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Can a Dutch Football Team Help You to Form a High Performing Web Team?

Ajax Football TeamOK, it may seem far fetched but give the premise of this article a minute or two and you may learn a valuable lesson about forming a high performing project team from a Dutch football club. The club being the premier Amsterdam club called Ajax.

As long ago as the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ajax pioneered a tactical theory known as ‘Total Football’. The strategy entails the players being comfortable with taking over the role of any other player in the team. It means when a player moves out of position and another player takes their place on the field, they know what is expected of them. It also means that when playing in their normal position, they understand better what other players need from them. The technique places a high demand on all the players, as they have to learn to be highly adaptable. Ajax enjoyed one of their most successful seasons ever using Total Football, suffering just one home defeat all season and winning five titles in 1972.

This approach works well when developing a team for a web project. Some projects are executed in a linear fashion, with one team passing over to the team ahead of them. One of the best-known project hand overs is when the software engineers deliver their software to the testing team. Other projects adopt a more collaborative approach when all members of the project team work closely together on a day-to-day basis. But whatever project methodology is deployed; do the software engineers know what the testing team expects from them? Do the solution architects know what the software engineers need? Does the whole team know what the project manager needs?

It’s often the interconnectivity between different skills within the project team where the difficulties lie. If a piece of work produced by one member of a team is not up to scratch or not what the recipient was expecting, the problem will have a detrimental impact on the project.

Every team member needs to play their role and to master the skills that they are primarily responsible for in the project. But spending some time in the shoes of other team members will provide a new appreciation and a fresh perspective on what their colleagues need and expect from them.

There are a couple of ways to implement a “total web project strategy”;

One. Allow team members to become apprentices for a short spell. Spend time working with the core members in the team and understand what they do, how they do it, what they need from others and what they deliver to others.

Two. If time is precious, then ask a representative from each function within the team to prepare and deliver a good, old fashioned show and tell session. Ensure they cover the core elements of their project responsibilities and importantly, what they expect to receive and need to deliver to others. Allow time for a lengthy Q&A session too.

This total web project approach won’t mean that the designer will necessarily be able to suddenly stand in for the project manager (PM) overnight should the PM be absent. But the collaboration and efficiency of the team will certainly improve. The mutual appreciation and improved collaboration is likely to also make for a happier team too, which is never a bad thing.

And so the old adage needs to change if you want your web team to be high performing. It’s now a case of everyone being “a jack of all trades and the master of one”.

Jack of All Trades Master of One

And so, bizarely,  the web project business may just have the Dutch football coach Rinus Michels and the legendary player Johan Cruyff to thank for a strategy that works extremely well for building a high performing project teams.


How well does your web project team work together and what do think are the key factors that increase the team’s performance?

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