Blog > Do you know how to win the Innovation Game by watching football?

Do you know how to win the Innovation Game by watching football?

Football. Or soccer as they call it in the USA. It’s a sport for the masses. Some think it’s a dumb sport. Some say it’s boring. Still others watch it just because some Italian team is playing with good looking guys.

I love football. Why? Because I love the tactics, the insights, detail about players and their specific skills, positioning of players when the ball is not near them. And because building a team is hard work. Building a team with members who are willing to fight for each other is lifting barriers and even more hard work. A winning team is an art. The flawless organization around a team is an integral part of winning.

In the dynamic game of Innovation within companies, you see many teams. Some perform well, others deeply fail. So what can we learn from football in the game of innovation?

First of all, there is one team who sets the golden standard for out of world team display coupled with results: the Dream Team of Barcelona led by coach Pep Guardiola. Guardiola let his team play as many managers dream of playing their teams: harmonious, passing almost every ball correctly, result oriented, lack of big egos because the team and the club are more import, efficient, admired by others, outperforming the competition.

What has this dream team got to do with innovation in business? Innovation is the wheel of progress in a company. Everything new or redesigned starts at the Innovation department. In football terms, Innovation is the main striker in your organization. And a striker needs to score more goals for his team than does his competitor. The striker needs a balanced team around him. People who can pass the ball precisely, who control the midfield, who can defend and attack. People who train intensely to keep getting better and better in what they do. And people who really love what they do.

In innovation, you get mixed teams of marketers, product managers, operation managers, business and IT consultants, project managers, IT developers. Too often have I encountered a big gap between the defence (IT), midfield (product and operation managers) and strike force (marketers, innovators):

  • Strikers just want to strike without wanting to know that midfield and defence have to put in hard work to let strikers score goals
  • Midfield players aren’t balanced out, meaning either too much defensive midfielders who don’t assist the strikers in scoring goals or too much offensive midfielders who let the defence down and consequently receive a lot of goals
  • Defence is only thinking about keeping the opposition away from scoring goals, without looking at the attacking and winning aspect of the game
  • Players in all three lines (strikers, midfield, defence) don’t position themselves well without having the ball

Comparing your innovation team with Barcelona, ideally you should have:

  • Players positioning themselves without the ball to keep the ball in your team and hence keep initiative and lead the game.

This means that your innovation team members keep communication and collaboration active all the time. Even if they do not have the bulk of the work or the spotlights on them for the moment.

  •  Strikers should know at least some basics of defending and midfield to gain understanding and to position themselves well to be an effective goal scorer.

In your innovation teams, let marketers and innovators learn and invest in the knowledge of IT and operations.

  •  Midfielders should be evenly balanced, with the balance shifting towards a more attacking style of play in order to keep pressure upon your opposition.

Innovation team wise, your operation people should know a lot about IT and assist your marketers and innovators in the nitty gritty details of creating an effective innovation. Let marketers see and feel what happens in operations if your product or service has flaws.

  •  Defence should be solid as a rock, with upcoming wingbacks to support strikers.

IT in most companies tends to be defensive. Order and predictability are the two words that ideally describes an IT department. In modern innovative companies, this is not enough. The world is not predictable, and technologies change fast. IT should consists of analysts, developers and managers who know what commercially keeps your company alive. They should feel the pain customers feel when a product or service is failing. All too often, IT does not care because they don’t feel the pain. Involve them. Teach them about who’s paying them to let them work for you. Let IT sit together in solution mode with operations, marketers and innovators. Don’t keep them out. Actively involve them. And get rid of people who have a linear thinking mentality stemming from the 80’s.

It takes a lot of effort, communication, stakeholder management, team building, persistence, tough decisions and faith. Guardiola perfected his team. Now it is time to perfect yours. Adhere to these guidelines in forming your own Dream Team…and go out and win the Innovation game!