicester City manager. Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA/Guardian

There was an outbreak of joy in the early weeks of May centred on the City of Leicester, but shared throughout the country for people who follow football and even those that don’t. Leicester City Football Club (LCFC), 5,000 to 1 outsiders, won the coveted Premiership in the UK’s number one sport (if you don’t include fishing!). By achieving what they did, the football world was tilted on its axis. Previously the title had always gone to the stellar clubs with big budgets and superstar players.

I believe this was no comic book ‘one-off’ but rather an example of the coming together of forces that students of sport, and indeed organisational ‘health’, have observed when analysing the ingredients for success. The surprise is that the ‘mix’ appears so rarely and fleetingly, often falling foul of egotistical individuals who, in adding their own ‘personality’, lose sight of the basic dynamics that deliver outcomes.

So what were the primary ingredients in Leicester’s success?

In Claudio Ranieri they had a leader who, despite English being his ‘second’ language, was an excellent communicator. He connected to all ‘employees’, NOT just the players, with humanity and an understanding of their respective needs. Decisive when necessary, he showed high levels of emotional intelligence, appearing calm under the intense scrutiny of the media and the inevitable pressure when closing in on success. Adversity via results, injury or refereeing decisions were treated with acceptance and fortitude “it’s the past, we need to focus on the future”. He acted with humility in a profession that covets ‘celebrity’ status, spurning personal achievement to give praise to his team.

Line of Sight
Leicester had a ‘vision’ shared by their chairman, sponsors, manager investors and talent scouts. Of course it was optimistic, arguably very optimistic, but it set the bar as something to aspire to and provided a challenge to all, to deliver their part of what would make it a reality. With the winning of the premiership the vision is that bit nearer.

Perhaps the most important ingredient of them all. There is no doubt that the players provided role model evidence of teamwork. They were the most ‘collective’ unit in the premiership prepared to work hard for each other and subordinate individual glory for team success. What became evident is that this same dynamic was shared throughout the club from the executives to the programme sellers, and a word used frequently was ‘family’ in reference to the club as a whole. What we the public saw play out was that the whole was greater than the individual parts.

Fitness coaching was key –the players needed to put tactics/strategy into action each game. What this meant was hours of practice, and repetition so that the planned moves became second nature. While these invariably played to the strengths of the team, license to vary was needed to meet the challenges that occurred during matches. As the famous Gary Player once said tongue in cheek “The more I practise the luckier I get!”

It was Daniel Pink who said that motivation comes from individuals having purpose, autonomy and mastery. He could have been talking about Leicester City FC. There was a clear purpose that provided the driving force and mastery as each player tried to achieve excellence in the hours and hours of practice on the training pictures. What may not be realised is the need for players to take responsibility as individuals, to make hundreds of decisions during matches based on their own judgement of what will work. Somewhat humorously their Italian manager regularly ‘bribed’ the team with a promise of pizzas for a win. As many of their competitors had teams with players earning 5 times the money of Leicester players, clearly money was not a motivator that made the difference!

Who knows what will happen next year. For the moment I cannot help but smile. Leicester’s achievement will give confidence to many aspiring teams, providing a ‘model’ to challenge the elite clubs. As for us ‘facilitators’ of leadership and change, we have a wonderful example of leading teams to great success against the odds.

Well done Leicester City FC.

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