What we can learn from Ted Lasso
Ted Lasso should be mandatory viewing for business owners and managers
I am a huge fan of the hit Apple TV show, Ted Lasso. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the show, it is a hilarious comedy that chronicles the story of an American NCAA division II football coach, who moves from Wichita, Kansas, to England to coach a premier League Football club, better known to the American audience as soccer. So what exactly does a comedy television series about “football” have to do with business and management?
When coach Lasso first arrives in England he is absolutely ridiculed as he knows nothing, literally nothing, about the sport that he is about to coach. The news media believes it to be a joke, and everyone expects him to fail. Which depending on how you look at success and failure, you could say that by the end of season 1, he does fail. But if you look at success in a less conventional way, then he succeeded despite all odds.
So how does a coach who knows nothing about the game that he is coaching succeed? It’s in the way that he creates a culture. Ted Lasso’s greatest strength is culture formation, and team building. It is clear that his players know each of their roles, but the purpose that he serves is one of support, and he helps the players find their way.
When he first arrives even his players are cynical about him and his unconventional tactics. Many of them make fun of him, but what Coach Lasso does so well is that he recognizes the issues, but it does not deter him from his plans. He is bound and determined to make the team a cohesive unit. He does this by first identifying certain individuals on the team that will have the greatest impact. Then slowly but surely he finds ways to encourage those individuals. He never tears someone down, he only builds them up.
Within the first episode, Coach Lasso is observing practice and one of the players is unable to make the defensive play that he should be able to. The player seems to be moping about the field, not appearing to be enjoying the game, or focused on practice. After this event, Coach Lasso calls the player over, and immediately the player starts to apologize for his lack of performance. This is what the player over years and years has been conditioned to do. This is what we are all conditioned to do. We make a mistake in performance and we immediately apologize, but instead of berating the player, Coach Lasso instead asks the player if he knows that the happiest animal in the world is? This out of the blue and completely random question throws the player completely off guard. He is surprised, because Coach Lasso isn’t yelling at him or berating him for a lackluster performance. Instead he is calmly asking him about a random animals happiness. As the player stands there flabbergasted Coach Lasso goes on to explain that the happiest animal in the world is a goldfish, because a goldfish only has a 10 second memory. He tells the player go be a goldfish. By doing this Coach Lasso is telling the player, that his lack of performance is not being judged. He wants him to forget about it and go back out on the field and do what he knows the player can do. By helping to alleviate the pressure that the player is feeling, Coach Lasso knows that he will be able to perform better.
Over the season Coach Lasso works on a number of players in the same way, starting with the cynical team captain at the end of his career, and the typical young fresh superstar who hogs the ball and wants all the glory.
The season for Coach Lasso has a number of ups and downs, but at the end he is able to create a cohesive, welcoming team culture where all ideas are respected and shared.
It is this aspect of the show that I hope all managers and business leaders can learn from. Too often in business, and leadership, do managers feel the need to control, belittle, or have a lack of respect for their team members. It is why so many teams underperform. Leaders must first have excellent hiring so that they know that the employees they hire are the best possible people in their field; then those people must have an environment where they can thrive. It seems simple enough, but this simple practice takes a tremendous amount of effort. Coach Lasso spends the vast majority of his time, finding ways to make the team culture better. Coach Lasso doesn’t need to teach his players how to play the game, but he needs them all to respect one another, so that they can all play the game well together. Coach Lasso knows that if his players are happy, and healthy, and respected then they will play far better than if he has a bunch of individuals running around on the field doing their own thing. He recognizes that he doesn’t need give them specific advice on the actual game, but he removes the barriers to incredible performance.
If you work within a metric driven field, it can often become a difficult place to work, because the metrics are what are perceived to be important. Pressure is placed on employees to meet metrics, much like footballers are graded based on the overall ranking at the end of the season, or how many goals they scored. When Coach Lasso becomes the general manager, he is not focused on wins, losses, ties, and each players scoring. He knows that if he creates an incredible environment then those metrics will improve on their own.
Managers and administrators are often looking in the wrong direction. By placing emphasis on meeting metrics, instead of identifying barriers to employee satisfaction, the employees are focused not on being the best version of themselves and the best team member possible. Instead they focus on the metric and when the metric isn’t met, they have fear of repercussion, or job loss. This isn’t to say that there shouldn’t be a minimum bar that people need to meet, and they will require support and coaching along the way, but if managers and administrators could look beyond the metric they would see vast improvement in their operations.
Mangers and administrators would be well suited to start considering the “Lasso way.”