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Scoring goals in business

User Avatar Blogger . 14/07/2010 12:07:14
By Professor Michael West, Executive Dean, Aston Business School

Reflecting on the World Cup it is easy to see that it offers a perfectly contained illustration of the workplace, in particular team working, in its rawest form.

Although the misfortunes of the England team maybe at the forefront of our minds, watching teams that take risks, expend energy and create opportunities for individual and team success, provides us with an a exhilarating example.

This may sound far removed from our day to day working environment but being part of an effective team can transform a workplace from the daily grind to a place of creativity and deep satisfaction.

What we see in world-class football can be shared in business.  High performing teams are very clear about their strategy and their objectives, they prepare carefully and they back each other up in the normal course of what they are doing, but also during crisis times. They communicate intensively the whole time they are engaged in the job.  They are, however, not beholden to strategy but review and reflect on their performance – and will take decisive action for change when required.  

The key to successful successful World Cup teams – indeed any team -  is shared, clear and challenging  objectives. For a business the objectives might be to win a particular number of contracts, be the best in industry for customer satisfaction and win the award for the best employers in the region. It is vital for all team members to be clear about the team’s objectives – and committed to them. And each team should have no more than five or six objectives – measureable and motivating. Individuals too should have personal objectives that are clear, challenging and ideally are measureable.  All too often we see teams in organizations whose members assume they have clear shared objectives, but a little probing quickly reveals they are unclear and the content differs depending on which team member you talk to.

Having a good leader is as essential to business teams as to world-class football sides too. Effective leaders have a vision; they believe in that vision and inspire others with that vision. They also take effort to build good relationships between team players – and do not tolerate people creating negative relationships within their teams.  But if people genuinely are unable to work in a team they need to find alternative roles, anyone else should be coached to help them pull in the right direction.  A positive, optimistic leader who inspires confidence in followers so that they feel they can achieve the vision is particularly important in tough times and when results may not be going they way team members want.

When teams appear exhausted an effective manager makes a substitution to inject new life into the game. The same can happen in the workplace with new recruits. Businesses can often spend too much time trying to mould new employees to the team rather than benefitting from their fresh perspective.  They need to ask new employees what they can bring to their new organisations, what surprises them about the team they have come into and what they would recommend.

Communication between team members should be constant too, just as between players on the pitch.  Teams have to take responsibility for the success of the team rather than leaving it all to the captain. And that is one of the biggest lessons business leaders can learn from World Cup managers about building a successful team – once you’ve trained your employees give them enough autonomy to find the best ways of meeting their targets. Hold employees accountable for achieving their objectives but give them the freedom to work effectively to achieve what needs to be achieved. This way when team members comes to work it does not feel like a place where they are playing listlessly through to the final whistle but somewhere they can enjoy the learn and grow and find the fulfilment of experiences of ultimate success that comes from being a part of a word class team.

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