This year an astonishing sporting success occurred that captivated sports fans the world over. Leicester City football club, who began the season as favourites to be relegated, won the Premier League at odds of 5000-1. So ridiculous was the idea of them topping the table (having only just narrowly escaped relegation the year before), few fans bothered to place a wager. But what magic, we may ask, turned this fantasy into a reality?
Team spirit is one of the answers put forward by the pundits. Much has been made of the togetherness of the Leicester dressing room, the inference being that with the help of managerial genius Claudio Ranieri, the 11 who took to the pitch performed to a total greater than the sum of its parts. Similarly, ‘team spirit’ has been cited for both Wales and Iceland’s remarkable progress at Euro 2016.
But what role does team spirit play in successful teams? Can it truly be the reason for Leicester’s success? Or is it simply an illusion glimpsed in the aftermath of victory?
In the world of business, teams have become the building block or organisations. Job specifications routinely call for “team players”. Business schools grade their students in part on their performance in group projects. Office managers knock down walls to encourage team-building. In fact, recent insight has shown that companies are abandoning functional silos and organising employees into cross-disciplinary teams that focus on particular products, problems or customers. These teams are gaining more power to run their own affairs. They are also spending more time working with each other rather than reporting upwards. The view being that teams bought into and working in unison towards a collective goal are more likely to realise said goal than teams whose members have disparate aims and motivations.
As Richard Hackman of Harvard University once argued, “I have no question that when you have a team, the possibility exists that it will generate magic, producing something extraordinary”.
This almost intangible quality of ‘team spirit’ is what we try hard to embed both with our clients and our own team at Curium. If individuals and teams are engaged, motivated and empowered by whatever challenge they are working through, then genuine, sustainable results will be achieved. And integral to this is a good leader – all the most successful teams have leaders who set an overall direction, trust and empower their team, play to the strengths of each individual, and invest in being present and available – i.e. making sure they’re part of that team themselves.
There are coaches and captains who shout and inspire, the gesticulating football managers on the touchline who flail at their charges and scream instructions. Then there are the Arsene Wengers, the leaders who make an effort to understand the motivations of their players. Or the likes of a fatherly Matt Busby, who considered his team as family.
Leaders come in different shapes and sizes but they all have one thing in common: they believe in the power of team spirit as a critical factor in determining success.
The genius of Ranieri at Leicester City has been to bind a group of footballers with different wants and needs, from different cultures, countries and religions into a whole. The world of business can learn a lot from this.