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There’s no ‘I’ in team

The power of the underdog: what England’s defeat against Iceland in Euro 2016 tells us about teamwork.


The recent England vs Iceland football match was notable for many reasons. Primarily because England lost the game to the ‘underdogs’, Iceland: a country with a total population of only 333,000 – the equivalent population density of Wakefield in West Yorkshire.

But one of the things that really got spectators talking was the fully co-ordinated, almost tribal, Iceland supporters’ chant. Endless YouTube views later, and the timing of the slow claps and the loud ‘ooh’ still seem so impressive.

More than that though, it was the sheer collectivism of the both the Iceland supporters and their beloved players that really struck a chord. Their reprisal of the chant at the end when the victorious players faced their adoring fans, completely reinforced this.

The concept of ‘strength in numbers’ has never been more apt. While the England team arguably has many stars in the ranks, commentators have frequently lamented the lack of a cohesive team spirit.

Iceland’s players are famous for their spirit of kinship, which may stem from the fact that Iceland is a small country. In addition, most of the players have day jobs, so it’s likely they spend their free time in the same pubs and restaurants as their adoring fans. There’s no hierarchy between the idols and their devotees.


Communication first

But even big professional sports teams have found ways to create a familial atmosphere. In America, the Golden Gate Warriors basketball team uses very practical off-court practices such as frequent team lunches, carpooling, and ‘players-only’ group-texting to encourage open and honest dialogue. They also make a habit of taking ownership for their mistakes, rather than apportioning blame.

The Warriors’ culture and philosophy has helped make them record-breaking NBA champions. Their focus on communication and commitment to collaboration makes them a formidable force.

In the world of internal communications and employee engagement, we know that high-performing organisations are powered not just by exceptional individuals but also by strong, balanced teams. The currency of these outstanding teams is open and honest communication.

Breaking away from operating in silos and adopting innovative approaches to communication – such as Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) – can help facilitate that all-important team spirit which underpins collective success.

Similarly, the kids that grew up playing football together in Iceland’s largely egalitarian society have matured into a team in which they readily acknowledge that every player, no matter how talented, must work hard. No one can afford to take a back seat.

As Iceland manager (and part-time dentist) Heimar Hallgrimsson puts it: “Everybody knows that we can never win a game with 11 individuals.” The same philosophy can be readily applied to the workplace and internal communications.



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