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Alex Danson blog

Published: 06 February 2017

How to build a winning team

Much like on the hockey pitch, a business’ employees are almost always its most valuable asset. And while the attraction of talent is, and should remain, a priority for most, firms must focus on promoting team synergy and creating a supportive environment where individuals can truly flourish.

Despite business leaders developing their own personal management strategy, implementing the right team structure, training regime and culture must remain a focus, and often holds the key to longevity, prosperity and the growth needed to build a team of winners.

There are many synergies between the worlds of sport and business and I take a look at the top lessons I’ve learned and how businesses can build a team with the ability and motivation to gain an edge over competitors.

Lesson 1: establish your core values

The first and most essential step in creating a strong team is establishing a sense of identity and ownership – forming a set of common objectives or values is the best place to start.

For the Team GB hockey team, we have three central mantras; ‘be the difference’, ‘create history’ and ‘inspire the future’. These principles were devised within an open forum which included every member of the quad. By taking into account the motivations and objectives of the entire team, we gained buy-in from each squad member. A similar approach can be taken by businesses. Involving employees in shaping the culture of the organisation is instrumental in encouraging active engagement in its goals, principles and long-term strategy. Through ownership of this kind, your team becomes concreted in shared values, more keen to stick with something they believe in and ultimately more likely to stick with the company.

Lesson 2: embrace individual differences

When communicating with and motivating a large team, it’s crucial that each individual’s differences are taken into account and harnessed in a positive way to maximise their performance. The people and culture of a business is what makes it unique and trying to force people into a certain mould is likely to have the opposite effect and stunt creativity, growth and entrepreneurialism.

Understanding what situations people do and don’t feel comfortable with is crucial. Where some employees may be confident to voice their opinions or concerns in a group environment, others may prefer to do so anonymously, or in a less pressurised setting.

In my experience, the junior members of the hockey team are actively encouraged to contribute new ideas or strategies, and often prove invaluable as they bring a fresh sense of perspective and focus to the team. For business leaders, looking to create an environment where staff are able to provide feedback or access support from colleagues in a way that is comfortable for them helps to push people outside of their comfort-zone in a way that is controlled.

This could benefit the team by opening up previously untapped ideas, talents and insights and could ultimately improve aspects of the wider business, too.

Lesson 3: keep an eye on the competition

When we are preparing for a big game, we often watch footage of the opposing team to help identify their tactics, strengths and weakness in order to help shape our own approach. This type of competitor analysis is usually confined to the professional sporting world, but the principle of having an awareness of how your competition performs should be a focus for businesses as well.

Encouraging the workforce to monitor campaigns, projects and marketing activities adopted by competitors will afford firms an edge when going head-to-head with their competitors in the future , for example when developing new products, streamlining pricing strategy or creating the perfect new business pitches or bids.

Lesson 4: training is key

Continuous positive development is an ethos that should run through any successful organisation. In sport, the most effective training schemes help refine team members’ existing skills through a series of ‘drills’, alongside ‘technical sessions’ which allow individuals to hone new capabilities. This model should be replicated in the workplace too, with time dedicated to both developing core skills and tapping into the strengths and interests of the individual to help them acquire new ones.

Allowing employees to have input into their own training, and doing so within a positive, supportive environment facilitates increased wellbeing, ownership and professional development – skills that the best of employers seek in their staff.

Lesson 5: don’t fear failure

After each game, tournament or season, we review our performance, regardless of whether we came first or last on the leader board. If we ‘won’, we still identify areas for further improvement and progression to ensure we continue to maintain a competitive edge. However, for many, it is the response to a loss, or ‘failure’ that matters most. Any team striving to reach the top – no matter whether in sport or business - must take risks, and in pushing for excellence, will likely face setbacks.

The best way to deal with failure or setbacks is to not fear it and, when it does happen, it’s important to avoid a ‘blame culture’ at all costs. Ensuring that hurdles are responded to and overcome in a positive way, by the team as a whole, will help to maintain cohesion and unity.

"We’re delighted to be at the beginning of a partnership between two teams who share the same winning spirit and focus on supporting talent to achieve their potential. Everyone here has a great sense of pride and excitement to be working with Team England – a team that, after all, reflects just how much can be achieved by a diverse and varied group of individuals all focused on one goal. We can’t wait to get started."

Joanna Thornell, Client and Markets Director, Shakespeare Martineau