Talent matters. Organizations with the best talent will be the winners of the future and organizations that struggle to attract or retain the best talent will find it increasingly difficult to succeed. When it comes to talent, the very survival of an organization is often at stake.
But is it only about attracting and retaining the best talent? Or is there something else going on? Interestingly, Euro 2016 points us towards an answer. Teams rich in talent have been out-performed by what, at first glance, seem to be much less “talented” teams, such as Wales and Iceland. And something similar seems to have happened in the Premier League with the recent triumph of Leicester City.
And yet, are the victories of Wales, Iceland or Leicester really so surprising? Where these teams have succeeded is in organizing the available talent in order to maximize their potential. Understanding how they have achieved this can point us towards some more general conclusions about how to organize talent for success.
Three principles that all successful organizations have in common seem particularly pertinent in this context: Having access to talented players is one thing, but the most successful organizations deliver a meaningful experience that provides a genuine source of motivation and inspiration for all of the players. A “flat culture” is a second success factor within any organization. Without the cooperation and input of all players an organization cannot reach its full potential. A flat organizational culture built on equality and mutual respect offers the best platform for producing an effective team. Finally, being involved with an organization should offer players the opportunity to develop themselves by building capacities and a sense of personal identity that revolves around doing something that they care passionately about with people — teammates, coaching staff etc. — that matter for them.
Let’s look at these principles in the context of Euro 2016.
An organization that offers a meaningful experience for all players gives itself the best opportunity of becoming successful. It is crucial that before players are admitted to the team, they have considered the offer to play for the team: Does being a member of this team provide me with a meaningful experience? Does it really matter?
Even though the answer appears to be obvious, we can see, in all too many cases, that the “star players” do not find it meaningful or fulfilling to be part of their national team. The inevitable result is that they underperform and the team disintegrates and fails. The contrasting attitudes of Christian Bale and Raheem Sterling can be noted here. Belonging to the Welsh team clearly matters to Bale. Can the same be said of Sterling’s attitude towards England?
Clearly, in order to succeed, an organization depends on the active participation of all the players working together. In this respect, a flat, open and inclusive organizational culture in which hierarchies are minimized is vital. An advantage of such a working environment is that it provides greater opportunities for personal expression and ensures that the organization remains relevant for all the players. Even the biggest “stars” — think Bale again — understand that their ability to succeed is contingent on the team functioning effectively, and this can only be achieved within a flat team culture where everyone is treated equally.
Recognition of the importance of flat organizational culture in delivering the best performance should not be taken to mean that all hierarchy must be eradicated. Some players will continue to take on a dominant position within the team, but the differences are less significant and those differences operate in the context of a team structure that is built on mutual respect and a shared project of working together.
The final principle of successful organizations is that they offer opportunities to build capacities and — by offering a meaningful experience — become an important part of an individual’s personal narrative. In this way, a sense of identity is actively constructed by an individual over the course of his or her “career”, rather than being passively derived from being a member of a organization.
What is relevant here is that the players need to believe that being part of the national team provides an important component in building their career. But more than that, it involves asking whether the national team can provide an important component in an individual’s personal identity or “brand”. The players of the Icelandic national team are clear examples of this. They wear the national team’s jersey, which even has the words “fyrir Ísland” (“for Iceland”) printed in the collar, with pride, appreciating the benefits — both tangible and symbolic — that such involvement brings.
And There is More…
A combination of these principles operating together has proven vital in improving team performance. But there is more going on here than simply the success of an organization. Iceland’s Haka song (the “Viking cry”) — repeated by Wales after their win over Belgium — shows the capacity of a successful team to provide a powerful source of inspiration to others.
Successful organizations garner a super-engaged “personalized” community that communicates an aspirational message that can be enormously appealing to the public. In this way, effectively organizing talent becomes a source of inspiration — not just for the participants — but also for “consumers”, in the case of football, the fans. The capacity to mobilize consumer-fans, as well as participant-players, and to make them invest in the success of a team and its products is something that other organizations need to emulate.