5 lessons from the Ryder Cup - getting a group of individual experts to team.

Posted: 28th September, 2016

Coaching a sales leader this week, the conversation turned to how he could get more out of his sales team, each of whom is a country manager for a different European country.

While recognising that they were focused on their own country, he wanted his team to think about the collective regional target, to go the extra mile on their results if one of the other countries was having a bad quarter to make up the collective gap, to share best practice and to support each other, to work together without him, the leader, having to always make it happen.

It all sounded great, but like many organisations each team member is compensated on their own country and not on any regional achievement.  And naturally they focused on their number and their country, and found a lot of the aspired behaviours above a distraction from that already challenging task. The sales leader said "they are playing the same sport but facing different conditions and opponents".

We could be talking about any group of experts - sales people, engineers, developers or accountants.  Driven and measured on individual success, how could a leader get them to team more and why would they bother?

The Ryder Cup this weekend involves 24 multi-millionaires (Rory McIlroy won $11.5 million last weekend alone) who spend their careers trying to beat each other in pursuit of personal glory and fortune.

And yet, every two years they divide into two teams (one of which, Europe, is not even a strong identity in any sport, never mind in politics), play for free and talk and act as if it really is one of the biggest occassions of their careers.

Scott Tannenbaum, an expert in team science (see a great talk he did for NASA at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibBtQG5Thxc) emphasises that all teams do not need the same level of teamwork, and that interdependency is the key influence on how much teamwork your team needs.

For example, a sales team or a gymnastics team may prepare together, cheer each other on, but they perform solo and adding up all the individual scores gets you the team score.  This is low interdependency.

Medium interdependency involves some members needing to coordinate, some of the time - like a relay race.

A high interdependent team is like a soccer or basketball team, where all the members coordinate consistently, and they need a shared mental model of how to defend and attack.

The sales leader is not looking for a high interdependent team as that would serve no purpose, but he is grappling with seeing if his team of sales managers can leverage better and more consistent results through some combination of low and medium interdependency.

What can my sales leader learn from the successful captains of Ryder Cup teams in how they get their teams to gel and succeed when the concept, the skills and behaviours and the rewards of being in a team are the opposite of what these golfers do their whole careers?  Can they help him increase the level of interdependency among his country managers?

I looked at the strategies and tactics of the last winning captains of both teams, Paul McGinley (2014) and Paul Azinger (2008) to see if any commonalities and lessons exist for us in organisations (see book references below).

The key five themes that emerged are as follows;

1.  Create teams based on personalities:

The Ryder Cup captains don't actually need to create a team of 12 - the competition requires 12 games involving pairs and then all players play against another player on the final day.  Getting the 12 pairings right is the key to success.

Azinger used personality tools to group his team into three pods of four (one pod, for example, was made of the more aggressive players, one pod was of the steadier players etc) and he got those pods to focus on being a team by stating that the pairings would always be from a pod.  Don't worry about the other 8 guys - focus on the 3 you might be paired with.

The sales leader could look at getting the sales managers for tier 1 countries, like France and Germany, to be more of a team, while maybe pairing up the leaders from Central European countries.  Or creating pods based on similar personalities.  He doesn't have to get all his team teaming if there is no value or meaning to it.

2.  Stay on message:

Both McGinley and Azinger drilled into their team to stay on message.  McGinley's message was that the USA Captain, Tom Watson, was  a hero and to talk up the USA team.  He wanted his team to play on perceived US arrogance.  Azinger got his team to keep saying they were the underdogs.

Interestingly, this week the 2016 USA captain, Davis Love, stated that he had maybe the greatest team ever assembled - a claim that has created more pressure on his team and attracted scorn in the US and in Europe.

The sales leader could create a common message for himself and his team that could be communicated to all employees and/or to corporate teams about their region.  "As a region we want to achieve x.  Be part of our success!".

3.  Motivation is individual:

Common sense but not common practice.  The sales leader I spoke with has not been having any 1-to-1s, and when he does talk to his team it is only about the numbers.

After a poor performance at the end of day 1, Anthony Kim was challenged directly by Azinger to step up and play better.  Kim was one of the aggressive pod members and Azinger knew that that kind of challenge would work for Kim, in a way that would not work for say one of the steady pool.

Before the 2014 Ryder Cup, Martin Kaymer was not playing well.  McGinley arrived a day early to a tournament in the US, in order to play a few holes with Kaymer and to encourage him.  Kaymer reflected later that McGinley being respectful and supportive really helped him.  McGinley took a different approach with Lee Westwood, when he publically stated that Westood would need to do more to get a place on the team.  Both Kaymer and Westood made the team and contributed key wins towards winning the cup.

4.  Leverage the wider system:

Azinger purposely involved the caddies, the players' wives and the groundsmen in certain decisions with the intention of them feeling involved, but also in them supporting the players.  He also purposely got the players to look directly at the crowd (golfers usually try to avoid interacting with the crowd) and to make sure each player carried extra hats and goodies to hand out the the crowd, so that the US fans felt involved and would be more vocal.

McGinley made sure that the players not playing in day 1 or 2 had a clear role on the course to support their teammates.

Could the sales leader involve the marketing team, the presales people, the sales reps and global teams to be involved in making the region successful and in supporting his direct report?

5.  Know your role and value as a leader:

The classic image of a Ryder Cup captain is of them in a golf buggy driving from hole-to-hole shouting encouragement.  Sounds like a sales leader jumping from call-to-call and deal-to-deal.

Both McGinley and Azinger made it clear to their team that their role, to quote McGinley, "was not to be a cheerleader out there for the players, and I told them that from the very first meeting.  My job was to plot our next move as a team".

The sales director, or any leader, needs to share with their team where they can or cannot add value and to ensure they don't get in the way of the team.  The leader needs to get out of the weeds and be plotting the next move.

But why bother with any of this teaming stuff if I can be a hero winning on my own?

For the golfers, it is the pressure and the joy of playing for others, of achieving something that they cannot do on their own, of excelling with their peers......and if they play well and win, it helps their personal brand and endorsements too.  Could the sales managers get the same kick out of being more of a team?


Showdown; the Inside Story of the Gleneagles Ryder Cup by Iain Carter

Cracking the Code - The Winning Ryder Cup Strategy: Make it work for you by Paul Azinger and Ron Braund.

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