The Ireland manager’s decision to put the team before his temperamental star
player proved to be the right decision. Could this also apply to the workplace?
Roy Keane is a footballer capable of extraordinary feats of brilliance on the
pitch. Unfortunately, he is also equally world-class at committing fouls,
disrupting training and, most recently, making vitriolic attacks on his boss.
I wonder how many of us can look back at some of the brilliant personalities
we have had to work with and thought: Mick McCarthy, I know what you’ve been
So how do you handle an employee with immense individual skills who seems to
undermine the performance of the team as a whole? Are certain individuals so
good at what they do, they simply cannot be excluded from the team?
The answer to the latter is ‘no’. It doesn’t matter how skilled an
individual may be, if the team does not function effectively as a whole, then
results will suffer. There is little point in Roy Keane scoring a goal through some
piece of brilliant individual play if the defence is so demoralised they let in
two or three.
There are many examples of teams in all walks of life that – although they
may not have outstanding individuals – pull off some astonishing performances:
witness the giant-killing activities of lower league clubs in the FA Cup each
year. The reason these teams are able to overcome classier opposition is
because their collective team competencies are strong.
The Irish team, far from suffering from the absence of Keane, has managed
creditable draws with both Cameroon and Germany. If they can beat Saudi Arabia
convincingly today, they have every chance of progressing through to the final
Its commitment to the task is high, the players are communicating well, they
know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and believe that no matter what the
pundits say, they really can achieve their goal.
To create a winning team, you must examine the attributes that contribute to
team performance and ask yourself which ones need to be developed.
My tips for immediate action include getting the team together socially.
Teams work better when members know each other. The best time for this to
happen is when they are relaxed and can talk to each other about non-work
Emphasising member strengths is also important. Talk up the strengths of the
individual and the team, and encourage people to chat. If you can get people to
apply and share their expertise, then you are well on the way to better
teamwork – so use phrases like: "Talk to Jane about that, she’s excellent
at solving that type of problem".
The importance of feeling valued should not be underestimated either. Team
members need to know that all the hours they are spending and the pressure they
are experiencing is worthwhile.
Ensure they feel valued and understand the impact they have on the bigger
Confidence and openness will also play a vital role in strong teamwork. If a
team feels that it has the ability to achieve its goal, it is more likely to do
But watch out for secrecy, which undermines the performance of many teams.
You can encourage openness by being open yourself. By admitting to things that
are not right, you will get the wholehearted support of your team to correct
By doing these things, your team’s performance will increase, confidence
will be high and your department will become known as a great place to work.
The old adage that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ is never
truer than when applied to high-performing teams.
And what do you do if you have someone brilliant but disruptive in your
team? There has to come a point when you are prepared to show them the door. If
you hit that point, you have to be comfortable that it is the right decision.
The literature will support you, your results will support you and, as Mick
McCarthy has discovered, the remaining members of the team will support you.
Sinclair Stevenson is a senior consultant of Penna Consulting