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The failure of the England football team is systemic

Whether you like football or not, it’s hard to witness the nation’s deflated spirit here in London after England went out of the World Cup in the first round.  And the papers on Monday were speculating whether this means the end of the road for England manager Roy Hodgson.  It reminds us of a similar call for the head of Fabio Capello after the nation’s poor performance in the 2010 World Cup.

How often have we heard this?  It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that after every tournament since 1966, there has been an uproarious clamour to get rid of the England manager.  Now we’re not suggesting that all of them have been wonderful, but most were given the job after long track records of coaching teams to success.  And Hodgson is no exception.

So if the English Football Association respond to the outcry and get rid of him, they will be guilty of simply repeating a knee-jerk response that has been tried time and again and consistently failed.  Why?  The failures of the England football team, like similar, complex issues in organisations are systemic. Leadership may well be part of the mix, but so are other aspects of the whole system: commercial imperatives of the Premier League system; limits to investment in players; rewards for players that emphasise cash and minimise pride in national performance; playing schedules in tournament years that lead to exhaustion and injury…  The list goes on and on.  In short, we can confidently predict that English football will never again win a major tournament without root and branch reform of the entire system. That appears unlikely to happen.  Sacking the manager certainly won’t solve it, if that is the only action taken.

If football isn’t your thing, just take the same principles and look elsewhere: for example politics. How many leaders does an ousted political party go through, and how long does it take, to reform and regroup in order to win back power? Will the new leader of a party beaten from office regain power for the party? Not unless he can also achieve broader, systemic reform. As Barry Oshry says “much that seems personal, is not personal – so we must look at the system and what it is driving its members to do”.

Join us next week to understand more about how the vast majority of problems in business are systemic and how to work the systemic issues in ways that produce lasting results. Leading beyond Boundaries one day workshop 2nd July.

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