Although I am not an avid european football fan, I still got wind of the outstanding achievement Leicester City Football Club has done lately. As many, I asked myself, “How did a team who was destined for relegation before the season was able to finish 1st overall in the Barclay’s Premier League standings? How did a team lining up ordinary players could ignore the pressure and beat the more experienced teams, who had more money and who aligned better players? “. Maybe Leicester’s manager Claudio Ranieri prepared his squad perfectly every game. Maybe unexpected players were able to step up their game a notch all season long. Maybe the team had luck on their side occasionally. Although it certainly took a bit of all this to accomplish such a feat, there is certainly more to that. By analyzing championship teams more closely, no matter the sport and level (it also applies to businesses!), it is possible to identify a constant in each one of them: exceptional team spirit.
So, how can you build this exceptional team spirit? It turns out that it is far easier said than done, but there are key ingredients to look for:
1. Identifiable leaders
The players are the most important part of your team. They are the one sweating and executing the game plan day after day. They are the one who must perform at the right time. Without taking anything to the coaches, the real leadership has to come from the players. Every team must have at least one identifiable leader (usually the captain) who has the experience and track record to back what he says. This person does not need to be the most volubile or the greatest motivator. He does not need to be the best player either. But he must make sure to do a couple of things:
- He needs to work hard and lead by example on and off the field. He must be able to know when it’s time to work hard, but also when it’s time to play hard!
- He needs to be the coach’s eyes and ears while protecting his teammates and be available for them.
- Finally and more importantly, he needs to be proud to put on the team jersey everyday and must instill a strong sense of belonging to his teammates.
2. Honesty and respect
Honesty and respect must be the core values of your team. Honesty because not only it is important that everyone on the team knows what the coaches are expecting from them, but also what their teammates are expecting. If everyone knows their role, embraces it and do their job, chances of winning increase exponentially.
And respect because all players, no matter their role on the team and their stats, must respect each other. The talent gap between your best players and the others can be large, so it is important that everyone respects what the others brings to the team. When both honesty and respect are part of a team, the players are ready to do anything for their teammates and a high level of confidence surges.
Having fun is another important component to build a strong team spirit. Just like a human being, a team must have a balanced life. On one side, it is really important to work hard while practicing, training or playing. But it is also very important to know the right timing to lay back and relax. The best way to relax and create bonds at the same time is to organize simple team activities. Leicester’s coach chose a more unusual activity and brought his team to a pizzeria and let the players cook their own pizza (a great team must work for everything right?). These kind of activities are really important as they resemble the team members together. Playing sports at a high level can be very stressfull and having fun with your teammates is one of the best way to diminish this stress.
Identifying true leaders, instilling honesty and respect in your team and having fun while maintaining a high level of dedication is not an easy task, I admit. Some teams never succeed to do that. And even if you do, it is not guaranteed that you will win championships. However, you will give your team the best possible chances to do amazing things and the bonds created between the team members will never fade.
So, how does the manager Claudio Ranieri explain his team’s successes? «This is a small club that is showing the world what can be achieved through spirit and determination. Twenty-six players. Twenty-six different brains. But one heart.»