Back to analogies- intended versus realised strategies on the football pitch

15 03 2009

emergent-strategyThe 1998 paper Mintzberg, Quinn and Ghosal (1998) looked into organisations with and without explicit strategic plans, the effect of this on the staff within the organisation and the ultimate outcome. Importantly, and intriguingly, the principal finding was that the realised strategy of the organisation was not directly related to the intended, deliberate strategy, the precise and explicit plan of the organisation, but more an outworking of the non deliberate and hugely variable strategies of the work force; emergent strategy.

This all sounds very complex until you put it into an analogy, once again I have returned to the football pitch.

The current manager of Albion Rovers is Paul Martin. Before a match he will gather information about his team, the opposition and their usual tactics, possibly even the weather and the referee, to come up with his intended strategy. His team will be briefed with this, given explanations about pressing plays and the mid-field width, the role of wingers and the man to man defence. This deliberate strategy is inculcated into the team right up to the point where they cross the white line.

courtesy Paul Reilly

courtesy Paul Reilly

And then it all falls to bits as Forfar change to the long ball game as the weather turns, worse still four players on the Rovers team get booked and with the  midfield failing to deliver their expected dominance, all this brings about the realised strategy of a 4 nil humping the likes of which they haven’t seen for a while.

The manager sets out an intended strategy, the team play out their own individual strategies, some in the knowledge and direction of the manager’s deliberate strategy, some not, and the realised outcome is a combination of all these; emergent strategy.

Sadly, the reality wasn’t what was the intended strategic goal!




6 responses

17 03 2009
Paul Reilly

Nice one Ross, your analogy clearly demonstrates the old adage that the operational plan only lasts as long as the first contact with the opposition!

17 03 2009

thanks for the comment Paul.

you’d like to think it lasted longer than that eh? any football fan would tell you however that the final result is not always what was envisaged at the tactical planning stage. the desire to forgoe any tactical plan and just “go for it” must be overcome too as it is clear that, for football at least, teams without decent mangers do NOT do well. (see previous posts.)

18 03 2009

Great stuff Ross. and good analogy! Another contender would be that of a conversation – say as opposed to scripted exchange. The key thing is that we’re not proposing “no strategy” – rather a new approach to strategic management based on the idea of “governed” self-organisation by intelligent agents (as opposed to cogs in a machine). The job of the strategist is broadened to include that of upholding (and occasionally tweaking) the deep structures that underpin emergent order as well as “weeding and cross-fertilising” on the hoof – as opposed to trying to force emergent detail into some pre-ordained abstract template.

18 11 2011

Excellent analogy. I am of the view that a good intended strategy lessens the burden of unforeseen circumstances. While it is acknowleged that competition is also planning counter actions to planned strategy but a close use of strategic planning tools minimises surprises even those caused by rainfall as you might have a planned for it.

24 05 2012

But what about the original research question? What were the outcomes for the teams with no strategy? Did they do a lot worse? And why?

And what function does the strategy have for a football team if it is out the window so quickly? Is it just another tools for them to bond together over and possibly clarify roles? Do we really know that highly trained footballers who are used playing together as a team need to have any kind of strategy?

25 05 2012

The original question found that realised strategy of the organisation (what actually happened) was principally down NOT to the management but to the hugely variable strategies of the work force; emergent strategy. Which any football manager will tell you.

Whether it is a football team or a hospital (the point to which I was alluding) leadership is actually on the pitch, not in the stand or the boardroom and clearly what the organisation requires is effective “middle management” but, as a managed professional bureaucracy, that drive and direction comes NOT from senior management but from the clinicians themselves. Thus training “Clinical Leaders” misses the point. Perhaps

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