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The Team’s Got to Win

“As long as there are games to play it is not over.”
Sir Alex Henderson


Sir Alex Henderson, the Manager of Manchester United football club from 1986 to 2013 is reputed have been a bad loser. More than that, it’s reported he had barely controlled temper and struck terror into his opponents. He also used humour, recognized talent and extolled the virtues of hard work to his players. It worked, apparently – United won the English title 13 times.

An intense desire to win is a strong feature of many successful leaders. It binds the team together and defines the size of the stakes of the game. However, the desire to win must be supported by a compelling story and the ability to tell the story.

My team must win

A project leader we worked with, whose team was sinking a mine shaft as part of building a new mine, defined his winning with the statement: “We will be sinking two shafts to over 3000 metres. It will take more than 18 months, working every day, every week, every month. Here are three metrics you must keep in mind: We must achieve six meters a day, every day, every week, every month. We must do this without injuring a single person. And we must do this within the agreed budget.” They did it.

Leaders have to be many things but more than anything else, they must have the conviction that the team can (and must) win. This must be supported by a single-minded story that describes the finish line and paints a picture the team can grasp and work towards.

Some practices great leaders use with their teams:

  • Choose a Winning Measure – The human brain seems to be wired for three’s. We can remember them and three doesn’t overload our ability to understand the interrelationship between the three items. That are your team’s three key measures? Choose them, explain them and stick to them.
  • Find the Story – We all need a good story. Take the three measures and build them into a story that touches the team members in the heart and the mind. Explain why the work of the team is important. Be clear about what winning looks like, tastes like, sounds like. For the mining team the balance of productivity (six meters a day) needed to be balanced with zero-harm safety and working within a clear budget.
  • Tell the Story – Do it over and over again. Tell it new members of the team. Make it a slogan and a tagline for emails. Get the team to tell the story to each other, to customers and partners. Review the story in weekly meetings and link it how the team is progressing. Internalize it. Then live it.

So, what’s your ‘six-meters-a-day’?

We can help. The work we do with leaders and teams helps them clarify what winning looks like and how to create the story. While you’re here, why not take a few minutes and do a team assessment to find out what may help your team win. Contact us today for this and other team-related questions.


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