“Why the Enablers Network looks more like the Barbarians than the Real Madrid”

by Didier Marlier on Sunday January 16th, 2011

Given the potential impact of the work we are invited to do, I am frequently asked by the clients we meet for the first time, to explain how we are organized. My shortest reply is that we are closer to “The Barbarians F.C.” than to the Real Madrid…

A study from Harvard University[1] suggests that the Real Madrid is “one of the 20 most important brand names and the only one in which the executives, the players, are well known”. Real Madrid is also the world’s most successful football club to date. Nevertheless, it was prematurely kicked out, last year again, from the prestigious (and lucrative) Champions League, despite of a campaign of recruitment which had been the most expensive in its history. Same story than a few years earlier, under the same generous President, the “Galacticos” as they were nicknamed, had the most impressive (and costly!) collection of the world’s best players in its ranks (Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Figo, Beckham, Owen and Zidane) and consistently failed to reach the higher honors…

I do not know the Real inside out but believe that what was found out elsewhere probably applies there too: I was once invited by the President of another football club rather annoyed that his investment in several players wasn’t from far as performing as he was expecting. The game I saw was a few months before the World Cup. First I didn’t see much. But, little by little a hardly perceptible phenomenon started to emerge: The players were conditional with each other!!! Of course none of them received a yellow card for molesting a team mate, it was more subtle. It was that half a second hesitation to let go of the ball with the consequences that “He may score, I will not. He may be on the pitch next game, I may not. He may be called by our national coach, I may not”. One could almost hear the players think this out loud. Conditionality gets in the way of generosity and flow performance.

The Barbarians F.C.[2] are a monument in… rugby (despite of its Football Club name). It is not a club like the others. It does not play in a national championship, it just performs exhibition games. It is considered a great honor to be invited to join the team for a match. Whilst the team has a uniform, players keep the socks of their own team when they join the Barbarians as a gesture of respect and identity for the team that hosts (and feeds) them the rest of the season.

There are very strong values which will command a player to be invited or not: one has to be (of course) an excellent player and one should behave on and off the field in order to have some hope to be asked to join. So, being a star is not enough, behaviour and ethics are a must!

The Barbarians also invite one less famous player to the team at each game.

Barbarians play for winning and for the pleasure. Their preparation is usually far more around a few drinks aiming at building relationship and rapport than in long and pointless runs on the pitch. Players are in it for the beauty of the game. They don’t always win.

Michael Newman in a recent workshop showed us this clip of a memorable try, often quoted as “the best try of all times”:

Thank you Michael for sharing the story of the Barbarians. I hope it helps clarify how we organize and what we stand for. It may even provide some inspiration to some of you.

On my way to a very busy 3 days in Paris… Have a great week all,


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real_madrid 26.03.2010

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbarians_FC 26.03.2010

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3 Responses to ““Why the Enablers Network looks more like the Barbarians than the Real Madrid””

  1. This is a great analogy. It is indeed a huge honour to be invited to play for the Barbarians, and I believe every top class rugby player aspires to this. The teams are convened on an occasional basis to play a top international side, generally while they are touring the British Isles. Players may be selected for the Barbarians from anywhere in the world, giving them a unique opportunity to play what is effectively an international match with team mates from other countries. The selection critieria are simple and severe: do you share the values and will you create the most value for the customers (by playing a fast, open, high risk game to maximise the tries scored).
    The analogy with the Enablers is clear:
    – it is an honour to be invited to work with first class team mates from other countries
    – teams are formed and dissolved on an occasional and as-needed basis
    – the selection critieria are severe: do you share the values and will you create the most value for the customer (and not be playing safe and doing the easy, boring stuff!)
    It is a great formula that justifies the efforts to maintain it.

  2. Dear Didier,

    Again, another story where it is more important to have a higher purpose – higher than profit or simply ‘winning’ as an individual. My mother recently moved to Minnesota (of all places) as a professor, and she has become a Green Bay Packers fan. Apparently, the Packers are a community owned American football team, and the community values come into play when they select players – if an excellent player has a bad attitude or criminal record, he won’t play for the Packers.

    Kind regards,

  3. What a try!!!

    Well, Didier, this is a great example to explain your organization. Not only are you taking two very different sports as far as mentality and team spirit are concerned, but you take two extremes: how could one find more distance between two teams than with the Barbarians and the Real Madrid?

    I enjoy football at high levels for the pleasure of cheering for my teams (France of course, but specially the Barça), and have great moments and memories doing so, but rugby is more appealing to me considering all the great values it brings and is based on, many of them totally unknown by 99% of football teams (and fans…).

    You name Real Madrid, I’m a big fan of Barça. In the recent years (and the last game between them where Barça won by 5-0 despite its stars and Mourinho), the results of both teams are there to prove you right: team spirit, great organization, solidarity, you-name-it, overwhelmingly won over summing up great talents with loads of money.
    Take Messi vs C. Ronaldo: two great players, but one playing for his city, his club, his team mates, and the other playing for himself and making sure he’s the one who will score and he’s the diva… One having a normal life, being discreet, the other glad to be in fashion magazines and going out with the latest bimbo around. You will never find a C. Ronaldo in rugby, but hundreds of Messi. Like you’ll never find a Real Madrid type of club playing against 15 guys…

    Your organization, among other things, is successful because it’s based on a rugby kind of mentality, with great individuals working for a common and shared goal, in great spirit, Barbarians wise; I’m sure your clients can see that immediately and appreciate the great benefits of it. Would you be organized as Real Madrid, you’d maybe be out of business being one among tens of others, but above all you would not be enjoying your job at all, nor your team mates. Isn’t it ?

    Have a great Sunday and a great week,



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