By Nick Gold, MD of Speakers’ Corner
Towards the end of last year England’s World Cup exit hung question marks over manager Gareth Southgate’s future with the team. Some viewed the quarter final exit as a failure, given the calibre of players at his disposal. Others, meanwhile, believe the team culture he cultivated laid the groundwork for future success — so he should have the opportunity to see it through.
- Businesses often find themselves with similar conundrums. Should you demand instant success from your team, and view anything else as a failure? Or should you focus on building a strong team culture, even if it doesn’t lead to rapid results?
Good leaders understand that building team morale within your organisation — as Southgate has done — will eventually lead to greater success in the long-term. It’s not easy, but there are steps business leaders can take to embed a great culture, while also ensuring future success.
Playing to your strengths
Gareth Southgate has obvious strengths as a manager. He’s created a unique environment that protects the players from the pressure of playing for their country. He shows solidarity and support while empowering players to make decisions for themselves.
But he’s not perfect. Tactics, arguably, are not his strong suit. But the best managers are those who realise and accept the gaps in their ability, and bring in more qualified people to fill those gaps.
This takes guts. Gareth seems humble and down-to-earth — but you need some ego to be in charge. As other managers have shown — notably, the now-sacked Portugal manager Fernando Santos — making ego-driven decisions can pay off. Playing without Cristiano Ronaldo for the first time in the tournament led to an emphatic 6-1 victory.
It remains to be seen if Gareth will bring in some extra tactical brainpower or stick with his existing strategy. But recognising your weaknesses is just as important as playing to your strengths. Leaders should aim to hire the best experts to fill any knowledge gaps, buoying up the business and ensuring it has the skills it needs to thrive.
Coping with the demand for success
The England team is under enormous pressure at every international tournament. Businesses feel the pressure, too — whether from customers, investors, senior management, or the board. The collective will for you to succeed can be empowering — but it can also be oppressive.
Gareth Southgate deals with this by managing expectations. He doesn’t talk much about what he wants to achieve, but about what the team has already achieved in terms of culture. While this may not be what the country demands, the majority agree that we’re heading in the right direction.
In business, protecting your team from external pressures can help them perform. They’ll also want to perform, and achieve the success the business needs. Embedding a secure environment helps make sure your team members are happy, relaxed, and unburdened, safe in the knowledge that their manager will have their back as long as they do their job.
Finding the true measure of success
Building a team culture is a fair goal in itself. But it’s important to identify tangible, measurable markers of success. Winning the World Cup is just that — but it doesn’t show the huge strides that have been made in building a cohesive team.
Within your business, you must set goals from the start, and make sure your team is working towards these. But when you have conversations around targets, make sure your reporting and feedback system encourages open communication. Employees should be able to tell you what they need to achieve their goals, and rely on managers to come up with resolutions.
As a leader, you must also learn what motivates your employees. Some people thrive when they achieve their targets; others love feeling they’re part of a team. Good leaders find a way to manage and motivate their entire team with the right benchmarking methods and rewards.
Supporting your business through tough times
Another tournament, another early exit for England. While he remains, Gareth Southgate has his work cut out for him mentoring his players through another difficult episode as they pick up the pieces. This is his strong suit — but not all managers find it easy to offer consolation and support to people during tough times.
If your business goes through a difficult period, it’s important to be open and honest with your staff. Take ownership as a leader and assure your team that you have their back. Talk about the issue in a positive light. Discuss what you could do differently next time, and how you can improve. This helps everyone feel they’re in this together, and creates a culture where people are unafraid to raise issues. Let those on the ground lead the conversations. Leaders can mentor or guide them in the right direction.
It is possible to embed a good workplace culture and achieve success — but it will take time, as Gareth Southgate (and England fans everywhere) have come to realise. Giving your team the right support, playing to your strengths, and finding the right measure of success at the expense of slightly slower gains can lead to greater success down the road. Bring on Euro 2024.