They might not have brought it home, but Gareth Southgate and his team of relatively unknown young players have won the admiration and respect of the masses.
From diehard England fans to folk who aren’t normally fussed about football, praise for their performance has come from all over the country.
It’s fair to say that expectations for England were at an all-time low and it was expected that the team would be unable to break the pattern set in previous years. Faith in Southgate’s ability as a manager was also thin on the ground.
Despite this, he's shown that he's built a team that works well together, can deliver results, and can be admired even in defeat.
This has naturally led to a lot of discussion of Southgate’s management style, how he carries himself as a leader, and (of course!) his snazzy dress sense.
So, what can business and HR leaders learn about team building from the Waistcoated One?
Lesson 1: ‘Stars’ don’t always make the best team players
Previous England squads featured some of the world’s most talented players from some of the biggest clubs, yet when they came together they were unable to gel as a team. Whether this was down to poor management, ingrained club rivalries or the egos of the big stars is irrelevant now.
What’s interesting is the way in which Southgate has navigated this problem when building his team. His chosen team features no megastars and he's managed to foster the attitude that results are dependent on the whole team and not the talents of a select few.
So, how is this relevant to your hiring practices?
Filling your team with so-called 'star performers' might sound great in theory, but in reality this can have a detrimental effect. Why? Simply because the ‘star player’ has only become such with the support of their previous team - once that support is gone, their shine is apt to fade.
It’s something that Boris Groysberg explores in his book ‘Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance’. In a study of over 1,000 Wall Street ‘star’ analysts, it was found that those who move to a new firm are highly likely to suffer a significant decline in performance. The study’s findings revealed that their original performance was highly dependent on the resources, network and other staff at their former company.
In other words - it's the strength of the team as a whole, not the strength of individual players, that matters.
Southgate seems to have realised that assembling a team star by star is a waste of time. He has instead opted to give the opportunity to lesser known players with far less experience playing for a national team, who nevertheless work extraordinarily well together.
These are players who seem genuinely excited about representing England and are willing to work hard to prove their worth.
So you can't always poach talent - how can you develop your own stars instead?
Start by looking within your existing team to see if there’s anyone who deserves a little more responsibility and a chance to shine. You could perhaps start up a mentoring scheme to nurture future talent.
You could also consider taking on someone new in a junior role or as an Apprentice. The initial investment in their learning and development will be rewarded a hundredfold if they turn out to be your next superstar.
Lesson 2: Lead by example and display the values and attitude you want your team to have
In a management or senior role, how you carry yourself often comes under scrutiny as how you behave can have a big impact on how your team performs.
Over the course of England’s 2018 World Cup run, Southgate showed himself to be encouraging, respectful and compassionate; qualities that can be rare to come across in a sport populated by large egos.
When his team won their penalty shoot against Columbia, there was no grandstanding or boasting. Southgate enthusiastically congratulated his players, but also took the time to try to console Mateus Uribe whose missed chance had helped England win.
This showed kindness and compassion, but also empathy - before this campaign, the big moment in Southgate’s career had been his missed penalty against Germany in 1996.
How can you gain the respect of your team?
Not all of Southgate’s actions are easily transferred from the football field over to the business world. We’d maybe give a pass on popping round to hug your competitors after beating them to a contract!
You can, however, apply the basic principle that if you conduct business in a professional and dignified manner, then you will be respected by your both your employees and your customers.
In short, people are likely to work harder to impress someone they respect than someone they resent.
Poor relationships between employees and management can also drastically impact staff turnover. A survey of 7,000 U.S. adults found that 50% had left a job because they had a bad relationship with their manager.
The key is authenticity, which is a huge part of Southgate’s appeal. If you say all the right things but act in a contradictory way, your team will lose faith in you.
A less engaged team is a less productive team, so if you want to maintain good performance you should be prepared to live up to the standards you set.
Remember that your team doesn’t have to fear you to respect you. You can (and should) still call out poor performance, but delivering feedback in a constructive way and taking responsibility for your own failings too will win you a lot more respect than simply dishing out insults and blame.
Lesson 3: Understand that your team are people first & employees second
When you’re being pushed to deliver results, it can sometimes be all too easy to forget that your team have lives outside of work. They might have families to care for or health issues to worry about. Or they might simply believe work isn’t the most important thing in life. (Which is totally allowed, even if you feel otherwise!)
Southgate understands that even during a huge event like the World Cup, his players have lives. Several of his players have openly praised him for being understanding and supportive when they’ve had personal problems arise.
Tottenham’s Danny Rose has had plenty of setbacks recently, including a serious knee injury, the death of his uncle and an incident where his mother suffered racial abuse. He's since revealed he was suffering from depression and has thanked Southgate for his continued support and the confidence he's shown in him by picking him for the England squad.
Southgate also encouraged Fabian Delph to return home to England so he could be with his wife when she went into labour. This meant that Delph was unable to play in the knockout match against Columbia, but Southgate insisted that supporting his family was more important.
He said of his decision: “the thought process is some things in life are more important than football”. Which is exactly right - there are moments in life that are more important than work. Any manager who fails to realise this is putting unnecessary stress on their team.
What can you do to show your team support?
A recent study by the Canada Life Group Insurance found that 23% of UK workers felt that their bosses did not care about their health or wellbeing.
This might not necessarily mean that they don’t care, and could simply be down to poor communication on the part of the manager, but regardless, no one deserves to feel like they don’t matter. If you don’t want your team feeling this way about you, you might want to follow Southgate’s lead.
Perhaps the most effective thing you can do is to be approachable. People often suffer in silence under the misapprehension that no one is willing to help. Combat this by making it clear that your team can come to you. Even if it turns out there isn’t anything you can do, just having someone to talk to can be beneficial.
One of the easiest things you can do to support staff with hectic personal lives is to offer flexible working. This could mean offering flexitime so employees can have more control over their commute and make it easier to arrange appointments.
You could also give your team the option to work from home. This can be on a sporadic basis or you can set up a more formal arrangement which outlines the weekdays that they will be working at home. This can take a load of stress off the shoulders of anyone with kids, relatives or pets to care for, and will give your team a better grasp on that all-important work-life balance.
If you’re sceptical about the benefits of remote working, it's been found to improve productivity as well as employee happiness. American Express found that homeworking employees were a massive 43% more productive than their office-working colleagues!
Let’s recap! What have we learned?
- Don’t just buy in talent, invest in developing your own
- Gain your team’s respect by being authentic
- Understand your team have personal lives and support them where you can
You might not be as beloved as Gareth Southgate and sadly no one is going to name a tube station after you, but if you take these lessons on board you'll have a team that’s engaged, productive and feels valued.
Sounds like a win to us.
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