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 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. 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,
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real_madrid 26.03.2010
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbarians_FC 26.03.2010