MT Expert's Ten Top Tips: Lessons in teamwork from the World Cup

At least something can be gained from England's dismal performance...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010
It may have been a cultural and socio-political success but the 2010 FIFA World Cup was a disappointing footballing spectacle, particularly for England fans. MT asked coaching and leadership specialist Neil Twogood of Performance Consultants what business teams can learn from the tournament.

1. Have a common purpose
England’s aim was to reach the final but what they needed was a common purpose that was within their direct control. Beforehand, they could have asked themselves how they would like to be remembered by key stakeholders (the fans, the opposition, the officials, the media). If they had chosen the common purpose to ‘be the most professional team in the tournament’, they could have asked themselves: how would the most professional team prepare, handle pressure, interact with each other/the public/the media, handle dissent etc? This would have given them a powerful lens with which to look at themselves both individually and as a side.

2. Define what it means to be part of the team
Every team should feel like an elite squad with their own performance goals and milestones. They need an agreed way of working and clear expectations about standards, for which they’ll hold themselves mutually accountable.

3. Develop the right attitude
The best sides in the World Cup showed that certain qualities and characteristics – such as spirit, belief, ability, organisation, courage, discipline and mental toughness – are reinforced by the right team dynamics and this leads to high performance.

4. Accept the worth of each member
In any team, it can be intimidating for younger members to join those who are more experienced. Making this transition easier can improve the team’s performance. However, in England’s case, some players seemed more intent on proving their own individual worth. This created tension in the squad – and under pressure, tension can cause your team to crack.

5. Build trust
To perform well, any team needs a high degree of trust and psychological security. In this environment, individuals are free to disagree, or to raise concerns, and this leads to a healthy debate. When all points of view have been expressed, the team can agree actions, commit to them and feel accountable to each other to achieve them. Results will follow.

6. Eliminate interferences
Generic interferences – such as pressure and expectation, fear of failure, loss of confidence, the absence of key individuals, communication problems, tiredness and petty squabbles – can undermine the potential of any group. Be aware of what could stop staff from reaching their potential. If you can eliminate or reduce these interferences, their performance will improve.

7. Pay attention to how individuals are aligned on purpose, goals, values and principles
Close alignment promotes collaboration, which underpins all high performing teams. So teams who spend time thinking about how well they work together as well as collaborating to achieve goals are likely to produce great performance. To be successful, each member needs to know his own role, have a clear idea of what others in the team are doing and a desire to perform in a way that promotes the best outcome for the team. Under pressure, members must stay calm by knowing they can depend on each other.

8. Bring talent through
For England, the post-World Cup debate is about academies and coaching. Business teams also need to think about grooming the stars of the future and how best to prepare them to be part of the team as quickly as possible.

9. Don’t separate the manager from the team
All managers need to consider whether they are a ‘benefit’ or an ‘interference’ to their team. Managers are much more likely to lead their teams to high performance if they clearly understand the requirements of their role and the impact of their interventions.

10. Reflect on your performance
At key milestones, all teams should reflect on their experience and extract the maximum learning to improve for the future. Hopefully, the England squad – as it looks ahead to the Euro 2012 qualifiers – will have learned some valuable lessons.

Some people say that business can learn little from sport, as the environment, timescale and focus are very different. Ultimately success in both arenas comes down to how well a group of individuals comes together to be a high performing team. How well individuals combine and interact – and the better this is understood and managed – is what will underpin team success.


Neil Twogood is chief operating officer at Performance Consultants, the coaching, leadership and teamwork specialist. He can be contacted at Neil.T@performanceconsultants.co.uk or on +44 (0)20 7415 4055.

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