The Best Teams Ever: Lessons to Learn

Legendary sports teams exemplify teamwork at its finest, a quality we all want to replicate in our workplaces. The crossover is thus fascinating, and by uncovering it within, I hope to give you a trait or two to revolutionize your game.

by 

James Moffatt

-

January 29, 2024

With sports, the stories of great teams push beyond the boundaries of their respective playing field. For me, and as you will see often on this blog, I like to compare sports teams, and exemplar teamwork in these areas to our own everyday workplaces. In my opinion, they can teach us good lessons about teamwork, leadership, strategies, etc - lessons that are equally applicable in the workplace, hence these comparisons that I draw.

Why Do I Compare Great Sports Teams with the Workplace

This comparison is not just a strange analogy made by me as a sports fan, and is actually an insightful parallel that can begin to give more context to otherwise boring pieces of advice about workplace optimization. It makes these lessons tangible and for me, this is more likely to help us strive for organizational success and a strong organizational culture. For me, it spans multiple key areas of interaction between sport and business, within which there are similarities and lessons.

Common Ground in Team Dynamics

I want to be a bit more specific about these areas of intersection here, to hopefully let you understand how we can apply sport to business. The core of both is the dynamic within the team, as without it, we cannot work together. For example, just as a football team relies on the coordinated efforts of all 11 players to win games and achieve teamwork success, a workplace team depends on the collaboration of however many are involved to get to their business objective.

I think the impact of collaboration within teams is pretty clear, but for reference, a Stanford study revealed that workers and teammates partaking in collaboration saw their motivation increase by 64%, with fatigue also dropping in tandem by 30%.

Leadership and Coaching Parallels

Managers obviously vary in style depending on the workplace, but overall, they should all resonate with one common feature and goal of guiding their team towards victory. The metrics for success are also different for a sports team and a business, but effective leadership is always crucial in steering a team of talented individuals towards the end goal. The Center for Creative Leadership have proven this in a study, where the results depicted significant boosts in productivity and profitability for teams led by effective managers. This is the business metric, whereas a sports team's metric will be trophies and success.

On the note of trophies and success, and at this point, I want to look at six of the best sports teams ever, extracting key business related insights from their success.

1. 1970 Brazil National Football Team

Led by the legendary footballing icon, Pelé, the 1970 Brazil team, often regarded as the best football team ever, won the World Cup due to a lot of individual brilliance, from players like the aforementioned Pelé, but more so due to their cohesive teamwork. Their style emphasized flexibility and creativity but also proved that without a strong collective effort, it counts for nothing. They were a great team of individuals who tied themselves together to a common goal.

Workplace Lesson to Learn

Like this Brazil team's adaptability and fluidity, successful teams in the workplace should also be made up of lots of dedicated, and separately talented personnel. Obviously, Pelé, and Brazil's goalkeeper did not have the same skillset, but neither should everyone in your office, or asynchronous work environment. We should take this lesson to encourage individual brilliance and an environment where individual strengths are intertwined for the collective team goal (pun intended).

2. FC Barcelona (2008-2012)

Under the guidance of Pep Guardiola, Barcelona within this era, implemented a 'total football' philosophy, which was famously brought into the club by Johan Cruyff after his period at Ajax. With stars like Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, and Xavi, they dominated world football, winning numerous La Liga titles, Copa del Reys, and UEFA Champions League trophies. They are for me, the perfect example of a team working together; each player knew their role, and how it could be optimized to help their other teammates. They also represent a system of fluidity and interchangeability, where all team members were encouraged and allowed to adapt to different roles and positions, something that should be a goal of all great teams.

Workplace Lesson to Learn

Barcelona's success under Guardiola teaches the importance of a shared vision and philosophy. Guardiola is someone who has extremely clear ideas and tactics, which I believe should correlate with a great business leader. In the workplace, a shared goal should align to the efforts of each person, but more importantly, these efforts should be 100% dedicated to the ideas of the manager. With conviction and dedication comes success, as was shown by Guardiola's new ideas (at that time). These new ideas, however, were also influenced heavily by Cruyff, who's ideas permeated through Barcelona, where a young Guardiola was learning under his guidance. This forms another workplace lesson; learn from the more experienced team members surrounding you, both naturally and with feedback, but use their philosophies to formulate and develop your own ideas and subsequently, your own great team.

3. San Francisco 49ers (1980s)

The 49ers, led by Joe Montana, dominated the NFL in the 1980s, winning four Super Bowl titles. Their success was marked by excellent leadership from Montana, especially with his strategic innovation. There has been a great study by the New York Times that begins to help us understand just how effective his management style was, and I will go into this next.

Workplace Lesson to Learn

Effective leadership, like that of the 49ers, can inspire teams to achieve their best. As I alluded to, one quote from Montana that I got in this 'study of good management', was, "I try to do the best that I can out on the field. I think that's the best way to lead."

In the corporate world, leaders who motivate and innovate can drive their teams towards unprecedented success by continually improving team-working. The other thing that I have understood from examining Montana's style is that he would never lose his cool. The best leaders are those who stay level-headed and approach each aspect of their role with clarity, as the knock-on effect on their colleagues can reduce panic and increase productivity.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (1970s)

The Steelers, winning four Super Bowl titles in six years, were known for their formidable defense and strategic gameplay. Their teamwork but more specifically, their resilience under pressure were top tier.

Workplace Lesson to Learn

The Steelers' ability to perform under pressure is a vital lesson for any team. In the workplace, resilience and a strong team spirit can help navigate challenges and emerge victorious. We all know how hard it can when pressure begins to seep into our working environment, and so the ability to stick together in adverse times is a revolutionary trait.

5. Real Madrid (1955-1960)

Real Madrid, during this era of the fifties, won five consecutive European Cups (the predecessor of the Champions League. With stars like Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas, who were so talented that they stood out within a fully established team of (now) legends, they displayed a blend of technical skill and tactical intelligence, and largely echo the Brazil team from example 1, with slightly more balance.

Workplace Lesson to Learn

Real Madrid's aforementioned mix of ability and strategy mirrors the imperative nature of a balanced approach in the workplace, where technical expertise and skill must be complemented by strategic thinking, both in critique, and in planning ahead. Clearly, some team members are more naturally gifted in their field of work, but the key lesson here is that with dedication to continuous self-reflection and betterment, we can all reach the levels of those around us, who may not be as self-aware and willing to alter their style in order to improve.

6. New England Patriots (2001-Present)

The Patriots, led by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, have been a dominant NFL team, with multiple Super Bowl victories. Their success has been attributed to excellent team dynamics, which focusses on making sure everyone is appreciated and that each team member understands the value of their colleagues. They also showed great adaptability by shaping their team to the players' skillsets, and a relentless pursuit of excellence, which came with thorough game-planning and preparation.

Workplace Lesson to Learn

The Patriots' adaptability and focus on continuous improvement are essential for staying relevant and competitive in any field. Continuous improvement is something that many teams fail to achieve, for a variety of reasons. I have previously covered the dangers of a lack of feedback and colleague review, and especially in a team setting, the subsequent groupthink that will arise is destined to restrict progress and development of strategies to out-fox opponents.

Each and every one of these legendary teams can provide valuable lessons to those aiming to improve their teams and collaborative skills. The solid principles of thorough strategic planning and leadership, as well adaptability, among the many other traits of these teams, are universal in the effectivity. Regardless of the environment that the team performs in, from world football, to the NFL, or even the corporate boardroom, these various principles can create foundations for us to build truly great teams. Remember, not every strategy will work, and they also do not need to all work, but the incremental changes that may arise from committing to becoming a great team will hopefully bring unprecedented success.

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