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Don't Just Play to Win--Win Beautifully
 

Adopting a more vibrant approach to teamwork can improve the flow and performance of your organization.

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During a year on assignment in London in the early 2000s, I (Bill) took the opportunity to watch a lot of soccer. I learned a lot not just about soccer, but about business as well.

My recollection is that Manchester United, with David Beckham on offense, would seem to sit back on defense for the first half and go to halftime with a 0-0 score. They would then turn up the juice in the second half, just long enough to score a goal in roughly the 60th minute, then sit back on defense again and run out the clock. Every week it seemed like Man U would win 1-0 playing a methodical, plodding, precise game that took them all the way to the top of the tables.

It was very successful for Beckham and crew, but boring to watch! In international competition, England largely seemed to play the same style.

This style of play would have turned me off soccer entirely, but I also happened to watch a few Brazil matches. Ronaldo and Ronaldinho were at the top of their games, and Brazil played a much more vibrant, flowing, colorful style than England. Watching their teamwork, I understood why soccer is called The Beautiful Game. The Brazilians did not just want to win; they wanted to win beautifully.

One of Avondale's core values is our desire to play the business equivalent of The Beautiful Game. We also call this "flow," and break it down as follows:

  • We value diverse and complementary skills
  • We make our whole greater than the sum of our parts
  • We trust each other and always have each other's back
  • We share and accept constructive feedback based on mutual respect
  • We value constructive conflict
  • We find our roles and our "awesome"

When we are playing our version of the Beautiful Game, we know each other's moves and thoughts inside and out, so much so that we can almost complete each other's sentences.  We anticipate each other's needs and are always "at the spot" when the ball gets passed between us. Each person delivers their individual "awesome" and the collective result can be amazing.

We do not always achieve The Beautiful Game in our day-to-day activities, but that's okay.  As we "play" more together and build a more cohesive team, we find Flow comes more easily to us.

So how can you and your team learn to play the Beautiful Game? Here are six tips:

1. Trust and mutual respect are key to achieving Flow. In a highly functioning team, each person understands their role and how all the roles are vital to the final product we deliver. We cannot deliver more than the sum of our parts without trust.

2. Build a foundation for this mutual respect by hiring team members who work well with others and are both trusting and trustworthy. Prima donnas need not apply!

3. Find core pairings within your teams that work well. Two folks who like each other, enjoy working with each other and have complementary skills can often deliver great results. They can form the nucleus of a team with Flow.

4. Reward your team members at least in part based not on their individual contributions, but on how they made the team more productive and cohesive.

5. Continually recognize the teams (and team members) who deliver a great, well-rounded team result.

6. Don't be satisfied when you win in business. Winning is not good enough; aim to win beautifully!

Does your team play The Beautiful Game? Please share your thoughts with us at karlandbill@avondalestrategicpartners.com.

Last updated: Feb 22, 2013

KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree.
@karlstark




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