Barcelona FC and Spain – What has made them so successful as teams?

Last week I was at the Thinkers50 summit having dinner with Marcus Buckingham. Seeing as we were in the UK it seemed only polite to bring football into the conversation and I recalled something I had heard Marcus say while being interviewed on Dan Pinks radio podcast. It was examining Barcelona FC and the Spanish International team and how they had created the best teams in the world……what makes them so dominant over other sides?

Seeing as Marcus was sitting right across from me, I thought I would take the opportunity to get his thoughts on their rise to football domination. He recalled an interview Xabi Alonso had done with the Guardian newspaper. Alonso had indirectly stated that there were a couple of words in English that for all intents and purposes cannot be directly translated into Spanish, highlighting this fact by switching from Spanish to English whenever he mentioned them:
1. Target man. Traditionally in British football there is a target man, whether it be the standard 6 foot 3 strikers who you lob the ball to or Wayne Rooney acting as a playmaker. And yet in Spanish they have no word for this. Alonso explained that everyone is a Target man. Every player is expected to know how to pass, move and finish.
2. There is no Spanish word for tackle. Why should you need to tackle if you can dominate the play and retain possession?! He states that “I don’t think tackling is a quality”. “It is a recurso, something you have to resort to, not a characteristic of your game”.

I guess if you have a culture within your team that respects the points above then every player will adopt this style. Just like any organisation, Spanish management had identified what its culture should be and ensured it is communicated through all levels of staff and players and their customers (fans) for that matter….Complete sense of purpose if you will. There is also a very clear sense of teamwork in the Spanish and Barcelona set ups. Although players have identified roles, IE full back, holding midfielder, striker, if you have ever watched these sides you will notice that everyone supports their team mates. There is no “well I’m a striker so I wont track back” mentality. The team works as a unit filling in where needed. In business, people tend to be placed into silos or departments and they seldom contribute outside their realm of scope. A successful business going forward has to work more nodal as Kjell Nordstrom describes it, always communicating with each other and sharing resources for the common goal whether that be a client need, operational requirement or reacting to threats internally and externally.

There have been teams throughout the years that have dominated football, Manchester United, AC Milan, the Brazilian International team…all have had their time and they didn’t adopt the strategies that are working so well for Spain and Barcelona today…they created and implemented a strategy that played to their strengths and sourced out individuals that could complement what they set out to achieve.

It should also be noted that Barcelona’s starting 11 currently includes around 8 players who have come through their youth system. That is not to say they are all Spanish, as the club recognised the need to bring in talent from various sources…but what it does show is the clear understanding that if you nurture talent early, you can imprint your culture on to said talent and thus create, in its simplest form, employee engagement and loyalty….which in turn leads to a highly efficient and motivated teams.

Now on the other side of the coin, how many players leave clubs who don’t quite make the grade? How many young players try out while Barcelona tries to find the next Messi only to fail? I hate to think what would happen if a multi-national company had a staff turnover rate as high as a European football team. But is it risk vs reward? Is it better to compare footballers like investment brokers? Short shelf life, intense pressure and incredible rewards if they succeed.


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