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Team of the Century?

Who’d have thought it? Leicester City Football Club winning the Premiership after being bottom of the league and in danger of being relegated only last season. What an extraordinary journey. Everybody’s talking about it - competitors and pundits are baffled, book-makers are tearful, and sports psychologists will be analysing it for years to come.

So how did they do it? What made them such a high performing team? Whilst I have limited knowledge of Football, I have observed that good leadership often transcends specific contexts. Many of the factors evident in Leicester’s success are fundamental ingredients that Wickland Westcott has observed in high performing business teams:

  • Clear goals – Ranieri set realistic but stretching objectives around improving performance.  At the start of the season they never dreamt they would win the league, but set themselves (mini) goals founded upon being the best they could be.
  • Clear roles – each player had a clear role to play, not just in terms of their position on the pitch but in terms of how they contributed to the team’s overall objectives/game plan.
  • 100% commitment and sheer hard work from all the players, in equal measure. Not every player has to be a superstar in their own right. They do have to be completely committed to the team ethos, and to do their bit with the common goal in mind.
  • No egos – everybody put the team ahead of personal agendas.  Glory comes from team success, not being the leading goal scorer, or the midfielder with most ‘assists’.
  • Momentum – Ranieri somehow managed to sustain the winning streak that ensured Leicester’s top flight survival at the tail end of the previous season, and used this as a springboard into the new season.
  • Colleague support – not only among the selected players, but those on the subs bench, the back room team, administration etc.
  • Have a plan - the players knew what they were good at as a team – in particular they had speed. Their game plan was to soak up pressure from the opposition, using their discipline to defend effectively and then use their pace to hit opponents on the counter-attack. They scored more counter-attacking goals than any other team this season.
  • Tailored development for team members based on differing levels of fitness, speed of recovery etc. Player training plans were constantly tweaked and honed through regular feedback loops between players, coach and manager.
  • Invest time to built trust - Ranieri arranged a team-building event at an award winning restaurant where the team got to make their own pizzas, gain a better understanding of each other, have fun and celebrate success.  This is something they continued to do throughout the season.
  • Innovation – Ranieri listened to the experts and incorporated cutting edge ideas regarding technology and nutrition e.g. beetroot shots as a performance enhancer, and ice chambers to improve recovery. These innovations were tailored to their specific game strategy ie their fast counter-attacking game.
  • Agility – the team were both proactive and reactive in the way they played – they had this clear strategy but also adapted to the individual circumstances of each game.

In the wake of any public success (or indeed failure) many commentators step forward to try and explain the causes or contributory factors. Such post-hoc rationalisations do not represent proof of causation. After all, who is to say that the relegated teams did not also follow some or indeed all of these principles? Luck also plays its part, of course. So, one has to be careful in searching for meaning. Nevertheless, as a metaphor for unity, for triumph through joint endeavour, Leicester City’s success is a genuine beacon.

Does your team need to turn up the dial on performance? How can you relate these factors to your team to help achieve your goals? If you would like to talk to us about Inspirational Leadership and Building High Performance Teams, or about Team Facilitation and Leadership Development more broadly, please contact Liz Lawson on 01625 508100 or liz@wickland-westcott.co.uk.
 

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