Whacky Wednesday: Football As A Metaphor For Business Culture

I have this theory, and it’s a bit whacky so it’s not a post for Theory Thursday. My theory is that the predominant type of football played in a country or region shows through in the business culture especially in countries with mature, Western business styles. Here’s how I see it.

Europe – what some of us call soccer is clearly the main football in Europe (sorry rugby people). Soccer is like doing business in Europe based on these points:

  • Like in European business it’s a slow and steady wins the race approach and typically a low scoring affair.
  • It is absolutely clear what the goal is. One ball in the net equals one point.
  • The plays are calculated but decisions are still made on fly.
  • Everyone on the field has a chance to put in and possibly even score although there is some reliance on a team’s stars.
  • There are a few substitutes (hangers-on and consultants) on the bench but the bulk of the team is playing on the field.
  • On the rare occasion a scoring play is made (ie. a goal) a great deal of excitement is shown with special celebration, and that is the only time anyone really gets excited.
  • If someone even slightly looks like they have done wrong by you fall over and whinge.

Australia – Australian Rules football is the main game across the country so we’ll consider that (sorry again rugby people). The game is like Australian business because:

  • Australian Rules football, like most Australian companies, is organised chaos.
  • The ball is often in the air and the play could go either way.
  • Decisions and plays are made on the fly and often bad judgement quickly turns the game into the other team’s favour.
  • Everyone on the field contributes to scoring and any player could be the one to score, although there is some reliance on the teams stars especially in kicking the winning goals.
  • You don’t need to worry if you don’t get through the middle sticks for a full 6 point play, we’ll give you a point for your effort.
  • There are a few substitutes on the bench but the bulk of the team is playing on the field. In Australian business these are people hiding in the wings ready to jump in show they can fix someone elses problem and take some accolades.
  • When a scoring play is made there is some excitement and maybe a pat on the back (or the bum) but it is straight back to business to go again.

United States of America (I will leave the Canadians out of this) – American Football , or Gridiron some may know it, is the game we will consider here as a business culture metaphor. American business is like American Football in that:

  • They start out with a team of around 45 players suited up yet only 11 of them are on the field at any given time adding value.
  • They have a different group of team come on and do the work every time the direction changes. One group is responsible for scoring when in control of the ball (the situation). The other group is responsible for being roadblocks when things are not in the team’s control.
  • Forward movement is stopped after every few plays to have a meeting and figure out what happened and where to go next.
  • You need to get past the next milestone 10 yards away in order to get an opportunity to move forward again. If you don’t make that milestone, change the whole team, have a meeting and try to sabotage the other team that is now trying to hit their milestone.
  • They are very reliant on the star quarterback (and some of the running backs as well) to score.
  • If you score you also get a chance at a bonus.
  • Kickers are like consultants. No one on the core team likes them and they add value about as often as they miss the target.
  • They wear pads to limit risk. OK, I’m not sure how this relates to business but what sooks. Shin guards is the most you should need for any football game.
  • There are almost as many coaches and trainers (managers) as there are players.

Do you have any more examples for any of these? What about other business cultures around the world? Is doing business in India like a game of cricket?


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