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What we can learn from Huddersfield Town (if you don’t have any Germans to take penalties)

OK first of all I’ll hold my hands up.  I fully acknowledge this blog has JOTB (Jumping On The Bandwagon) all over it, but in my defence I was there at Wembley and first started to watch Huddersfield Town right in the middle of the Mark Robbins era (“era” in the loosest possible sense of the word).

While others are better placed  to talk about the journey on and off the pitch at the club, I thought it would be interesting to look at some parallels with business and what we and others should learn from what has been a pretty extraordinary 18 months or so.

Set a vision and strategy

While most fans would probably agree that winning promotion exceeded expectations at the start of the season, I think it is a great example of what can be achieved by having a vision and strategy that is set out from the top of the organisation (Dean Hoyle in this case) that is then executed meticulously by the team around them including the manager and players.

Dean has said a number of times that when they looked to appoint David Wagner as manager, he was looking for more than the appointment of a head coach for a couple of years, but rather someone who would create an on-pitch identity for the club in much the same way as they had done off the pitch.

What Wagner did was introduce a highly detailed and scientific approach to the way he wanted the team to play not just in the first team, but throughout the club. This change in mindset, while alien to some players at the time, was embraced by the team enabling them to flourish throughout the season to enjoy their best league position in decades.

For businesses, change is often a very hard thing to achieve.  It can often be painful, push people out of their comfort zone and requires an element of risk taking.  However, if it is being done in line with an overarching vision and strategy then it is very often the only way that an organisation can move forward.

Attention to detail

The detail of the change that Wagner introduced also offers up food for thought for businesses.    He is a firm believer in the importance of attention to detail and marginal gains.  While what happens on the training pitch is often a closely guarded secret, players have alluded to a number of areas such as changing training times to kick off times each week allowing the players body clocks to regulate themselves better, increased on focus on conditioning to ensure that players could maintain the pressing style of play all season (From the 1st minute on 6th August right through to the 120th minute on 29th May).

While there aren’t too many businesses that can introduce too many of these specific ideas, we can learn a lot from the importance of attention to detail. For example, at Fantastic Media we provide all our staff with breakfast to give the team a few more minutes at home before work as well as starting the day without feeling hungry. It doesn’t cost us much to buy a few boxes of cereal each works and we saw an increase in productivity almost immediately when we started this.

A growth mindset

Wagner also introduced changes to mentality within the team, which given the notorious egos at work in professional football is no small feat. As an example, Elias Kachunga, the Number 9, often sacrifices goal scoring glory to hold the ball up to create overlaps for the full backs which stretches opposition defences which opens up better chances than Kachunga may have with a pot shot from 25 yards out.

Similarly, if an organisation can create a team mentality where all colleagues work for each other not only are results delivered, but the whole company can share in the success knowing that they have genuinely contributed to the performance for the businesses.

In summary, while there isn’t really a business equivalent of winning on penalties (although for a creative agency winning a pitch on the back of designs produced from a 1 paragraph brief comes pretty close) there are a plenty of areas that individuals and companies can learn from Hoyle, Wagner and the team to give themselves the best chance of succeeding in business.




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Ops director at Fantastic Media, varied background in physics, sports publishing, agency life and software.

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