Secrets of Dolphins, the Ryder Cup, England & Matrix Management

dolphin pod

I recently heard an interesting interview on UK radio from a football (soccer) conference in London. It talked about Roy Hodgson, the England manager, breaking down his squad into player sub teams to work on specific areas of the game.

It also referenced the pod system used successfully by the past US Ryder Cup captain, Paul Azinger.

Azinger’s system was to break down the squad into small sub teams, of around four people, to build relationships and work intensively on their teamwork and match play.  He modelled this idea on pods of dolphins.  Azinger claims that this is the way that the European Ryder Cup team naturally organises.  It sounds like Hodgson is doing something very similar.

In our work in matrix management and virtual teams, we’ve learned that there are some fundamental building blocks of cooperation. In my book, Making the Matrix Work, we call this “the magic numbers of community.”

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The first building block is the group of four to six people working intensively together – in our language (at Global Integration)  this is a “spaghetti team.”  This closely matches the pod system and is also the typical size of a nuclear family, a special forces fire team, etc.

One of the objections to this in our training programs is that people often raise the idea of the sports “team”, which is often in the range 11 to 15 people, which we (at Global Integration) categorize as a “star group”.   I have always felt that in reality, sports teams break down into a number of sub teams – in soccer the defence, midfield and attack with defined specialist roles – and an increased need to cooperate with each other relative to other parts of the team. These articles appear to confirm this belief.

In spite of a broader confusion with use of the word “team”, people also talk about:

  • “one team” for a company with a third of a million employees
  • function with thousands of people and
  • small interconnected groups of four to six people working in a common collaborative goal.

These are not all the same thing!

In our work in matrix management, we distinguish between networks, communities, groups and teams as distinctly different types of collaboration. Bringing this clarity allows you to organize each differently and more effectively.

It also clarifies the technology required to support this way of working, the suitable goals each have  for delivering, and prevents unnecessary sharing and meeting of groups that can be run more simply.

If you’d like to find out more about the magic numbers of community and how to organize cooperation more effectively in your matrix, virtual or global organization please contact us or take a look at my book Making the Matrix Work.

If you would like to see the original article that inspired this post: Ryder Cup: Can dolphins teach golfers how to win?”: by Chris Murphy, CNN, published on edition.cnn.com, Friday, October 3, 2014.

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About the author:

Kevan Hall Kevan Hall is a CEO, author, speaker and trainer in matrix management, virtual teams and global working. He is the author of "Speed Lead - faster, simpler ways to manage people, projects and teams in complex companies, "Making the Matrix work - how matrix managers engage people and cut through complexity", and the "Life in a Matrix" podcasts, videos, cartoons and blog. He is CEO and founder of Global Integration. Company profile: .

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