sports and communications have many parallels not least around the benefits of effective team work and leadership
by Amanda Nash
There are many things I’ve been blamed for in my life, but England losing to Croatia in the semi-finals was probably the most outlandish of them.
“It’s your fault because you didn’t support them,” blurted out my eight year-old post-match.
This was a bit of a volte-face. We had sat as a family and cheered on Croatia together through the previous matches. They could name Luka Modric by face and agreed with my views on goalkeeper Subasic. They’d smiled at my sheer joy at the Argentina result. They’d shared my moments of sheer despair through the penalty shoot-put against Russia.
But still as England basked in sunshine and the warmth of Gareth Southgate’s conviviality and a sense of hope on Wednesday afternoon, my boys asked: “So who do you want to win?”
To be fair, I’m not a traitor, I am Welsh. And I have supported England in every other match and am as delighted as my neighbours to see the way Gareth has opened up the team and their style of play, giving England a new reason to hope. I will back them all the way against Belgium.
But, in Euro 16, I fell in love with Croatia. Charmed by the magic of Modric in midfield, I soon came to know and admire this national team from a small nation, made up of 4 million people. They became my adopted team.
So at the start of this tournament, I invested not just my heart and soul in this team but my money. Game on!
I believe in these Croatian boys: Rakitic, Vrsaljko, Perisic, Strinic. What I think I really love about Croatia is that they are a team built on adversity. And the emphasis is on team.
Croatia wasn’t even a nation when England last reached the semi-finals. Modric, now with Real Madrid, has his own tales to tell about how his grandfather was killed during the Croatian Ward of Independence and he had to flee his home. A refugee in effect, he spent his childhood living out of run-down hotels on the Croatian coast, kicking a football around in the parking lot.
But love Modric’s superb passing, dribbling and sheer audaciousness with a ball at his feet though I do - #lovingLuka is a tag I use often - this has been a World Cup where teamwork has triumphed over individual talent. Messi, Ronaldo, Jesus, Suarez have fallen by the wayside whilst Croatia have gritted their teeth, pulled together as a unit and ground out results. They’ve survived back to back penalty-shoot outs. They’ve come back from being a goal-down early doors three times.
What Croatia has in bundles is team spirit. Their nickname is #Vatreni which I think translates as Fire or Blazers. Watch how they touch the national badge on their shirts with honour and allegiance. This means something to them. They care, about results and each other.
Of course, being in the jobs we are, this has made me reflect on my own team at a key moment. On Monday we’re stepping away from the office for a training day where we will reflect on our core purpose, on areas for improvement and we’ll each have time to share an area of learning and development so we upskill each other.
We have individual flair, skill and talent but our strength undoubtedly lies in our ability to pull together and, in tough times like an NHS winter, grind out results.
Sometimes it’s some amazing concept design work we’ve led on which makes us stand out (our strikers scoring attention-grabbing goals), sometimes it’s our midfield magic where we achieve behavioural change results that earns us awards or plaudits, sometimes its stopping bad things happening when we act as the organisation’s conscience and advisory body (those solid defenders). And sometimes, in a crisis, it’s down to our ability to hold firm, hold our head and do the goalkeeper equivalent of keeping our side in the game.
What we can’t do for long is let our heads drop. What we have to do all the time is communicate with each other and play to our strengths.
In our organisation, which is an NHS Trust, we are on a big quality improvement journey. We are investing heavily in embedding improvement practice as a habit. It’s important when you think that small improvements can improve care and potentially even somewhere down the line, improve or even save lives.
But the book I’ve just read about quality improvement is called “Beyond Heroes: A Lean Management System for Healthcare.” For improvement to truly happen teams have to work together, across professional silos. They have to agree what the problem is, what possible countermeasures might be and focus on making changes until quantifiable improvement is seen.
We all love to secretly play a hero don’t we, ride in knight-like and save the hour. But improvement theory and practice shows that to drive real improvement you need to leverage the power of teams. Together people bring different and valuable perspectives on problems. The receptionist who notices every day that people come in lost when trying to find the MRI unit and suggests ways to improve the signage or the patient letters is an important improver.
Leaders who solve problems for their teams, who come in and save the day, effectively disempower their teams. And solutions which come from individuals often aren’t as sticky, because ownership of the solution isn’t shared.
Where our heroes perhaps have a part to play is in leadership by example. And here we’re back to Croatia. When Modric missed that penalty during the game against Denmark, but then stepped up to take a second penalty in the penalty shoot-out at the end of the match – well, that’s a lesson in leadership I hope to remember for the rest of my life.
Whatever happens in the final, I’ve lost my heart to Hrvatska but I’ve also learned some things in my head from them during this World Cup 2018.
Amanda Nash is head of communications at Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust
image via Luisen Rodrigo