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Team Sport

Saturday’s Champions League final between Manchester United and FC Barcelona is being touted in many American media, at least, as a showdown between two of the sport’s superstars:  Wayne Rooney of Man U, and Lionel Messi of Barça.

As The Economist points out, however, Barça’s success and Messi’s success at Barça are due at least as much to the club’s philosophy — team first — as to individual brilliance:

Barça has provided a distinctive solution to some of the most contentious problems in management theory. What is the right balance between stars and the rest of mankind? Should you buy talent or grow your own? How can you harness the enthusiasm of consumers to promote your brand? And how do you combine the advantages of local roots and global reach? …

Barça’s management style chimes in with the thinking of two admired theorists. Boris Groysberg, of Harvard Business School, has warned that companies are too obsessed with hiring stars rather than developing teams. He conducted a fascinating study of successful Wall Street analysts who moved from one firm to another. He discovered that company-switching analysts saw an immediate decline in their performance. For all their swagger, it seems that their success depended as much on their co-workers as their innate talents. Jim Collins, the author of “Good to Great”, argues that the secret of long-term corporate success lies in cultivating a distinctive set of values. For all the talk of diversity and globalisation, this usually means promoting from within and putting down deep local roots.

(Complete piece here.) 

For all of that, for reasons that I can’t completely explain (something to do with Ryan Giggs), I’ll be rooting for Man U.