• Robert Ord
  • Published: 04 July 2019

I’m never one to shy from my football allegiance. Having grown up in an era of desperate football, seeing my team try to make it against the big clubs, I’ve often looked to our noisy neighbours and been in wonder at how Sir Fergie managed and led his team.

In this era, I’m proud. We’re not just the noisy neighbours anymore, we’ve achieved something great. 

As an Agile coach, the parallels are not lost on me. King Pep – also known as Pep Guardiola - has created a mindset shift which we can all learn from. He’s built on what Fergie and Wenger both achieved in the last 20 years, but with his own special brand of football.

Here is my outsider's view of what we can learn from Manchester City Football Club…

1.   Don’t be afraid to challenge the norm and seek to reshape the way we do things. 

Back in 2017, many commentators said the Guardiola method wouldn’t work, that his style was too fluent and not strong enough for the tight backlines and brutal winter morning games. Boy were they wrong. It's not just remarkable that today’s City have broken nearly every record in the book, it’s the way they’ve done it. Pep pushed his fluid, attacking style into the league. Success is measured by the way others have reacted – emulation is one of the finest forms of flattery. The team think and act differently and others can see it. City are changing the way top flight football is played – they were not afraid to challenge the structures and norms so engrained in the early 2000s of English football. Take this as a lesson – if trying a new way of working doesn’t feel successful in the first round, don’t be afraid to refine and go again. Learn, adapt and seek to fundamentally change the way you do business. Be ambitious.

2.   The 11 players on the field are only half the story.

It takes more than the showpiece to create a world-class organisation. Sure, front-office wow the customer, but behind them is a fluid and adaptive middle and back-office. If you’ve seen Amazon’s All or Nothing documentary on Man City, then you’ll know how pivotal Brandon is to the squad – he prepares the boots for each game so the players feet can take a natural shape in them. The same can be said of Dave Brailsford for Team Sky; constant measuring and monitoring of incremental improvements. It is this attention to the specifics of how each function operates that has made Man City a success. Each function gets special attention and coaching in the new way of working, making sure that the golden show on offer is truly felt across the organisation. The lesson? Don’t just create an agile front-end and IT machine. Make sure it permeates every facet of the business that drives value.

3.   Delegated trust covers more ground. 

As with empowering all those who contribute to value, trusting your delegates with the details is not only necessary to change top-to-bottom, but it creates a free workplace where people can learn and grow. None of us were born experts; we learned our trade from those around us who knew more. Create freedom for juniors to learn and trust delegates with the details of training and coaching. Employee-based training is a powerful tool. The right behaviours will be emulated and over time, a shift in way of working will happen.

4.   Pick the side for the occasion. 

Everyone has their favourites – colleagues, tools, approaches… the winning formula that worked for the last big launch, product or market campaign isn’t necessarily going to work on the next. The variables to calculate this are off the scale. Learning that your team needs to adapt to the occasion is critical. Dropping your star striker or fastest winger might seem like madness, but against the right competition, it might be just what’s needed. Formulate your teams for the challenge ahead and don’t be afraid to make bold decisions.

5.   Everybody should have consensus in messaging. 

‘Tow the party line’ is politics. But if the line is the central mentality for your organisation, one person breaking rank will cause waves. Across the league this season, players have chatted back, spoken out on Instagram, challenged managerial authority… most often, they were dropped. Their skills and training remained just as good as ever, but the dissent they caused by not following the team’s ethos made them disruptive. Big name players are sold because of this. Teams can’t function with personalities bigger than the whole. As every classic business text book will tell you, create a clear message and vision and follow it through with consistent messaging. The team will speak the same language, and create a new cultural bond that echoes through their way of working. The more your team self-organises around their new values, the less you have to focus on this and the more time you can spend owning the bigger goals.

We’ll see what 2019/20 brings to the Premier League. If only a handful of businesses learn from the world of football, I’m convinced they’ll also have an easier 2020 run-in.

Bring on the next title race!