Wednesday 26 October 2016

The right moves: Lessons from the sports field

Paul McNeive

Published 02/06/2016 | 02:30

Paul McNeive
Paul McNeive

So it turns out that you don't need the most money, the best talent, or the best brand, in order to be the best.

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If ever there was a sporting metaphor worth applying to business, it is the extraordinary success of Connacht and Leicester City. In both cases, clever management has proven that teamwork and team spirit are the most powerful dynamic of all, and in the long run will beat more powerful competitors. So what can property firms learn from these giant killing triumphs?

A team is at its best when the combined effect of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A new energy or force is created. It may be difficult to describe exactly what it is, but you can feel it. For professional firms, I call this "leveraged service". Your clients certainly feel it because no matter which part of your team they interact with, from secretarial staff to the boardroom, they come away with a warm feeling of knowing that they are dealing with the best.

In order to achieve this powerful state we need a combination of different talents, personalities and levels of experience. Every manager will dream about having star players, Connacht's Bundee Aki or Leicester's Vardy and Mahrez. In estate agency, these are the investment departments. The top players in the investment departments handle the biggest deals, grab the headlines and inevitably are the top fee earners for the firm.

However in order to win instructions the investment department relies on other departments. Where Connacht has Ultan Dillane and Ally Muldowney and Leicester has Kante and Drinkwater "grafting away" and winning ball for their teammates, the investment departments are fed instructions by their management, valuation, and other lower profile colleagues. Furthermore, many of today's firms would not have survived the recession without the less glamorous, but steady income produced by the management and valuations areas.

Another factor to get right in your firm is the balance of youth and experience. There is lots of pressure and long hours in estate agency and you need plenty of enthusiastic, youthful energy. If you can combine that with the guiding hand of experience, senior directors who have seen every type of boom, bust and client crisis, then you will have a powerful recipe. For Connacht, that is the raw talent of Eoin McKeon, inspired by his older teammate John Muldoon alongside him. For Leicester City, it is Robert Huth, a former champion, now discarded by "bigger teams," as he marshals his teammates into the Premier League's tightest defence.

Having achieved the optimal balance of talent in our firm, what else can we learn from how these teams have been managed to success? The first thing that strikes you is their work ethic.

You get the clear impression that they are working for each other, and not just for themselves. With plenty of property instructions to be won, the hardest working team is always going to prosper and we can always ask ourselves, what can I do to help out another department this week? Is there some work I can do, or an idea, which will contribute to the "brand," and not just my day to day work?

Another lesson is the "simplicity" of the instructions to their teams from Pat Lam and Claudio Ranieri.

Lam's exhortation to players to get back on their feet immediately and Ranieri's directness are clear and effective. In professional firms it's also vital that everyone knows exactly what is expected of them and that they get constant feedback on how they are doing. Staff should have clear goals and to maximise loyalty and team spirit, and should be given regular information on how the firm is doing. Imagine if Connacht and Leicester players weren't told how many points they had as the league progressed?

The last gem we can draw from this is "fun". Both Connacht and Leicester play with "a smile on their faces"- they're enjoying it. This is no coincidence.

Lam made efforts to learn Irish and insists that the players greet each other in Irish every morning. Ranieri was teased by his team for imitating a bell when calling players, so he gave every player a Christmas present - a bell. When they celebrate success he takes them for pizza, and not to a highfalutin restaurant.

So success is not all about money, talent and brand. Clever managers know that the most powerful force is teamwork.

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