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Create a winning team like Fergie: 13 magical management tips you can start using today

No, not Fergie from the black eyed peas (although this gives me a good excuse for a pretty picture!).

Hubba hubba.

Anyway, this post is about Sir Alex Ferguson – the most successful football club manager in English Premier league history. I’m not a united fan (up the O’s), but his record of 38 trophies in 26 years, including 13 Premier league titles, 5 FA cups and 2 Champions leagues is not to be sniffed at, so what can we learn from him?

You might be thinking ‘but he was a football manager – I’m just an office worker’, well firstly this post will demonstrate how you absolutely CAN apply his management skills at work today, and secondly you ain’t ‘just’ anything – you are you, and you are awesome. 🙂

So, how you can utilise the management skills of a football manager in a corporate environment? Will they work if you have a team of 2 or a team of 20? Will you need to start talking in a thick Glaswegian accent and kicking football boots at peoples faces? Lets find out…

1. Give clear roles and clear instructions. How can each member of your team do a good job if it’s not clear what their job is? Tell each member of the team what it is that you want them to focus on, how they fit it to the overall team, what you expect from them and how their role supports the others around them. No ambiguity. No suggestion. Clarity.

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2. Drill them. How to master something? Practice, repetition, and lots of it. Drill your team on their processes and strategy over and over and over again. They need to know it inside out. To not have to stop and think about it.

3. Back them in public. They need to know you’ve got their back. That you will support them in front of others. Would you want to work for someone who bitches and moans about you to other people? Thought not.

“There is no point in criticizing a player forever. And I never discuss an individual player in public. The players know that. It stays indoors.”

4. Be the boss. For your team to be a success you need them to look up to you and respect you. You need to become an authority figure (please don’t confuse this for being an asshole). To be strong and make big decisions occasionally. To deal with issues head on. You must not be scared to change things when it’s not working out. To be willing to bring new people in, and to get rid of those that don’t have the right skill set or attitude. You need to be the one constantly pushing the team to move forward. You need to have the backing the board and to be able to present a solid case for bringing in new (star) players when required. Strap your boots on, you can do this.

5. Don’t settle for mediocrity. If you want your team to ‘win’ then you need to push them, to demand constant improvement. Tell them when they don’t meet your expectations (and why). Remind them of the goal and ensure they are willing to help to reach it. Do you think Fergie ever played for a draw or was ever happy with an average performance? No flipping way, and his team knew it. If this meant giving the famous hairdryer treatment then so be it (but this should be the exception not the norm).

6. Employ help. Surround yourself with deputies who are like minded people you know and trust. Bring in experts from different fields and those good at the things you’re not. Don’t try and do it all on your own. Gary Neville said this of Ferguson:

‘He trusted people in areas that were not his expertise. He had the self-assurance to delegate where necessary.’

7. Instill belief. Positive encouragement goes so much further than negative comments. Highlight all achievements big and small. Remind the team of past victories. Reward and reinforce positive behavior and results. Apply some spin. Pat them on the back and say thank you when they deserve it. A quote from Fergie:

“There is no room for criticism on the training field. For a player – and for any human being – there is nothing better than hearing ‘Well done’. Those are the two best words ever invented in sports.”

8. Man manage. Not everyone is motivated in the same way. Most will have different personalities and skills, so spend time with your team one on one to work out what makes them tick. Treat everyone as an individual and tap into their needs / wants / strengths whilst ensuring they are working towards a common goal. Everyone thought that winker Ronaldo would not return to England, let alone Manchester after the run in with Wayne Rooney in the world cup quarter final in 2006, but Fergie got him back, and he had an incredible couple of seasons for United before moving to Real Madrid.


9. Look at the bigger picture. Your team are human beings not robots, so consider their health, nutrition, hydration, rest and mental well being. Encourage them to take breaks, to learn new skills, to eat well. They can’t constantly perform at a high level if you don’t get the balance right and educate them on how to look after themselves. Ryan Giggs is a great example of this as he was still playing champions league and premier league football at 39. In 2013 he said:

‘The manager is brilliant with me and at this stage of my career. He really allows me to manage myself in terms of my fitness and training.’

10. Choose your captain. You can’t do it all from the sidelines. Your players need someone there with them in the trenches, fighting the same fight, covering the same ground, so choose a leader and make sure the team knows who it is.

11. Empower the players.  Whilst working within clear guidelines that you’ve set, each team member needs to be given responsibility to do their own thing, be creative, make their own way, and take ownership for their actions. Fergie loved to have players with individual character and flair in his teams (Cantona, Beckham, Ronaldo). It can be hard to let go, but point them in the right direction, unclip their wings and let them fly…but…

12. Build a strong team bond. The cohesiveness and togetherness of the team was always important to Fergie. Here’s a quote from Gary Neville:

‘I can remember a couple of occasions when individual players had got into trouble and he was angrier with the team rather than the individuals concerned. His reasoning was: ‘Why did you let your team-mate get into trouble? Why weren’t you there to protect him? You’re all responsible for not looking after him. You make sure he doesn’t get into trouble.’

Establish this culture within your team and you are on to a winning formula. As soon as anyone thought they were bigger or more important than the team, Fergie dealt with them, no matter who they were.


13. Play the long game. I know that is a a big list and there’s a lot to digest, but fear not my friend. Tackle it in manageable chunks. Little by little. Piece by piece. Take it day by day and play by play. Invest time and effort to coach your team to future success. Fergie used to go and watch ‘the class of 92’ in a freezing cold gym on a Thursday night when they were just 14-years-old schoolboys. 10 years later 6 of those kids were the core of the team that won the treble. Creating a winning team does not occur overnight. It takes time and patience.

The beauty of a list like this is that you can chip away at at least one of these things every day. Even 10 minutes is enough to make a start but ignore it at your peril. Everyone benefits from guidance, coaching, encouragement and the occasional hairdryer and if you are the manager then this is your role.

Would Fergie have created a winning team if he left the players to just get on with it? If he didn’t establish their individual strengths and weaknesses? If he didn’t invest time to train them, mold them and demand them to be the best they could be? Of course not. He worked tirelessly to do all of that, and it paid off big time.

There’s no reason why you can’t start applying these top tips in your work place today. Go for it. You might not have a team of star performers yet, but reach for the top, be bloody minded about it, and don’t give up till you get there.

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