Surrounding yourself with a team of great people that complement - rather than replicate - you is a vital skill of a leader.

Surrounding yourself with a team of great people that complement - rather than replicate you - is a vital skill of a leader.

 18 Jul 2018

Can I just use Gareth Southgate - one last time - and his team to illustrate how having diversity of thought, perspective and experiences makes for an innovative and productive team?

The aim of building a successful team is the old adage that it is greater than the sum of its parts but in practice that actually means it is cognitively diverse.  For a leader that means not collecting a group of mini-mes, a crowd of clones or a series of identikit brains.  Conformity of thought breeds stagnation and imperils any organisation but in fact it’s actually far too easy to build a team with low diversity because we are naturally drawn to those who are in some way like us. 

I’ve read lots about Gareth Southgate and his team (actually I’m more than slightly fascinated by him and his leadership style!) and I’ve listened to many interviews about its composition.  

His relationship with his number 2, Steve Holland, has been in place for a while I understand since he was managing the U21s team.  Southgate, of course, played at the highest level and has more limited management experience whereas Holland suffered a career-ending injury early on and switched to coaching aged about 21.  He has worked with managers such as Jose Mourinho, Rafa Benitez and Antonio Conte.  Apparently he ‘ensures discipline amongst the team and keeps them in line’, Southgate is ‘more relaxed and approachable’.  They have regularly been described as ‘good cop, bad cop’ and clearly exemplify the importance to a Leader of a complementary number 2.  Both talk about bouncing ideas off each other, sharing experiences, views and opinions - this person forms a crucial role and needs to bring a different skillset and different traits.  But how can you be sure that you’re recruiting someone to complement you, not replicate you?

As for the rest of the team, Southgate regularly talks about ‘The Collective’ and the backroom staff do seem an eclectic mix drawn from a variety of environments…

The Goalkeeping Coach was poached from the Wales FA and the Psychologist, who preaches the benefits of Yoga, has been working in Australian sport for the past 20 years.  The Team Doctor came from British Athletics and the Kit Manager provides continuity having been with the set up for 20 years, initially as the team coach driver before he was given responsibility for the kit – he’s a former shipyard worker from Scotland.

I’ve heard Gareth Southgate talking extensively about the essential need for more detailed analysis and bringing in experts able to provide that insight. I’ve read there is now a team of 17 analysts located at St George’s Park.  There has been additional analysis and evidence compiled about set pieces and even about the time it takes for players to make the walk to the penalty spot during penalty shoot outs (which clearly seems to have reaped rewards!).  The depth of knowledge and level of analysis certainly seems impressive – with the team having been pulled from all across all sports including bobsleigh, skeleton, netball, judo and volleyball.  And that’s on top of video analysis - “you can really paint pictures for players before training and games and reviewing as well, which can save your voice as a coach and get you into the topic of a session a lot quicker.”

Identity diversity is, of course, not the same as cognitive diversity.  But it is likely that those who have had very different experiences, training and backgrounds will have different perspectives, interpretations and demonstrate different approaches to solving problems.  They might not always work harmoniously together or go out drinking together after work, but they will create a more effective and high performing team – more likely to be innovative and more likely to spot blind spots and potential risks. 

We use a game-based assessment, working with Arctic Shores, to uncover different cognitive styles, differences in personal and interpersonal style - that are notoriously hard to identify during traditional recruitment processes - to really look objectively at how diverse a team currently is and how a new recruit can impact that team positively. 

Having a complementary and diverse team might be one of the hardest challenges to achieve but probably the single most important task for any Leader – football or business. 

Joanne McTiffin, Tindall Perry Insights


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