World Cup: what can employers learn from the England team?

Across the globe, millions of people will for the next month be transfixed by the World Cup – the most spectacular team competition in the world.

But while the exertions of Rooney, Ronaldo, Messi and their team mates will undoubtedly be entertaining, how will managers and employees in workplaces up and down the country learn from the event. Indeed, can they?

Are there lessons from the World Cup, with its unbridled drive for ultimate team performance, that can translate from the pitches of South Africa to the offices of the UK?

Certainly, teams have become the dominant force in the workplace. While historically offices were compartmentalised affairs, with employees toiling away in their own office or desk, these days nearly half of us are members of four or more teams.

Often we play different roles in different teams. This is something any England fan will recognise from the pitch. Take the England captain, Steven Gerrard. He only has two teams to worry about: Liverpool and England. Currently, he is captain of both, and the nation holds its breath to see whether he can replicate his club form for his country. This is something he has struggled with in the past.

It’s the same in the office – except often your star workers are stretching themselves across multiple teams, not just two. So what makes them perform well in one, and not so well in others? According to research by OPP, personality impacts performance across teams. Eight out of 10 workers believe the most important factor in the success of a team is the personalities involved.

So understanding the personality of team members is crucial. What motivates them? What engages them in their work? How do they communicate most effectively?

Understanding the personality of individuals within your workforce brings a lot of benefits. It can help to utilise differences in a constructive way and avoid potential damaging clashes, raise self-awareness to allow people to play more effectively to their strengths, and additionally it can help you as an employer to put the best team together to meet your needs.

But putting together a team is only the beginning. As important is finding out the best way to get them to perform – or play – together. Let’s go back to the England example. November 2007: England failed to qualify for Euro 2008, losing to Croatia. Almost two years later, England sweep to victory and qualify for this year’s World Cup, again against Croatia but this time recording a 5 – 1 victory. The point is this was largely the same team, made up of many of the same players – and yet it was performing much better.

So what makes a team perform, both on the pitch and the in the office? OPP research found that, for the vast majority of UK workers, there are three factors that cause teams to perform badly: poor leadership, vague communication, and the absence of a clear purpose.

Almost half (48%) believed poor leadership stopped them from performing. Almost as many felt that internal communication was an issue. About one-quarter (24%) felt their team lacked a clear purpose.

Let’s apply this to England. The leadership had changed, with a new manager, Fabio Capello, whose strong leadership was recognised instantly by the players. Internal communication? A tough one to measure, but it could be suggested that by the time of the qualifying campaign, England’s core players had greater trust, were more mature and more likely to speak openly and honestly in a way that led to continuous improvement and left ownership for performance resting with the team. As for a clearly defined purpose – if qualifying for the World Cup was not enough, the team undoubtedly wanted to make up for the dismal efforts of its previous qualifying campaign.

Strong leadership, good communication and a clear purpose. These have worked well for England up until now – so can they work in an office? And is this something worth investing in, in an era driven by budget restraints and cuts? The answer is yes.

There is no one right or wrong way for a team to work – a team’s success will depend on the people in the team, their objectives and the cultural environment in which they work.

However, using psychological information and professional techniques to help identify points of strength and weakness will enable you to build a framework within which teams can work more efficiently, which will help them to become high performing.

Ameet Thakkar, principal consultant at workplace psychologists OPP

Comments are closed.