Building a winning team – lessons to be learnt from the Ryder Cup

Building a winning team – lessons to be learnt from the Ryder Cup Author: Richard Guest Published: 28 September 2018

Having watched the Europeans triumph this week in the 42nd Ryder Cup, it was hard not to notice the fantastic spirit and togetherness which the European team had right from the outset, in direct comparison to their American counterparts; most of whom, despite an impressive start on Thursday morning, portrayed a disjointed and disengaged demeanour throughout the tournament. The preparation work and planning that Thomas Bjorn and his team have put in over the past two years was plain for all to see. Bjorn not only sought advice within the golfing world, including past captains, but also from the business community, asking for guidance on building great teams. 

He stuck to his beliefs and made the difficult decisions on team selection, opting for a blend of inexperienced rookies who had automatically qualified, offset with four captain’s picks – including two controversial and romantic picks in Garcia and Poulter, in favour of players who were in better current form. In Garcia and Poulter, Bjorn opted for passion, enthusiasm and an unquestionable burning desire to win. 

Bjorn also ensured his team had done their research and were prepared; the European players had played a total of 232 competitive rounds at Le National in comparison to a total of eight by the Americans – four of which were by one player alone.  All the US players would have been invited to play in the French Open in June, but clearly didn’t feel this was valuable preparation – arrogance or an opportunity missed by Jim Fuyrk, the US captain, who could have insisted that his key players compete in this tournament for the experience.

On paper, the US had the better players by far – all their team sat within the World’s Top 25, with five within the Top 10, including the World No1. The Europeans in comparison all sat within the World’s Top 45. Yes, the European team was playing with home advantage, but the American players have also dominated at The Open in recent years. They know how to play and win in Europe, and the course has a far more American set up that a traditional British links type course. 

Building a great cohesive and winning team doesn’t happen by chance. It requires the selection of a strong and capable leader, with all the support behind them from senior management and the board. It takes time to plan and prepare, requiring the decisiveness to make tough and, in some quarters, unpopular decisions; Bjorn ensured he surrounded himself with the right people, both behind the scenes and also within his team. More so, it necessitates the capacity to create a vision and take the team on a journey and, crucially, the ability to execute the plan, not being afraid to deviate away from it should the need arise. 

Hats off to Thomas Bjorn, the players and all those involved who make the Ryder Cup one of the world’s truly amazing sporting events.

Richard Guest specialises in recruiting senior procurement leadership across all sectors.

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