By Caty Illingworth
Here at True North we don’t want to miss our chance to send huge congratulations to the amazing England women’s team on Sunday's success – what a moment! I shed a tear, my heart burst with pride, and I felt a shiver go down my spine in the post-match interviews. I was proud of the team, of our nation, and of my son, who went wild when the final whistle blew. He was, frankly, in disbelief and awe that girls, in fact, can! Now this does sound like it will be a post about diversity…and it kind of is, but not in the way you might expect. The women on the team are incredible, led by an inspirational manager who has her own amazing history of overcoming other people’s biases…but that is perhaps for another day…
The thing that really stood out to me in the post-match analysis was that the team had a process for intentional excellence, and that process was to discover their natural Strengths, apply them and prevail through the tournament. This is a process close to our heart at True North Development, and one that we know is the perfect basis for creating a neurodiverse and successful team:
1. Discovery “In a team sport, it all starts with teamwork, being connected and knowing each other…” – Wiegman.
When Wiegman took the role with the England women’s team, she realised they were on the periphery of realising their incredible potential – her job was to put them front and centre of success on the world stage. No mean feat, so, where to start?
Having had her own playing career where she worked incredibly hard, Wiegman has said more recently “as I grew in my personality, I really wanted to be relaxed more…yes it’s about winning, but you perform better when you can be yourself and when you’re in an environment…where you’re safe, where you will not be judged.”
She has hit the nail on the head – everyone being aware of their own, and their teams’ Strengths (natural patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviours) leads to an environment in which everyone feels seen, recognised and appreciated for what they bring, for their unique qualities. People feel pride in their talents, and are therefore confident in bringing what makes them indispensable, every day. Wiegman went on to say “If you want to perform longer term, it’s all about playing as a team, in possession, out of possession and in transition. People like to highlight the strikers, but if the strikers don’t get the ball, how are they going to score? It all starts with teamwork, that’s what I like so much about working with the team, the people.” Once a team has worked out all of their own Strengths, the plan for high performance, for winning, hinges on the ability to make a plan of action based on that knowledge. Gallup set out that differences are advantages, and they should absolutely be played to.
At True North Development, on our Strengths Trails, we help every person understand their set of Strengths (through completing their assessment), and through 1:1 coaching to appreciate how unique they are, and make a plan to deploy all the best things they bring, both as an individual and a team member, with them on stage 2…
2. Application There is an old saying that you should never change a winning team – however, another saying about ‘best laid plans’ is more fitting when it comes to success, especially in a high stakes environment. Wiegman has proved that playing to Strengths is more important – responding to feedback, in the moment, and remembering to draw on known Strengths, is key to success. Sticking to a plan is one thing, but when things don’t go as expected, flexibility is key to the resilience of the team and the ability to then prevail.
Wiegman has not been afraid to change the course of each game, using substitutions perhaps sooner and with less concern for the individual’s feelings on the switch, instead keeping the team’s potential to win at the heart of her decision-making. “She will be there for players, but if she has a feeling that a player is not playing well then she takes them out. For the player that is not always fun, but she’s doing that for the team, not for herself” – Tobiasen, Netherlands assistant coach.
“The mentality now is just all about doing the best for the team and the team winning, rather than individuals. I think you can see that in the way we play.”
Veurink also comments that Wiegman has always created a DNA in her team (this, again, took me to Strengths and the DNA we talk about in everyone’s profiles) – that her team always fight for each other, are mentally strong and have tonnes of motivation and passion. To fight for each other, the team must know each other well, know each other’s Strengths (and blind spots) and have been through a process of application together – learning from each application, taking feedback with a growth mindset, and refining their approach in a psychologically safe environment.
On our Strengths Trails, we take people to stimulating and awe-inspiring locations to put their plans for success, using their Strengths, into practice. We do this in an environment where this really matters, so that both wins and failures enhance and refine the learning, and make it memorable for years to come.
3. The final stage of our True Performance Model is about creating strategies to prevail And prevail they did – a 19-game unbeaten run, winning 17 and scoring 104 goals – ultimately lifting the trophy and changing the course of history – if that is not prevailing, I am not sure what is!?
Despite the odds having been against them, the focus was always on England’s Strengths, not the opponents’… that belief has permeated every England display at this tournament - For example when they beat FIFA’s second-best ranked team, Sweden. I don’t mind admitting, I am not a huge sports fan day to day, so reading that Wiegman was the first woman to coach a men’s professional team (in the Netherlands, 2016), that added some extra pride, and, to me, proved just how important a Strengths-based strategy is in order to be a successful manager, to break away from stereotypes and bring your team the biggest and most important wins. And set them up with strategies for success – tried and tested, through habit-forming discipline and with all mental and physical barriers removed before the important games.
Before delegates leave our Strengths Trails, we help them formulate their unique plans to prevail, providing healthy support and challenge to ensure the plans will work in real life, going beyond the normal takeaways from training courses and really setting people up to prevail in what they choose to do.
Wiegman’s strategy has tapped straight into some of Gallup’s principles of Strengths coaching: no theme of Strength is better than any other, that differences are advantages, and that people need each other. If there ever was one team who showed this to be true it was the England women’s team last night: No individual was more important than the team, yet the team were far more than the sum of their parts, perfectly orchestrated by an incredible manager who discovered and played to their Strengths, refined her tactics throughout the application, and set her team up to prevail.. And that team focus and drive led to every single member of that team having their moment and what I can only imagine was the best day, week, year of their lives. Being part of a truly high performing team that plays to Strengths can be life-changing.
If this inspires you to discover and apply the Strengths in your teams so that you too can prevail, please do visit our web page at www.truenorthdevelopment.co.uk.
The final word goes to Fran Kirby, who recognises the power that being valued for Strengths brings to people and teams, enabling the highest levels of performance:
“I have had so many coaches that have helped me along the way through my journey, who understand me and know me as a person” – Fran Kirby.