If lockdown and virtual working has taught us anything, it is perhaps the value and importance of our teams, and how we all work and interact together. So, as we slowly begin to spend the odd day back in the office, it made me think about why.

Why do we do what we do? If it’s all about productivity, then many businesses have been managing just fine. But it’s not, is it? Surely there is some bigger, broader purpose to our work. A sense of belonging, a shared culture, a collegiate team. Ultimately, through all the Zoom boom, it’s about the Human Factor.

That’s what I’ve missed and am now craving. So, I consulted a couple of my go-to self-help books to understand more. What is it about the team dynamic that is so essential, and how can we better manage and lead our people?

Enter Sir Alex Ferguson, with his book Leading, in which the legendary Manchester United manager identifies a series of lessons for successful people management. And come in Legacy, the James Kerr book which pinpoints what the All Blacks (the world’s most successful sporting team) can teach us about the business of life. With thanks to Leading and Legacy, here are my 3 key takeouts for building high-performance and human-centric teams.


Leading is about having a goal and a vision, but it also about how you act, inspire and encourage. Sir Alex says leaders should “help others believe they can do things they didn’t think they were capable of. Make others understand that the impossible is possible.” This, he concludes, is the difference between leadership and management, counselling that the two most powerful words in the English language are “well done!”

To encourage curiosity and a growth mindset, we have a saying at Brand Genetics that we should embrace being ‘comfortably uncomfortable’. This is the sweet-spot for learning, between breaking new ground and being supported too.

This promotes a culture of continuous improvement, for individuals and for businesses too. The All Blacks prize the New Zealand shirt so highly that they advocate taking a long-term view — “leave the jersey in a better place” and be prepared to “plant trees you’ll never see.” Sir Alex echoes this, concluding that his one most important word for leading is ‘consistency’.

So, remain brave and bold in your vision, and how you push and develop your people — but remain consistent in your behaviours too. We have recently articulated and iterated our core BG behaviours, to help ensure we are clear about expectations, we have common language as a feedback mechanism for personal development, and we remain fit for purpose in the new reality.


At Brand Genetics, we like to think of ourselves as a start-up with 25 years’ experience! But the challenge of still wanting to think and act with the agility of a start-up is often around letting go. Sir Alex gives us some great guidance on this, via these 3 key points:

[1] Don’t try to do it all yourself. Fergie stood back from taking training sessions and found he could then see much more. It also gave his assistant a clear role. Again, working through others is the difference between leadership and management. So, we should all hire the right people, and then get out of the way to allow them to execute the talent we first saw in them.

[2] Listen to people younger than you. They are the future and are at the cutting edge. So, we should always be prepared to listen and learn. And we should recognise that our people are often more aligned with our clients’ target audience than we may be.

[3] Explain to the people around you that you care about little details — but that it’s their job to attend to them. The great leader is unafraid of delegating authority, and refrains from micro-management. Sometimes easier said than done, but maybe lockdown has helped us all trust more and micro-manage less?


Our sense of belonging has become even more important when working virtually. What’s the ‘glue’ that holds any team or business together? Having wondered for years how we could ‘bottle’ what makes Brand Genetics different and unique, we wrote a 5-point manifesto, which covers the key principles which govern how we work. It has proved to be a great definition of our culture, and an invaluable aid to help new joiners understand and integrate.

The All Blacks value their team ethic above everything else. Legacy states that “a player who makes the team great is better than a great player,” while Sir Alex always valued the picture of the 11 men who built the Empire State Building — precisely because they were one team, united with a common purpose.

Legacy crystallises the importance of teamwork as “the strength of the wolf is the pack”, and the All Blacks famously have a “sweep the sheds” mantra, where top class rugby internationals are never too big or too important to duck their duties of cleaning out the changing rooms after matches. The same is true in SME’s, where it’s usually the Chairman or the CEO who changes the light bulbs!


At Brand Genetics, we advocate a Human-First approach. This means understanding our clients and their consumers as human beings — how they think and how they feel — and encouraging our internal team to “be uniquely human”, recognising that what makes them special and different is what makes us special and different too.

The All Blacks philosophy is that “better people make better All Blacks”, which chimes with ex-England football manager Sir Bobby Robson’s assertion that you should “sign good people, not just good players.” The All Blacks’ pithy team-building mantra is “no dickheads”, and in business (as in team sports) no individual is ever bigger than the team or the company.

At Brand Genetics we have always championed an adult-to-adult environment, where our people can self-manage and make their own decisions, without the need for approval or micro-management. We have summarised this via just one company “rule” or guiding principle, which is Don’t Take The Piss (or DTTP).

We value talented people, with human values who can provide their own drive and motivation — or, as we like to summarise it, people who are “Smart, with Heart, and a touch of the Self-Start!”

Welcome back to work! I have genuinely missed that human buzz, and everything that goes into making it so essential.

Andrew Christophers is Co-Founder of Brand Genetics, a global insight and innovation agency specialising in unlocking growth by thinking human-first. Brand Genetics’ global clients include ABInBev, Estee Lauder, Mondelez, PepsiCo, Reckitt Benckiser and Unilever. Andrew previously held marketing and innovation roles at Cadbury, Guinness and United Biscuits.

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