Sunday, June 13, 2010

Soccer lessons for office manager

Although I am not a big fan or having any keen interest in FIFA World Cup or any international soccer match ( maybe I should start myself with golf instead ), senior office management might think that the Cup fever will be best spent telling employees to shut down the TV links and concentrate back on their office work.

However, there is more to learn from the cup tournament and about organising teamwork and motivating individuals to excel in their challenging tasks given to them and to meet tight time schedule like in the soccer match, to score as many goals against their opponents within the play time.

Raising morale and engaging employees are priorities in the current economy and if football offers one lesson, is the importance of good managers for motivating individuals and delivering team performance.

That may seem obvious, but it is a lesson business has yet to fully absorb. Why else would companies continue to promote excellent functional performers to higher management positions, regardless of their suitability for the particular senior role?

Why companies continue to reward managers for their own individual performance, rather than that of their team?

Some lessons from the soccer pitch:

Management, a full-time job-

There is no relationship whatsoever between functional expertise and managerial ability. Jose Mourinho tried playing football as a young man, but soon realised his shortcomings. Now at Real Madrid, he has achieved outstanding success as a coach. If he’d been similarly inadequate as a graduate salesman or marketer, his employment would have been hastily terminated and his company denied the commercial impact of his very considerable managerial ability.

Talent is contextual-

Coaching a team at the World Cup is akin to leading a short-term, say a rig construction project, staffed by disparate and often unacquainted individuals from various nationals, in first place, and from different project or production departments. The coach has little time to work out how to extract the maximum potential from their charges. That means aligning people with roles, and possibly location. At the World Cup, you may see appalling performances from players who consistently excel for their club teams when fulfilling very different duties. Talent is meaningless unless it’s deployed in its most fitting context.

Managers adapt their style to individuals-

Coaches need to quickly gauge the people they’re working with. Man-management is about adjusting your style to suit the player. Interviews with those who played under Brian Clough, arguably the greatest ever English manager, reveal conflicting narratives. Some say Clough was avuncular and caring, others that he was an intimidating tyrant. Neither was true — he had just simply worked out how to press the buttons of very different characters and getting things work out against the competing team.

Managers promote self-belief-

If we look at our own careers as employees, most of us will say that the most productive and enjoyable period has been when we worked for a manager who had the confidence to push us to our limit. Arsene Wenger, Arsenal’s manager, summarised the galvanising effect this relationship has: “All great successes, all great lives, have involved the coincidence of aptitude, talent, but also the luck of meeting people who have believed in you. At some point in your life, you need someone who will tap you on your shoulder and say, ‘I believe in you’.”

Company leaders might tone down the language a bit, but if they want to promote loyalty and genuinely see their teams succeed, they’ll take a leaf from the soccer rulebook and maybe we have lesser of a hard time with our rig building team at our best yard we now have.

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