What makes a collaborative team?

Today sees the 48th anniversary of the 1966 World Cup Final, where Alf Ramsey’s England won a great match 4-2 after extra-time against West Germany. The scorers were England 4 (Hurst 18, 101, 120; Peters 78) West Germany 2 (Haller 12, Weber 90).

This is the day we’ve all been waiting for says Kenneth Wolstenholme at the start of the BBC match commentary. Saturday 30 July 1966. Match day. The lads are there in a fidgeting line in the gloom of the tunnel, behind Sir Alf, waiting to come out. Four of them are bouncing balls whilst the others are staring ahead, getting into the space.

England is in cherry red shirts, full sleeved with a simple round neck, plain, no logos or adverts. A modest football kit that today resonates with emotion. The Germans are in crisp white shirts with black trim and black shorts.

The English team comes out of the tunnel into the roaring light of pandemonium English support, rattles and klaxon horns. The weather forecast said ‘sunny periods and showers, becoming dry later’.

The Queen takes to the Royal Box in time for the national anthem, the lyrics of which promise her the moon on a stick. She’s wearing an ostentatious hat, which matches her handbag. What’s in the bag? Programme and pie, I’d imagine. Perchance some toffees. Next to her is FIFA president Stanley Rous, presumably holding Her Majesty’s Bovril.

The Royal Marine band play a few tunes, then the German anthem, like the British one before it, is met with a silent and thorough respect that speaks volumes for the Sixties football fan. No need to be opening old sores 21 years down the line; there’s hope for us all yet. Then, as the last notes fade out, a roar of anticipatory noise. Bedlam, bedlam, bedlam. What an atmosphere.

Moore and Seeler, the captains, shake hands and exchange plaques and pennants. Bobby wins the toss and elects to defend the goal England has picked for the warm up. The spare balls are kicked away, and the two teams line up to go.

The Germans looked the more dangerous in the opening minutes, Haller and Held leading menacing sorties and Seeler using his head to good advantage. Haller shoots West Germany into a 12th minute lead following Wilson’s misdirected header. He thought scoring the opening goal entitled him to keep the match ball – that was the custom in German football – but there was someone else who wanted that ball too.

England, behind for the first time in the tournament, equalised six minutes later. Hurst positioned himself perfectly to head home Moore’s quick free-kick. The German defence gave little away in the second period and only 12 minutes remained when Peters scored after Hurst’s centre had struck a defender and looped invitingly into the air. From that range Peters could hardly miss.

As England hung on for the final whistle, Jackie Charlton was adjudged, harshly, to have fouled on the edge of the box. The free-kick, blasted at the wall by Emmerich, appeared to strike Schnellinger’s hand before rolling on for Weber to shoot, almost in slow motion, past Banks’ desperate lunge. Gutted. 2-2.

Alf Ramsey’s speech at full-time  – You’ve won the World Cup once, now, go and win it againwas akin to Henry V at Agincourt. England looked fitter and fresher in extra time, continuing to play with confidence and composure. Hurst scored with a drive on the turn, which hit the underside of the bar and bounced over the line with Tilkowski, the flamboyant German keeper, well beaten.

The goal was disputed by the Germans – and still is. The Swiss referee, Gottfried Dienst, asked the nearer linesman Mr. Bakhramov from the USSR (what is now Azerbaijan), and between them they agreed that it was a goal. Of course it was.

German heads dropped as they lost their concentration, such that with the last kick of the match, Hurst completed a personal triumph by scoring with a firm left-footer, cheeks sucked in as he lashed the ball forward. Proper goal. Apparently some of the crowd were on the pitch. Geoff, now Sir Geoff, remains the only player to have notched a hat-trick in a World Cup Final, as I’m sure you know. And he got to keep the match ball. Not bad for a bloke from Ashton-under-Lyne, near Manchester.

A day to remember, even if like me, it’s from videos and news cuttings. England lined up: Banks, Cohen, Wilson, Stiles, Charlton (J), Moore, Ball, Charlton (R), Hurst, Peters, Hunt.

I’ve watched the video of this match and had daydreams. It’s come to my aid on sleepless nights. My daydream. We are ten minutes into the second half and England is 1-2 down. A worried looking Ramsey is on the touchline about to make a substitution (of course, this wasn’t in the rules in 1966).

He is going to take Hurst off, strangely off his game, and bring on this tall, inelegant, somewhat clumsy, more suited to rugby, substitute player. Alf is telling this player what to do. And he is me. I go on and generate a 4-2 victory with the greatest thirty-five minutes of centre-forward play anyone has ever seen. We can all dream.

Of course, since 1966 we’ve not had much success, highlight for me was the 2002 World Cup. Recall England manager Phil Cope suffered a heart attack during qualification and had to be replaced by Mike Bassett.  Needing to beat Slovenia in the final qualifier to make it to Brazil, we only managed a draw, but a shock win by Luxembourg over Holland meant we went through on goal difference.

In the balmy summer, I recall a difficult group stage as ever and we were on the verge of heading home after a goalless draw with unfancied Egypt before losing to Mexico. Who remembers Basset’s press conference where he mixed flaming sambucas with anti-depressants? As the gathered press baited Basset, expecting him to resign, Basset recites If by Rudyard Kipling followed by: England will be playing 4-4-fucking-2 and storms out.  Of course we lost in the semi-finals to Brazil, but we had regained our pride.

We can all dream about playing for a winning team, getting the results and enjoying the success. But what qualities do you see in that 1966 England team that you can learn from? When tackling a major initiative like an acquisition or new IT systems development, companies rely on large, diverse teams of specialists to get the job done. These teams often are convened quickly to meet an urgent need and sometimes work together virtually, collaborating online.

Appointing such a team is frequently the only way to assemble the knowledge and breadth required to pull off many of the complex tasks businesses face today. When the BBC covers the World Cup, for instance, it gathers a large team of researchers, writers, producers, cameramen, and technicians, many of whom have not met before the project. These specialists work together under the high pressure of a live environment, with just one chance to record the action.

Recent research into team behaviour reveals an interesting paradox: although teams that are large, virtual, diverse, and composed of specialists are increasingly crucial with challenging projects, those same four characteristics make it hard for teams to get anything done. To put it another way, the qualities required for success are the same qualities that undermine success.

So how can we strengthen an organisation’s ability to perform complex collaborative tasks to maximise the effectiveness of large, diverse teams, while minimising the disadvantages posed by their structure, composition and individuality? Research by Gratton & Erickson (2007), and Newton (2014) offers some insight into how to maximise collaborative team performance.

Invest in enabling collaborative relationship practices Leaders can encourage collaborative behaviour by making highly visible investments in facilities with open floor plans and shared spaces specifically designed to foster communication that demonstrate their commitment to collaboration.

Modeling collaborative behaviour At companies where the leadership team demonstrates highly collaborative behavior themselves, teams collaborate well. Leading a networked, connected culture across traditional organisation barriers from the top breaks down the silos.

Get everyone on the same page By enabling a ‘we’re all in this together’ leadership ethos, people feel a sense of community and shared purpose, and they are more comfortable reaching out to others and more likely to share knowledge.

Assigning team leaders that are both task and relationship oriented The debate has traditionally focused on whether a task or a relationship orientation creates better leadership, but in fact both are key to successfully leading a team and fostering collaboration.

Building on heritage relationships When too many team members are strangers, people may be reluctant to share knowledge. The best practice is to put at least a few people who know one another on the team. Research shows that if more than 40% of a team are new to each other, team effectiveness suffers.

Understanding role clarity and task ambiguity Cooperation increases when the roles of individual team members are sharply defined yet the team is given latitude on how to achieve the task. Collaboration and team composition needs to reflect the desired outcomes – a jazz ensemble, a fire brigade unit and an international sports team each has different dynamics, roles and pulse.

Set expectations Everyone on the team needs to know what they have to do and when they have to do it by. Leaders need to connect and align the individual expectations with the shared expectations of the team.

Transparency If something isn’t going right, you need to be upfront with it. The more you hold back the more it will impede collaboration between the team. People love transparency because it makes them feel like they are part of an honest team.

Being an agent and a target of influence We spend a lot of time in leadership development helping leaders to have greater influence. Of equal importance when it comes to collaborative leadership, is being prepared to be a target of others’ influence. This requires openness to alternative ideas, inquisitiveness to understand the foundation of others’ arguments and recognition of the value the other party has and therefore can add to the collaborative venture.

We need to develop and disseminate an entirely new paradigm and practice of collaboration that supersedes the traditional silos that have divided enterprises internally for decades, and replace it with connected networks of partnerships working together to create a genuine collaboration. Collaboration is the best way to work. It’s only way to work, really, everyone’s there because they have a set of skills to offer across the board.

Collaboration is important not just because it’s a better way to work, but also to learn. Learning to collaborate is part of equipping yourself for effectiveness, problem solving, innovation and life-long learning in an ever-changing networked economy. Life is not a solo act, it’s a huge collaboration and we all need to assemble around us the people who can make a difference for each other.

So, come 3 o’clock today, just pause for a moment and reflect back on ’66. England, an outstanding team of individuals – not a team of outstanding individuals – everyone played their part, and everyone was over the moon, a genuine collaborative effort. As Shakespeare said ‘we few, we happy few, we band of brothers’.