HR & Management

What bosses can learn from football's cultural melting pot

6 min read

02 February 2016

With football’s January transfer window now closed and players from all over the world arriving in Britain to start a new career, managers are being warned it may not be easy to integrate them all quickly. And believe it or not, the exchange offers some lessons for business leaders.

British clubs spent a five-year high of £175m in the transfer window with £130m of that going to clubs abroad, creating a cultural melting pot for coaches to negotiate.

In all there will be 46 players signed from overseas clubs hoping to make their debuts this week, including Giannelli Imbula who cost Stoke City £18.3m from Porto and Oumar Niasse, who cost Everton £13.5m from Russian club Lokomotiv Moscow on transfer deadline day.

Other countries sending players to play in the Premier League, Football League or Scottish Premier League included the European hot spots of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal, as well Poland, Belgium, Lithuania, Norway, Bulgaria Austria and Turkey. However regions even further away such as India, the US and Singapore were also in the mix.

This will add to the cultural challenges facing clubs as managers bid to bring teams together quickly. Having so many different cultural backgrounds in one team can be a challenge, especially when new players arrive from abroad mid-way through a season and are expected to perform straight away.

Too often football clubs presume that football is a global language and everything will be ok if they are looked after on the pitch. But history shows us many players often fail to adapt off the pitch and never recover. Providing cultural training and giving players the right cultural tools to allow them to succeed is absolutely vital.

In much the same way, through means of mergers or acquisitions, branching out into other countries or a long list of other inevitable means, there comes a time when employees will need to step foot outside of their own countries. 

So keeping in mind that the world of business has much in common with sports, here are six tips to help those from abroad integrate into a new team and environment, be they footballers or corporate employees.

Read more football-related articles:

(1) Take as much notice of what happens off the pitch as on it

In the business world the Number 1 reason that assignments fail is because the family cannot adjust to the new location. Involve all the family in relocation decisions and provide support for accompanying partners who may want to work.

(2) Provide language training for staff

It’s not necessary to be a fluent speaker to use language as a tool for involvement and inclusion. Even the most basic phrases show that people are making an effort and respecting the host location. Plus it’s a lot easier on the manager!

(3) Don’t ignore culture shock – it’s real

Adapting to a new country is a process; there will be ups and downs and culture shock will happen to everyone. The effect can be physical as well as mental and may lead to poor performance or struggles to integrate with the team. Learning to recognise the signs – and the likely timing – of these symptoms will enable firms to support staff and family through the dips.

(4) Consider cultural training as a team, not just for new arrivals

It’s important that staff learn about themselves and their host country to be successful, but, it’s equally important that team mates, back room staff and management also understand how to handle cultural difference to create a highly effective team. Cultural training as a team will help to leverage cultural diversity rather than get tripped up by it.

(5) Don’t assume all nationalities will react the same way

Cultural values drive behaviour. You can’t assume that someone from a different cultural background will respond the same way to the same demand or management technique as their teammates. Avoid preconceived ideas about new signings. Instead, observe and listen.

(6) Consider early on whether someone is a good cultural fit

Clubs will already know that a potential signing is skilled on the field. But before spending millions of pounds on a player consider first whether this is a good cultural fit. Leaders should also take this into account. An honest discussion about leadership, team dynamics and goals (objectives rather than the netted kind) can save employees and customers the heartbreak of sub-par performance or an early departure.

Similarly, Andy Alderson, CEO and founder of Vanarama, explains how adopting the mentality of a football team in business can be a sure-fire way to keep your company ahead of the competition.

Joanne Danehl is an intercultural and language training expert at Crown World Mobility.