Think like a football manager to achieve project success

12 April 2024 3 min. read

With the majority of digital transformations still failing to meet their lead goals, companies need to consider new ways of working. According to consultants from Stellarmann, they might just find their game-changer in the world of elite football.

Professional football has long been a source of inspiration for the consulting industry, when drawing up metaphors to help their clients to improve. For better or worse, every kick of the ball at the last World Cup was scrutinised for ‘lessons’ to be drawn from the team managers and their mentalities, which business managers could apply.

The latest firm to look to the world’s leading sport for corporate inspiration is Stellarmann. Consisting of a team of 30 operational staff in its London and Brighton offices – and a network of over 150 associates – the consultancy works to deliver transformation projects in the insurance and financial services sectors – as well as working on multi-million-pound government initiatives.

Think like a football manager to achieve project success

New research from Stellarmann has seen the firm consult with experts in sports psychology and business change, determining that team management is a key component of successful IT transformation projects. According to the researchers, there is “much to learn from the approaches of successful sports leaders” which can be applied to project management – often involving a mix of permanent employees and external associates.

Will Larcombe, director and co-founder of Stellarmann, remarked, “Studies show that a high proportion of digital transformation projects fall short of their objectives, not because the individuals working on them don’t have the right skills, but because managing a large team of in-house and external employees is not easy.”

To that end, Dave Richardson, head of the school of psychology and sport science at Bangor University – and contributor to the report – highlighted similarities between the English Premier League teams loan system. He compared this to the incorporation of external consultants within a delivery team – with the need to make sure that a player is placed temporarily in a position that both works for the immediate needs of the new club, and the strengths and developmental needs of the player.

“Cultural alignment is key,” he explained. “You can see the strategic intent in the way players are being placed by Premier League clubs. They look to find the right environment where the player, the coach and the style of play all match up.”

According to Larcombe, however, that comes with challenges of its own, which are also “surprisingly close to those that leaders in the sports sector reckon with”. Along with high expectations, and heavy responsibility, business managers must assemble “coherent, effective teams from groups of highly talented but very disparate people” – no mean feat, especially in short delivery times.

Stellarmann’s study concludes that there are six helpful tips, to “sidestep failure” in this regard. First, firms must set a clear culture, establishing their expectations. They must then nurture a sense of team spirit: building a feeling of community, even for ‘loan players’. This leads to creating “harmony in the camp”, helping everyone understand how to work together. Fourth, firms need to keep “the goal in sight”, setting targets to motivate all individuals involved. Every manager must also ensure they do not treat themselves as an island – delegating to an assistant to line manage associates. And finally, companies must be ready to change tactics mid-game, responding to new challenges.