In the past I have made a several links (some more oblique than others) to celebrated efforts and achievements of sportspeople over the past year including Bradley Wiggins, Usain Bolt, and the British Cycling team and the London 2012 Olympics.
After a pulsating year of sporting moments in 2012 and having previously prodded at the excesses of football management, I simply cannot miss the chance to celebrate the achievements earlier this month by a humble, honest lower league football club. Bradford City FC are close to my heart, having spent many occasions at their Valley Parade home in years gone by and since then, despite a move down south, I have been able to follow their tortuous progress through financial misfortune and near-collapse with nevertheless genuinely joyful moments amongst a few hundred Bradford faithful as a regular ‘away’ fan down south) …
In the early weeks of 2013 lowly Bradford City, a club that have been in the doldrums of lower-league football for over 10 years, set the media alight with successive victories against Premier League opposition in a winning run that has taken them to a major Cup Final for the first time in 101 years. This gives the team a further chance to shine in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley, the national stadium. At the time of their only previous success, winning the FA Cup in 1911 (a week-and-a half after the Titanic had sunk in the North Atlantic), the site at Wembley was still a rural landscape of fields and woodland copses. Bradford are the first 4th tier (lowest division) team to reach any final in England for 51 years. The story is well documented elsewhere, but it is worth noting that Bradford’s entire squad of players was assembled for a total of £7500 of transfer fees – in a world where opposition players in the Premier League teams which were defeated to reach the final cost millions (often tens of millions) – EACH.
How is this possible? Surely it is a matter of assembling a team of the best, to achieve success? Bradford illustrates that there is an alternative model – to build the best team you can with what you have. And how? To get the team members to prepare and focus on the things that matter. For Bradford this was all about playing to strengths, taking responsibility, keeping discipline, committing effort, working together, and of course always believing that they could achieve the dream! As the team’s winning run extended from August 2012 against lower league opposition through to a thrilling December night against the big-guns of Arsenal and later Aston Villa in the January semi-final, all of the team’s values and actions were validated and rewarded through the results that they achieved together. This builds both self-belief and belonging which enables performance; a difficult blend to achieve purely through big-money signings. In Premier League teams this process usually takes years to achieve – with a lot of waste and at great expense! It is not just a matter of ‘chemistry’, but rather a matter of focus and action.
So in our teams let’s focus on our goals, our various roles, how we work together at a practical level and how we build positive working relationships based on mutuality and trust.
Beckhard, R. (1972) Optimizing Team Building Effort, J. Contemporary Business. 1:3, pp.23-32
Coppin, A. and Barratt, J. (2002) Timeless Management, Palgrave MacMillan, New York.
Katzenbach, J.R. and Smith, D.K. (1993) The Discipline of Teams, Harvard Business Review,March-April, 111-120.
McNulty, P. (2013) Bradford reaching League Cup final one of greatest football upsets, BBC Sport,23 January 2013 http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/21155111