High performance and winning teams

Manchester United Football Club’s Head of Athletic Development, Tony Strudwick, takes a look at how to build and lead a winning team.

High performance and winning teams

High performance and winning teams

The lines between sport and business are razor thin in the modern world, and therefore relevant parallels can be drawn between them. A sports team sets its sights on achieving sustainable success year-on-year through the building of a strong and cohesive team. This is no different to building a team in the business setting where managing a group of successful and talented individuals who can succeed through working together is the desire of every leader.

A leader in charge of shaping a premiership football team will encounter the same challenges as any team leader in the traditional business setting.

A team of individuals

Tony Strudwick, Manchester United’s Head of Athletic Development

Building a team is the first step on the road to success, the next is keeping that team together to attain the best possible results. To do that, you need to acknowledge that a team is made up of individuals and embrace that they need to be treated as such. Nurturing and developing the talent of your team members is of vital importance, and is greatly enhanced if you can create an environment that fosters creativity, encourages peak performance and provides the opportunity to grow in the business.

As an example, look at how Ryan Giggs advanced through the ranks at Manchester United: he joined the first team at 17 years of age and played until he was 40, now he’s the club’s assistant manager. This wasn’t planned, we didn’t know from the start that this was where he would end up, but at every step in his career with the club we have been assessing what type of support he would need to develop his skills and how we could keep him performing at the top of his game.

This level of focus on the individual is key, if you’re at the head of a team you need a long-term plan for managing talent. You have to nurture and train your team members like the corporate athletes they are. Constantly ask yourself what the team needs to achieve maximum efficiency, how you can support them in that and what will you need to do if your team needs new members. At Manchester United, our players may have to play 40-50 games a year and how we react to injuries is very much like how the corporate world reacts to people moving on to new challenges. We would never compromise the team for a quick fix, and we would never shy away from rebuilding the team if we needed to. The mark of a good leader is knowing how to adapt to changing circumstances, and how to do so in a way that works for the team.

Golden rules

This final section deals with what I would consider to be some of the most important things to bear in mind as you lead your team.

First of all, maintain the knowledge of those who have gone before. Institutional knowledge is a key asset, and one that should be retained as much as possible. The lessons we learnt under Sir Alex Ferguson’s leadership are still used today: trusting the players, trusting the team, and promoting a good team culture will always reap rewards. Next, clearly define what you mean by success. If you can effectively communicate your aims and expectations clearly, the team will be in no doubt of what is expected of them.

Finally, and it’s as true in sport as it is in business, always encourage putting the team before ego. It’s no secret that when managing a football team you have to work with high-level talent and strong personalities. You have to walk the line of supporting and adapting to all kinds of personalities, and it can be hard to do – but the business world is no different. Promote team culture, put achieving as a group at the top of your list of goals, and you will succeed.

A cohesive and cooperative team is something every manager desires to run, and putting one together is a fantastic feeling. After that, your job as a leader is to keep your team together and ensure it continues to achieve. I believe with every fibre of my being that by creating an environment that fosters creativity, nurtures the individual and promotes strong team culture, you can lead your own winning team to success.