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What corporate managers can learn from Football teams.

The world of business management is becoming more of a game of football.

Managers of football teams formulate strategies and decide on playing formation. On the field, though, the team has to think on its feet and respond in real time to a chaotic and ever changing situation, which is no different from business environment today. It has to respond to strategies, tactics and on-field formations of the rival team. The team manager can interject only in a limited way, i.e. peripherally, from the side-lines, during breaks and substitutions.

As the game progresses, the players take on each other’s roles depending on the situation with no manager or captain to instruct them. The players are a team in the truest sense. Every player is aware of the objective. That is, to score a goal and to prevent the other side from scoring. There is role clarity, mission clarity and group cohesion. Eventually, the team that succeeds is the one which is more adaptable and responsive than the other, skills, speed and stamina notwithstanding.

This defines the roles of managers as well. Just like football managers, the managers in the corporate world have to build good teams with necessary skills; build an organizational culture and eventually hold people accountable to that cultural credo. They have to build self-governed teams in which members trust each other and have the liberty to question one another and resolve differences apart from learning from their mistakes.

Today, the business management world is very different from the 1900s when Taylorism (Scientific Management) flourished and efficiency was fervently worshipped and pursued. A business dialectic which mandated profit only with lowering of costs, led to a stratification of work-place culture into managers (the guys with brains) and workers (the guys with brawn). Any creativity from workers was discouraged.

Today, advances in information and communication technology have made it possible to eliminate information asymmetry both within the organisation (between staff) and in the market place. Bowing down to person who proposed Strong and Weak market theory in finance, today no company or brand can dominate the market or no company can consistently beat the market.

The life of strategic innovations does not last few months, forget about years. A small development on the opposite side of the world can throw the best prepared strategic plans out of gear. Similarly, the working class distinctions are now dimmed with services taking equal importance as products do. Today people plan and also implement and have blurred the class distinctions that Taylorism had created. No class distinctions can be made in consulting, process outsourcing services, Information Technology etc.

All these developments would force CXOs to devolve planning, resource generation, control and monitoring functions, traditional management functions, to operational staff or people at the field. The rapidly changing marketplace, in which strategic advantages cannot be sustained forever, is pushing and will further push companies to ensure that advantageous tactical opportunities are not lost. The organisations of today cannot afford a big and slow hierarchy with endless levels of approvals. Lean, mean, flat and nimble – this the trinity of survival. The organisation of tomorrow will not be hierarchy of individuals but a network of teams. (https://rajneeshrastogi.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/team-based-on-organisations-a-new-organisation-structure/ )

Given the current levels of competitiveness, many companies are now providing increased autonomy and more effective risk-delimited freedom at workplaces. They are eliminating redundant and obsolete hygiene encumbrances to improve motivation and productivity, and are trying to tap into the latent creativity of their employees. For example, at Srijan, we would let team members approve each other’s leaves, work from homes and let them hold each other accountable through daily standups.

The managers of today have to increasingly rely on teams of members with complimentary skills, a democratic framework where team members can challenge each other’s mindsets to develop optimal solutions or take optimal decisions. Peer level controls, or as some people say, tribal controls, have proven to be more effective in ensuring compliance with organisation norms and value of the team. effective cohesive team of high performers would automatically develop its own criteria for recruitment and would ease off performers who are not able to meet with their quality standards.

Once the team members understand the purpose of the organisation, the role of the team to which they belong, and are equipped with the necessary information, the organization would win. Does this then beg the question: who should build such teams?