What’s your system of play?

I have to be honest; I had never thought about a startup team in terms of coaching a set of players into becoming an elite sportsteam, before I met a former national coach, who presented the idea and philosophy behind it to me.

But it makes a ton of sense.

When we talk about startup teams and founders, we always talk about A-players and people able to attract the best talent to help them succeed on their journey. And for sure that is critically important. But let’s face it; most startups teams are just not cut out for that.

They have a lot of qualities, yes. They will be able to attract good people and get something going. But are they A-players from the beginning? Seldom. Can they become so? Yes.

The thing that really struck a cord with me was the coachs mention of systems of play; the strategies and tactics you deploy to move ahead, get promoted and – ultimately – win trophies largely based on the talent, you have and have been able to add during the journey.

Talent which may be limited due to your ressources, their alternatives etc etc., but where it is abundantly clear that you will need to do some real talent development to get the best of them – and you need to get them up to speed to fit into your system of play in order to succeed.

If the concept sounds a bit murky, think about a struggling football team: You may have a tall defender, who is not the best at defending, but where his height is a key attribute for set pieces in the other box. So you start deploying the player as a striker instead. Banal example? Sure. But I am sure you get my point.

What really excited and triggered me about this way of looking at startup teams is the thought of having to succeed with the hand you’re dealt. Take the example of having to do a pivot or looking to add another dimension or revenue stream to your business: You have the people you have, and you need to succeed with them. How to you coach them into their new roles and responsibilities based on a deep understand of their talents – both the obvious and the hidden potential?

That is not only truly interesting. I also think for many it will be the differentiator between struggling or being mediocre at best and then really succeeding. I think the best teams are the ones, where the founders are essentially coaches, who are able to play their cards differently according to the opposition – just as the very best professional sports coaches do week in, week out.

Normally I am not the biggest fan of using sports metaphors, analogies and/or approaches in the world of startups. But in this case, I would definitely advice you to make a wise exception.

(Image: DALL-E)

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