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Why the right team matters: 4 ways for attracting and retaining key players for success

View all · 15 Apr 2019 · revolutioniseSPORT

There is a frightening beauty to the strategic calculation undertaken by a head coach or manager when considering their player roster.

Be it Westhead’s radical non-stop run & gun offence or the Dallas Cowboys dropping their loyal veteran Tony Romo for the flashy new kid (Dak Prescott), the consideration and justifiable ruthlessness required for success makes A Game of Thrones look like an episode of Sesame Street.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, by Jim Cowsert special to the Star-Telegram

A 2008 article in the Strategic Management Journal, draws parallels between elite sporting teams and businesses (Holcomb, Holmes Jr. and Connelly, 2008). Where a basketball coach might use a combination of offensive picks, creating player mismatches to free up their sharpshooter, a business manager uses strategies and the skills and capabilities of their staff to meet business objectives.

Yet, by the time you overlay player personality traits, skills and attributes with theories of team dynamics and culture, there is SO much to consider.

Where do you start?

In his award-winning book “Good to Great”, Jim Collins offers the analogy of a bus with a manager (or coach) as the driver. The most important thing is not the planned route or even the destination, but rather:

a) getting the right people on the bus;

b) getting the wrong people off the bus, and;

c) getting the right bums in the right seats.

While players can bring a degree of specialisation to their team, for the most part they still need to be able to perform other functions. Wayne Rooney could slot beautiful free kicks—and when the opportunity arose, that was his responsibility—but he still needed to be able to defend.

This is something we place substantial emphasis on.

Like many of our State and National Sporting Organisations, we do not have access to the same level of resources as industry incumbents or those with multinational foreign owners.

Consequently, we cannot afford to become complacent.

At revolutioniseSPORT, we have tripled in size in a little over a year. From our humble beginnings, we never imagined we would be where we are today, and whilst this level growth is amazing, we consider business continuity paramount.

The success of our controlled growth is attributable to our four key HR philosophies.

1. Cultural Compatibility

Oklahoma Softball Team. Photo by Sue Ogrocki

Cue Collins and his bus analogy.

Often fluctuating between an overused buzzword and a poorly understood concept, culture is in fact crucial.

When considering a new hire, we spend just as much time (if not more) focusing on cultural compatibility with our team as their skills and level of experience.

As a relatively young team in a fast-moving environment, it is imperative that we all have an insatiable desire to be pushed outside of our comfort zones. Resilience and the ability to learn are non-negotiable traits.

Anyone can learn the ins and outs of our platform, but the right attitude is something that is impossible to teach. Nerdy jokes, obscure movie references and a genuine passion to make sport simple gets us through the late nights and weekend work that is sometimes required. It is not for everyone.

We believe (and have shown) that with the right people on the bus, anyone is capable of punching well above their weight. This all stems from the culture we have built and maintain together.

2. The 'T-shaped person'

Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price. Photo by Graham Hughes/CP

Our HR strategy is based around the concept of a ‘T-shaped person’.

The vertical line of the ‘T’ represents an individual’s specialisation (e.g. our developers, designers and project managers). The horizontal line emphasises a diverse range of roles or skills that we challenge and develop. They will never be as robust as the specialisation, but this does not mean they cannot or should not be utilised.

By developing specialised project-based squads, we ensure we have a cross-functional team capable of supporting the majority of our business processes. Everyone in our team (including Senior Management) is required to answer support questions and even our greenest members are exposed to strategic planning sessions from the get-go.

Our team members are more akin to those found in rugby sevens than a medley relay. We can rely on anyone to slide into a new role or project when gaps need to be filled.

Of course, when the game is on the line, you want your best goalie in the cage. Yet, the ability to confidently move our members based on shifting priorities and resources means we remain versatile and responsive as we grow.

3. Test & Trust Your Team

Spanish Synchronised Swimming Team. Photo Getty Images

One of my best coaches had a saying: “we train as we play”. You cannot expect to perform when it counts if you do not have the best preparation possible.

Unfortunately, this is often forgotten in larger organisations where staff are rarely allowed to perform tasks outside their role. Skill progression is slow and inefficient, occurring only in halting increments.

When you stifle your employees, you risk their limiting their potential or losing them entirely.

Because of this, we actively encourage failing fast and learning faster.

We trust our team members to perform consistently outside their comfort zones. When they fall short, we know we have the people and processes in place to support them and—most importantly—the experience will leave them better prepared for next time.

4. Reduce Dependence; Create Depth

New Zealand All Blacks. Photo by @AllBlacks

Much to my dismay, the New Zealand All Blacks have been the most dominate rugby team in the world for as long as I can remember.

This is because they have an unrivalled depth of their available talent pool. New Zealand’s grassroots rugby and development pathways are second to none, and it shows—when they lost Dan Carter (arguably the greatest fly-half ever) to retirement, they barely batted an eye.

Whilst we would love for our team to stay with us forever, we are also realists. Because of this, reducing dependency on key individuals is imperative for business continuity. This is why we opt for flexible working teams over traditional corporate structures when making and implementing business decisions.


By identifying and building “T” shaped people and promoting cross-pollination of skills, we are able to upskill our staff whilst simultaneously ensuring tacit knowledge does not remain with a single individual.

Needless to say, we are far from perfect. We are constantly learning and there are infinite possibilities we could never consider. However, to have grown so quickly without sacrificing our values or level of service is a testament to the importance of ensuring your HR strategy matches your company culture and philosophies.

The following is as true for a small firm as it is for a major organisation.

Identify what you stand for. Get the right people on the bus. Then figure out your where you are going.


Originally published on LinkedIn.