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Lessons From The Football Pitch

It’s usually around this time that we reflect back on the year just gone and talk about what we’re going to change to be more successful going forward. Often though, our talk remains just that. Without action, it’s just words and twelve months on, we find ourselves in the same spot.

I like to think of football as a comparison. We’re approaching the halfway point of the football season, with the same teams emerging at the top of the table, plus a few new ones vying for a European spot. What is it that sets the successful teams apart and keeps them at the top of the ladder; and how can you take action and apply those techniques to your business to ensure you move up a league, instead of staying stuck in the middle of the pack?

It all goes back to fundamentals.

Some teams have a good cup run with a dash of luck, a tactical change or a huge amount of huffing and puffing; but to get consistent results and win leagues, you’ll find they follow three fundamentals to achieve real, sustained success:

  1. Clarity from the top

  2. A solid structure

  3. A quality, committed team of people

This often involves a new ethos, a restructure of the squad and a coaching and fitness programme and hence, cannot be achieved overnight. You, your Board and your team have to maintain a belief in the purpose, despite the inevitable run of below-par results that can arise. To do this, you need a set of short-term goals that are skill/behaviour related and not results related and which will ultimately lead to the right, consistent results.


Without clarity of purpose and context, you’ll keep chopping and changing tactics and be run ragged by the opposition, or in our instance, the regulator, staff and clients.

Some firms confidently try new things and evolve their model, forging further ahead of the competition, whilst others worry about the risks of change. Leaders need to have a clear strategy for attack, not simply defence – if you’re too focussed on not taking risks and avoiding errors, you’re more likely to drop 2 or 3 points than to gain 3. You need to have a clear, five-year philosophy, strategy and set of complementary, proactive changes that will help you to start to climb the ladder.


Without a clear game plan (or structure), a team can fall short. Team A and Team B may both be match fit, but Team A is more skilled and has clearer structure. They find more time on the ball, can control it better, deliver more accurate passes and don’t need to use all their energy. Team B, on the other hand, don’t have a clear structure and are left tired, chasing the ball, making mistakes or simply stood static and frustrated watching rings being run round them.

If you look at the structure of a football team, you’ll notice that the real work is done on the training ground and with sports psychologists – practicing their skills, working on their mindset – laying the groundwork to enable each of the players to perform to the best of their ability and create a successful team.

Having the right equipment is great, but you need to ensure your team has the structure, skill and support they need to use it effectively and that they have the opportunity to practice their skills – whether it be questioning, listening, building relationships, selling themselves, networking or improving their technical knowledge – and receive the appropriate feedback.


The best teams are rarely made up of a bunch of individual prima donnas. Yes, some clubs spend far more and pay far more than others, but this in itself doesn’t lead to sustained success (Newcastle and Blackburn are obvious examples). Strong leaders will discipline or move on the prima donnas for the good of the team. They will also take tough decisions on players that aren’t up to the rigors of the modern game.

The most effective teams also have a youth policy, operate with spare capacity for cover and rest people appropriately to keep them fresh. Most businesses however, only recruit when absolutely necessary and when they can be sure to max out the resource they have acquired, exhausting staff rather than resting them.

How does your team compare? Do you have the capacity to enable staff to remain fresh, develop and help you move your business forward? Do you have a commitment to developing the next generation, be it succession planning, aiding future growth or replacing retiring or failing staff?

As we launch into 2015, put your foot on the ball, look up and begin to take control of the game. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve!

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