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Why high performance teams always win - a love letter to my former employer

Updated: Feb 24, 2022

A few days ago, UEFA appointed T.E.A.M. Marketing as their marketing and sales partner for the UEFA Champions League cycle 2024-2027. This business partnership started 30 years ago in 1992 which on today's standards, is a life-time! 30 continuous years of being an outstanding example of always striving for the best, evolving, adapting to change, never standing still, being bold while remaining true to core principles and of course hiring the right people, the high performing teams. I was lucky to have been part of this journey for almost 5 years between 1998-2003 at the young age of 22 (which in hindsight now, I am thinking we were babies! ;-).

The leadership

There is a poem that was read to us at one of the leadership trainings that I attended at T.E.A.M.: "All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten" by Robert Fulghum . This beautiful poem summons my personal feelings for T.E.A.M.: All I really need to know about teamwork, professional integrity, meaningful collaboration, purposeful work I learned at T.E.A.M. - I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to having been part of an organisation who strongly focuses on people development by setting high standards for outstanding quality and integrity. The leadership principles consisted of the common philosophy: Together.Everybody.Achieves.More. which is simple yet so powerful and easy to understand. It promoted self-responsibility, finding solutions rather than creating problems, direct communication and the trust from the leadership team that people were able to figure things out.

High Performing Teams

There was your core job "at home" in marketing, accounting, corporate, events, TV etc. and there was a "second job" in a so-called venue team, which meant the actual organisation and implementation of the matches. At the beginning of every season, we were put together in teams to go out, represent and organise the UEFA Champions League matches all over Europe. One season you were put together with people from the TV department and Accounting, the next season your teammate was someone from Events. It was understood that management did the same jobs on site as everybody else. We were trained to always think of "WE" and never of "I". When the TV signal did not work, you had to solve it, not the TV manager at home. When the official cars did not arrive in time, you had to sort it out, not the account responsible. You, as a team, were responsible for the entire product, not just "your part". High Performing Teams are defined to "deliver and succeeding beyond standard norms, over the long-term while maintaining positive well-being and relationships". We were all given the tools and the training to deliver beyond standard norms and were trusted in taking responsibility for our own energy and well-being so we were able to deliver at the highest standard when it counted. The pressure was high, but I deeply believe that this model has been one of the success factors that made T.E.A.M. so unbelievably strong. We always thought for each other, we looked out for each other so that the product, the UEFA Champions League, was the best it could be and also evolved into what it is today: a 30 year continuous success.

What drives people?

When looking at the science behind what drives people, we see things like drive for control, drive for competence, congruence, caring, connection, change, challenge, creative expression, contribution and consciousness. As a team, we had control and the competence over a match night at the stadium. The implementation and the product was congruent all over Europe, the same standards and quality applied in Russia as in Germany or Spain. As a team, we cared for each other and we had a strong connection through working, traveling and sharing our meals together. We always changed things around, became better through the (sometimes painful) process but it trained our minds to always thrive for the next level and to continuously innovate and adapt. We challenged each other or were challenged by the client UEFA and/or the sponsor and TV partners. Employees were asked to be creative and innovative, to be involved in design and branding processes, to making the experience better for fans, or simpler things like finding the next appropriate name to call the internal IT server (like "homer" ;-) or inventing a gourmet feast called "Gourmefa" celebrating the different foods from all the UEFA venues. Contribution was a key ingredient to becoming a high performing team.

Lastly, we were being conscious: Conscious of others, of how we handled and appreciated our differences internally (staff came from 14 different nationalities and different backgrounds) and externally when going out to work with 32 (different) European football clubs. We were conscious of our progress and pushing ourselves to making the product better every time we were in stadiums (that meant on match night after the match there was another 1-2 hours of debriefing discussions on what can be improved the next time).

It's not difficult, is it?

20 years later, I have never worked in such an environment again after I left T.E.A.M. to go back to university and the other day, in a discussion with a former colleague, she said that it may also feel like a curse, because naturally you hope and long to feel the same over again. It was a special time at the height of the sport marketing era and its opportunities. Don't get me wrong, not everything was roses either, of course there were challenges and missteps, errors and frustration but T.E.A.M. had that X-factor which I will forever hold fondly in my heart. Because at the end of the day, you don't need the smartest people in the room, but you do need the best personalities of people with a great attitude who can and want to work together, leave their egos outside the door, share the vision, see themselves eye-to-eye with everybody else and adapt to the situations quickly. We were treated and appreciated like family and we went through "stuff" like a family by valuing, celebrating and appreciating each other and holding each other up, cheering each other on when things got hard.

Still today, all these years later, around 50 people of T.E.A.M. are part of the "TEAM family and friends" Whats App group where we share birthday wishes, successes, fun encounters, weddings but also funerals by celebrating the lives of our beloved ones.

And that is what I call the true joy and success.

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