An underdog story and a business lesson

In 2016, English Football Club Leicester City made history by winning the English Premier League. So what exactly made this win historic? That they had only narrowly escaped relegation from the league just the previous season and the odds of them winning the title were 5000-1, even higher than finding the Loch Ness Monster or Elvis being alive!

What did they do? Normally the answer would be assembling a new team full of world-beating players with a superstar manager. Instead, they retained most of the previous season’s team, brought in a couple of ‘rejects’ from other clubs plus an unknown midfielder and hired a manager who’d been fired less than 3 months into his previous job.

So what exactly happened at Leicester City to transform pretty much the same mediocre achievers into title winners in one season? Of course they did many things right and also had some luck along the way. But very simply put, they became a much better team.

Prof. David Myatt from the London School of Economics, in his piece on Leicester’s historic season, talks about using interdependence to create a high-performing team. Making people interdependent reinforces their desire to succeed, because everyone must play their part in order to complete the project successfully.

In Leicester’s case, this interdependence manifested across the pitch. Every player committed to the team first and played their part in whatever the coach wanted them to do for the team. The best example of this were the goalscorers, a breed not otherwise renowned for sharing. The team’s two leading scorers also led the team in assists (providing the final ball for another to score). Which meant they gave up their own chance to score to set up a teammate if they thought he was better placed to score a goal for the team. This interdependence and unselfishness transmitted through the team, making them not only better at goal scoring but also at stopping the opposition from scoring against them.

The result of this interdependence was a team that scored more goals and conceded fewer, performing far better than the sum of its individual players’ abilities. What is true in football teams is also true in our own teams. The best performing teams are those that thrive on interdependence, who move on from making a difference within their department or function to help create collective impact for the team.

How do we create a Leicester within our teams? One answer comes from Pat Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of Teams model, which helps teams decode and then strengthen the ingredients that foster interdependence and consequently, high performance.

Inspired by Lencioni’s work, we use his model to build strong, cohesive teams via customised 6-9 month journeys. Over the last year we have helped organisations across the world build stronger teams – through diagnostics, workshops and interventions. We’d love to tell you more.

We’re always available to chat, so reach out and let us know how you’d like to connect.

About Srikanth Sarathy

In a career spanning over 20 years, Srikanth has worked on some of India's (and the world's) biggest brands, across India and Western Europe. He was instrumental in setting up two start-ups, a consumer engagement, and Word of Mouth company and then an Advertising Agency. He is now a Co-founder and leadership coach at The Core Questin

2 Comments

  1. This has always been a fascinating story for me that actually begins with a visit to Thailand. However, a few questions remains for me – what happens after ? Why didn’t winning become a culture for Leicester in the latter years ?

    1. Great question! The reality is that teams need to be continually nurtured, there’s never a time to rest on laurels. The motivation and interdependence needs to be constantly kept high, especially when key personnel leave and others come in their place. These are incredibly high standards to maintain as well, so that intent needs to be much higher

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