High Performing Teams…and the English Football team

So the England team have made their way home (or to a lovely warm beach somewhere…perhaps to practice penalties) from this year’s European Championships, along with many other nations I may add!  However, there are two notable exceptions that yet again made it to the later stages, two teams that most football fans would have expected to have seen in this year’s final, Germany and Spain (congratulations to Italy for upsetting the applecart…this blogger heads to Rome on Monday, so Forza Italia!).

Aside of the obvious individual talent in each team, which nobody is denying is a huge contributing factor, but not the only one – see Holland/France etc, what is it that enables these two teams to perform consistently better than every other team?  What has enabled them to have such High Performing Teams?

There are a number of factors that come into play when attempting to build a High Performing Team, not all will be a priority all of the time.  It is however, important that teams recognise the impact these factors have and the benefits they can reap from focussing on the right factors at the right time – this helps to get the right results!

Outlined below are some key factors that any organisation (and the FA) needs to consider when building a High Performing Team:

Clear Objectives

The objectives set for the organisation, team and individuals are key to the success of any team, football is no different.  The Senior Leadership Team at the FA need to clearly define what these objectives are and then cascade them throughout the organisation, this includes making a long term decision on their manager and preferred style of play, creating an identity that suits our natural abilities…not trying to mimic somebody else’s approach because that is what is successful now – short-termism will only lead to countless more early exits from competitions.  Functions throughout the FA can then align themselves to these wider organisational objectives and understand how they contribute to their successful completion.  EG It isn’t just the 11 men on the pitch that need to be aligned.

Common Purpose

Common purpose is crucial in establishing a clear direction for any organisation, it ensures that there is consistency at all levels in what the organisation is trying to achieve.  It provides a powerful way for leaders to ensure commitment from all employees/members of the organisation, it also allows these leaders to be role models by demonstrating that everyone contributes towards the end goal.  An example of this is seen in how the DFB (German FA) began an extensive and systematic youth programme circa 2000, following their failure during that year’s European Championships.  Revolutionary in every sense of the word, the system is designed to recognise talent early and do everything they can to develop it in a cohesive manner.  The Germans were patient for their success, finishing third in the 2006 & 2010 World Cup Campaigns and runners up in the 2008 European Championships (NB the team also finished runners up in the 2002 campaign, but this was by in large the ‘old guard’).  This year’s saw them line up with several U-21 European champions from 2009 (Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil, Mats Hummels, Manuel Neuer).  These players/leaders have now become the role models who promote the success of a cohesive ‘common’ approach to identifying future talent, eventually this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for success on the pitch.

Consistent Leadership Behaviours

The starting point here is for the leaders to establish exactly what leadership behaviours need to be adopted and demonstrated throughout the organisation.  For this to happen, the leaders of the FA need to be open to analysing what leadership behaviours they currently demonstrate and what impact these have on the wider organisation.  Do behaviours support the culture that is required within the organisation?  Do they detract from supporting organisational success?  You only need to look at the mess the FA found itself in, in February this year – changing the manager 3 months prior to a tournament is criminal, following this with some bizarre ‘will he/won’t he’ flirtation with Harry Redknapp only compounds their mistakes.  England have had 5 Managers at the helm (including Pearce in that) since 2004, Germany & Spain have had 2 each…consistency it would seem is key!

The ability to analyse what needs to change and develop plans for ensuring these changes become the norm requires leaders to be strong, but they must also be authentic and humble enough to take responsibility for the decisions made that perhaps do not produce the desired results.


For the purpose of continuous improvement, positive challenge needs to be allowed to happen.  Is the team developing in the right direction?  Is everyone focussing on the things that add value? Do plans need to change?  What measurements are in place to challenge how things are done?  EG The shiny new centre at Burton…although a great step in the right direction…is all well and good, but what about the glaring lack of coaches in the England – 4,000, compared with circa 35k in Germany and 25k in Spain.


As much as there will be challenge, there will also be a need for collaboration.  Collaboration will happen when individuals start to openly discuss why a challenge has been raised in the first place, the onus is on them to collaborate together to find a solution whilst maintaining their common purpose – see the issue above about the shortages of coaches…not every youngster is going to play for England, but a hell of a lot of them could become great coaches if given the same opportunity to develop as the players themselves.

Courage & Commitment to deliver

Establish where the team are on a scale of 1-10 on their commitment to deliver.  If they are lower down the scale, what needs to happen to get them further up the scale and if they are near the top, what needs to happen to ensure this is sustained?

Leaders have to be brave and remove individuals from the team if they aren’t performing…see the Rio Ferdinand case.  This should naturally happen again after this most recent tournament failure, with a number of ‘ageing’ players congratulated for their efforts, but allowed to focus on their domestic clubs.

I would love to see the FA being courageous enough to admit that the World Cup in 2014 may just come to soon, but the Euro’s in 2016 hold a definite opportunity for success.  The intervening time could be spent ensuring that everyone is geared towards making sure we have a good showing in France…at the very least, let’s find some decent penalty takers!

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