The Qualities of Superteams

I am not a football fan and was not glued to the box for last weekend's FA Cup Final.  I do appreciate team achievement including sporting ones, however, so it did prompt me on hearing the result on the news later to think about all the hype and comments that were made with analysis and endless discussion about the event and the winning team (yes I do know it was Arsenal FC).

I have worked in my fair share of teams during my working life and some have been brilliant and some not so good.  I also played competitive basketball and know what it is like to train, work hard, turn up and win and lose matches.  I have always separated out the idea of "competing" from being in a successful team personally, and ended up valuing being in the team more than winning.  I have enough drive and sense of purpose in me to continually want to change, improve, be better, but I didn't at the end of the day want (or wanted) to "beat" someone more.  

This brings to mind the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.  Some see enlightened self-interest as their primary motivational force - we work hard because we want to succeed.  If we work hard we will get what we want - goal seeking leads to success. Football team thinking? 

Research tells us that different motivation brings different rewards, for example, the motivation for achieving something in business is success.  Some define motivation as being about the context, others that it comes from personal drive. This might be to pursue excellence and be the best in your field, be competitive and win, want to make a lot of money, or just having a good old work ethic!  Again - football team thinking or individual team member thinking?  Others say motivation is about self determination and is intrinsic.  The level at which top teams play suggests to me players have intrinsic motivation.

People with high self-confidence in their ability see a challenge as something to be mastered rather than a threat to avoid or beat.  Those will low self assurance will have doubts, shy away from problems, see them as obstacles and reasons not to take action.  The three main  precursors to motivation are: other people value and recognise what you do, you perceive yourself as skilled and capable, and you have autonomy. 

Taking those three points and compare it to the FA Cup winners:

  • being valued and recognised - perception plays a part here as the media gives us an image of the player and the team and their Manager; however, looking at any team of winners that has a parade in the streets suggests being recognised is important and is icing on the cake
  • skilled and capable - yes, as the commentators and pundits remind us endlessly
  • autonomy - when I played competitively this was true, as trust existed between team members which enabled everyone to have and play like this. In "The One Minute Manager" it says .."the priority of each team member becomes the accomplishment of the team's mission.  To do that Managers must give up a great deal of control to their people.  When that occurs, a feeling of group ownership is created..."

Take those three points and compare them to a work team.  I am training with people in local government at the moment and with the cuts and constraints placed upon them against a backdrop of major change, motivation is an emergent theme.  What will make a difference to hard pressed and committed workers I meet is three things:

  • having leaders and employers that recognise and value them when there is limited means to reward, including financially
  • having the training and development they need to feel skilled and able to deal with the challenge of change and do their job well
  • being trusted to work autonomously

Superteams exist

There is a difference between a team and a superteam.  This is what stands out for me about a winning FA Cup team, the 2003 England Rugby World Cup winners and some of the teams I worked in over the years.  Leaders of teams in the workplace can look to the qualities of superteams and learn how to apply them: 

Superteams are persistent in the pursuit of their goals, but creatively flexible in their strategies for getting there.  They keep asking the question "what are we aiming to achieve?".  They are fixed on purpose.

Superteams are inspired by a vision of what they are trying to achieve.  This provides the strong sense of purpose and direction.

Superteams are committed to quality in performance and all aspects of team working. They have expectations of themselves and others.

Superteams understand they are part of something bigger and how they fit in to their parent organisation.  They have a strategy and a plan.

Superteams are do-ers.  They respond to problems positively and are optimistic in tough times.  They don't wait for things to happen, they go out and make it happen.

Superteams literally leak success, energy, commitment and thrive on recognition.  It rubs off on people.

Superteams communicate strongly what they stand for but are open to feedback (or they would not improve next time).  So they understand why they are successful but will never be satisfied to stop there as they will find a way to do things better.

Superteams succeed when they are given authority and responsibility and have a leader who maintains direction and energy and "has their corner".

Celebrating success is critical

Superteams have purpose.  They make all of us feel something, feel good about them and ourselves.  That's why sports team fans turn up for the highs and lows every week and why the street parade says it all.  They are celebrating their own genius and success but are letting everyone have a piece of it, not least because it is part of building the superteam, it validates purpose and it creates its own story (or should that be legend).