Making your team more than the sum of its parts

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Sport has some great examples of teams which collectively perform better than their individual ability would suggest. 

Our Gold-Medal winning GB Women’s hockey team from Rio will happily admit that they were not the best team (in terms of individual ability). The Football World Cup is also highlighting this very well at the moment – with teams full of individual stars not performing as expected, and our England team, without large numbers of truly world class players, performing brilliantly. 

In this blog we will focus on the leader’s role in making a team more than the sum of its parts.

Always getting better

Much has been written about Gareth Southgate over the last few weeks, and one of the key areas focused on has been his desire to learn. Whether it be his ‘learning trip’ to the States last year which took in lessons from basketball through to American football, or his coaching course with UK Sport alongside other elite coaches from sport, or the reading and discussions he has on a constant basis, there is a continual thirst for knowledge and desire to improve.

Danny Kerry, coach to the GB women’s hockey team, has shown a similar approach. After being heavily criticised by players and fellow coaching staff alike after the team’s 6th place in the Bejing Olympics, Danny’s response was to improve, develop and get better.

We work with a huge variety of businesses, and one of the common traits that we see in so many of these successful businesses is the approach and attitude of the leaders, mirroring this desire to always get better.  Sitting behind this is a growth mindset, a humility, and curiosity.  These leaders are the ones who, no matter who they are talking to, always ask questions, listen, and see what they can learn from the other person. 

Many of you reading this will have heard of Jim Collins, the well-known business consultant, and his famous study into what made some companies move from being good to being great. What enabled them to make that leap, and stay there? What distinguished the thriving companies from the others? Several important factors, as Collins reports in his book Good to Great, but one that was absolutely key in every case was the type of leader who led the company into greatness.  They were not larger than life, charismatic types who oozed ego and self-proclaimed talent. They were self-effacing people who constantly asked questions and had the ability to confront the most brutal answers  - in other words those who were able to look failure in the face, even their own, while maintaining faith that they would succeed in the end.  In summary, they were the ones with a growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset. Who believed in human development. Who were not constantly trying to prove they’re better than others, but constantly trying to improve.

Emotional Intelligence

According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, emotional intelligence will be one of the top 10 job skills in 2020.

The awareness that emotional intelligence is an important job skill, in some cases even surpassing technical ability, has been growing in recent years. In a 2011 Career Builder Survey of more than 2,600 hiring managers and human resource professionals, 71% stated they valued emotional intelligence in an employee over IQ; 75% said they were more likely to promote a highly emotionally intelligent worker; and 59% claimed they’d pass up a candidate with a high IQ but low emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence as a term gets bandied round so much; people tend to know that it’s important, but don’t quite understand what it is.  Whilst there is no set definition of emotional intelligence, most descriptions tend to form around an ability to understand and control your emotions and those emotions of the people you are working with and manage your relationships accordingly. At its most basic:

Emotions drive Thoughts. Thoughts drive Behaviour. And Behaviour drives Performance.

Gareth Southgate’s emotional intelligence is something that has been well documented, and is something that he sees as key to what makes a great coach. Phil Neville, coach of the England’s Women’s Team (the Lionesses) is also known and admired for his levels of emotional intelligence.  The coaching fraternity as a whole is onboard with its importance, and I was privileged to be asked to deliver two sessions on this area at the recent inaugural UK Coaching Conference in Edinburgh.   

Danny Kerry provides a great example in this as well. One of the areas that he was heavily criticised for was the fact that he lived in his laptop, didn’t take time to get to know and build good relationships with his players, and expressed his emotions in a very unhelpful way.  Danny worked hard at turning this around, to the extent that the players credit his work in this area as one of the key factors in their success.

Which brings us on nicely to the final area I want to highlight…

Knowing your People

Speak to any of the GB Women’s hockey squad, and they will talk about how much time was spent, through the London and Rio Olympic cycles,  understanding and developing the players as individuals. It is something that Gareth Southgate has taken to another level; helped in part by knowing so many of the players through his previous role as England U21 coach.  The FA also took on a Head of People and Team Development in advance of this World Cup, to help the coaches understand how important this area is, and give them the tools to develop accordingly. 

One method to drive this understanding of your people is to use behavioural profiles. The GB Women’s hockey squad found this a useful, robust and objective method to help understand themselves and each other better.  We do the same with many of our business clients, with benefits at the individual level, team level and organisational level (not least by providing a common language that all can understand). 

Informal conversations, team away days, meals out and so on are all effective methods of building a picture of the people you are working with; and there is much research around how ‘bringing the human’ to the workplace can build the environment of psychological safety that can drive high performance (as blogged about previously). 

As I write this, football is still #cominghome and we are all keeping our fingers crossed here at Sport and Beyond HQ.  If you’d like to find out more about how you can make your team more than the sum of its parts, please get in touch by emailing, or calling our office number on 01904 737007.

Catherine BAKERComment