What Makes A Good Team?

The last few times I have written a ‘article’ they have centered around working with others, and the more I think about it the more I’ve come to realise how much I love exploring and studying how team’s work and how individuals work within a team. As you will see, I also love football…

Recently there has been some interesting case studies surrounding the football world that have really caught my eye and had me considering What makes a good team and what separates the good teams from the bad? Now, before you switch off and assume that the rest of this article is all football talk, the reason that these things appeal to me is because most of us all work in team environments and need teams of people around us to achieve whatever we need to be successful. There are some really valuable points to be taken away from how professional athletes and managers operate that we could all use to improve the way we think about our teams in a business sense so I will use a particular football team as an example .

At the start of the 2015/16 English Premier League season, Leicester City FC were a team with 5000 to 1 odds to win the league. Fast forward to May this year, Leicester were named champions of English Football with two games left to play of the season.


Now, let me bring that back to reality, the above isn’t a typo, they were 5 thousand to 1 odds to win. A team that has never won the Premier league in their 132 years of being a club bested some of the highest rated and highest paid players and managers to win arguably the highest level of league football in the entire world! They certainly weren’t the highest paid or most expensive players in the league at the time, not that money means everything, but in the world of sport where the clubs with the most money can outbid the smaller clubs for the ‘best’ players, it is a huge statement to everyone out there that the amount of money pumped into a football club doesn’t guarantee a good team or a good season.

If you aren’t still super shocked by the odds of Leicester to win the league, here are few things that had better odds to happen:

  • Odds of writing a best-selling novel: 220 to 1
  • Odds of the US government admitting that the moon landing was a fake: 500 to 1
  • Odds of the Queen releasing a chart topping Christmas hit song: 1,000 to 1
  • Odds of Kim Kardashian becoming the next President of the United States: 2,000 to 1
  • Odds of Elvis being found alive: 2,000 to 1
  • Odds of fatally slipping in the shower: 2,232 to 1
  • Odds of hitting a hole-in-one: 3,632 to 1

Their achievement was an incredible feat however it wasn’t down to luck or the misfortune of other teams. There are a few key things that were going on at Leicester City Football Club that we can all learn from.

1. Intelligent management based around the players and team morale.

The team’s manager, Claudio Ranieri, was solely focused on being first and foremost the manager of the team and the project manager of the goals that the team had set out to achieve.

A manager can’t win a football match by himself so he didn’t try and do the work for the team, he focused on seeing the opportunities for change and the weaknesses that needed to be turned into strengths. He was affectionately known as ‘The Tinkerman’ for making the small tweaks here and there that really help the machine work the way it’s meant to. His approach is very different from other managers who are often viewed as the ‘backbone’.

What an inspirational style of management that is first and foremost about empowering the team. In a business, people are generally hired for their skillset and/or to grow into a role. Where the manager of the business can really add the best value is by letting the team do what they are good at and just providing those tweaks here and there when they are needed to keep them on track.

Is this style of management something that could make a huge improvement to your team?


2. Rewards for good work, but in the right way.

Ranieri was a master communicator, he knew the right way to tell his team when he needed more from them but he also knew when and how to reward hard work.

Often in a business, hard work is rewarded by more money or a public pat on the back but, is this the best approach? I’ve found that if you reward people for hard work with more money then they learn to work hard when they want to earn more money and this isn’t a great system for building a happy and fulfilled team. Because, despite what many think, money doesn’t bring us happiness or fulfillment.

After winning a challenging game Claudio Ranieri would take his team out to a pizza restaurant to celebrate, but the reward didn’t end there, he told his team that if they wanted to eat they had to work for it. He booked out the entire restaurant and the team went into the kitchen and made their pizzas together! This is a great example of uplifting team morale and team bonding as well as a reward for a good result.

Maybe your business can think of new and innovative ways to reward your team for hard work?


3. Team Selection

Most managers will replace a player ‘out of form’ or make a few tweaks based on the teams they were coming up against however, Ranieri’s style of management led to him rarely changing his lineup.

Leicester City FC also utilised the least amount of players in the 15/16 season. 14 of his total of 23 players used ended up playing more than two thirds of the season. Ranieri knew not to mess with a good thing just because some tough times were ahead of them as they played some challenging teams. He stuck to the game plan and didn’t try too hard to out strategise their opponents. A complete trust in his players and a steadfast approach to their strategy was fundamental in their success.

There were players in that squad who weren’t the most skilled or the most experienced yet if they were given a chance and they performed well they continued to be given that chance. I think the lesson here is to value consistency in your team members. Often in football, and in business, one stuff up is used as a platform to ‘bench’ someone and give the opportunity to someone else. However, a team that goes through a lot of changes can find it difficult to hold their shape.

Can you implement a plan to build on the strengths of your team rather than picking apart their weaknesses?


4. Hidden Talent

A great deal of Leicester City’s success can be accredited to their top goal scorer Jamie Vardy who from a young age was deemed not good enough to play football at a professional level. Business’ can also be guilty of writing people off who don’t have the best looking resume or the most experience.

Jamie Vardy bagged a total of 24 goals in the 38 game campaign. In 2007, Jamie Vardy was working 12 hour shifts at a carbon fibre factory and getting paid £30 a week to play football at a non-league club, until in 2010, his talents were noticed and someone gave him the chance to prove himself. He started to climb up the tiers of English football until he signed for Leicester when they were playing in the division below the Premier League in 2012.

Vardy’s story is very much a ‘rags to riches’ tale, whereas most of England’s star players worked their way up from the youth academy system until they were given chances to play for some of England’s best teams or were shipped off to clubs around the world. Jamie Vardy is now a record breaking striker of world football and is also playing for the England National Team. He would never have thought back in 2007 that fast fowarding 10 years he would be where he is today.

The lesson to learn here is that there is talent in all of us and it’s our passions that are our driving force. When looking for a new team member or talent for your team don’t just think inside the box, there’s plenty of passionate people out there who have so much to prove if they were only given the chance, you may find that the results will come back to you tenfold. So don’t underestimate the value of the less experienced in their fields — for all you know a University graduate could be a far more valuable asset than someone with 10 years experience.

It’s not always easy to get recruitment decisions right. Are you looking for passion or just prioritising experience?

So don’t forget, money doesn’t buy you a great team, it all comes down to intelligent management and passionate people. A business manager that knows how to make the small tweaks when necessary can be the difference between a good team and a great one. Fun and interesting ways of rewarding your hard working team can be far more valuable than money, and being consistent while selecting the right team members who aren’t just experienced and skilled but have the driving passion for their field can make an incredible difference and be your solution to the challenge of recruitment. GO TEAM!

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