Friday, February 24, 2012

Business is like a game of soccer

Running business is like a game of soccer!

There is a captain, a coach and multiple players trying to achieve the same goal – ‘Goal’. You know a bit about your opponents but you don’t know it all. You anticipate their actions and try to plan your game accordingly. You either play to your strengths or try defending your weaknesses.

Business is pretty much like that only. There is a business head, who is the captain of the team, assisted by business consultants, who act as coach, watching match from outside and trying to help the team with their inputs in whatever limited interactions they have. While other players in the team, some senior some junior, play the game (mostly) as instructed to achieve the results through the strategy formulated by captain and the coach.

Every player is strategically placed in the field (i.e. in different functions) to derive maximum benefits in the game. Each player performs his job and passes it onto the next player for their contributions. Sometimes the ball comes back to the same player again and again, for fresh contributions every time. Sometimes they get tackled and sometimes the pass doesn’t go through properly but that is all part of the game – players try to minimise it but still bound to happen at times.

The only difference in business is that there exists a second ball- call it the ‘Black Ball’. This is the ball of blames (powered by bureaucracy and office politics), where everybody tries to get rid of the ball ASAP. In effect, parallel running game with Black Ball turns into a game of musical chairs, with smaller sub-teams competing against each other, where the one handling the ball when music stops is accused of the all the wrongs that happened during the game. Everybody knows it is an epidemic but people enjoy playing this game much more than the original soccer that they were supposed to play. To the extent that even sometimes they end up losing the game to weaker teams.

Coming back to the original game, as I was saying every individual/group of people has his/their role defined in the field. For example, there are forwards expected to turn every opportunity into goal (marketing team), there are half-forwards to create higher opportunities for forwards (e.g. product development or innovation teams), midfielders to ensure the strength at the centre (core strength area – could be manufacturing), half-backs to cut the opponent from reaching my D (other core functions – could be procurement, supply chain etc.) and finally the backs to provide the final layer of protection (generally Finance). The captain is out there playing in one of the positions, may or may not be the most critical position, while the coach is standing out and watching the players play. Further, depending on the strengths of individual players, different teams adopt different strategies with specialised positions like hole players, box-to-box midfielders, holding midfielders, sweepers etc.

In every game, there would a larger dependence on one or multiple of the players but other players are also required to play an acceptable level of game. To start with, it is important to have the right coach and the right captain to plan the right strategy for the game and equally important to have right players in the right positions – mind it great forwards player will not be able to do justice to his potential if asked to play in half back.

Looking at very basics of the game, it is most crucial for any team to do proper passing of the ball- to the right players – to show just the right amount of aggression at right positions and to keep an eye on the opponent’s moves. Businesses also require people to perform their individual responsibilities with proper ownership while also coordinating with related functions to enable better outputs. Teams running in silos hardly do any good to the business, while passing on the ball to wrong players also reduces the efficiency of the teams. Just imagine a midfielder playing brilliantly, tackled the opponent and carried the ball near opponents goal post but did not pass the ball to forward and just left the ball in D and came back – although the player individually might have shown sparks of brilliance but the team overall could not benefit from his moves. Had he passed on the ball to the forward at the right time, it could have turned out as a valuable score for the team.

The only worse I can think of is, if the captain is clueless about how to play the game. He, along with the coach, is supposed to set the rules of the game and bring a discipline in the team, failing which the team is on its own and the lack of coordination would be pretty evident (like the case described above). The team would not know whether to play attacking or defensive, what combinations to play, moves to make etc etc

So the rule is simple-
In order to win a game of soccer- get the right players, right captain and right coach- get your playing strategy right, communicate the strategy to team and just play by the rules (execute the strategy)
In order to run a business- get the right employees, right business head and right coach (typically Board of Governors or Chief Management Committees) – get your business strategy right – communicate the strategy to team and just play by the rules (execute the strategy)


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