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  • Toby Sinclair

Book Summary: Barcelona Way by Damian Hughes | Transform Your Culture

Updated: Jun 16, 2021

Book Summary Banner Barcelona Way

⭐ Toby's Rating: 8/10 - Recommended For: Managers

3 Big Ideas

The big ideas from The Barcelona Way

  1. Barcelona Football club succeeded because they have a Commitment Culture. This Commitment Culture can also unlock success within business organisations.

  2. There are 5 principles to a Commitment Culture. Focus on Big Picture, Arc of Change, Repetition, Cultural Architects, Authentic Leadership

  3. For anything to change, someone has to start acting differently. You cannot "think" your way to a new culture. Many organisations fail to clearly define the expected behavioural norms. Few leaders act as role models for espoused behaviours. Research shows that the key to high performing teams is defining clear, actionable, observable group norms.

2 Most Tweetable Quotes

Here are my favourite quotes from The Barcelona Way

Our calendars are the ultimate scoreboard for our own priorities. If forensic analysts confiscated your calendar and email records and web browsing history for the past six months, what would they conclude your core priorities are?

Distractions are like a fruit machine in a bar – the ringing bells and flashing lights that catch the corner of your eye and turn your attention.

Toby's Top Takeaway

Three takeaways:

  • The key to culture change is behaviour change. If people don't start acting differently the culture will not change.

  • To change behaviour, change the environment. Focus on creating feedback loops from the environment that reinforce desired behaviours.

  • Create conditions for Cultural Architects to emerge. These are leaders who will reinforce the behaviours desired.

This is essential reading for anyone involved in culture change. It's the book I always recommend to coaches, leaders and managers about culture. In organisations, culture is often misunderstood and many leaders fall into the trap of thinking they can talk their teams to a new way of working. This book highlights that change only happens once people start behaving differently, especially senior management.

The Barcelona Way shares several principles, with examples from Barcelona Football Club, how you can change organisational behaviour and as a result change the culture. With this focus on behaviour, many of the themes resonate with the book Tiny Habits. Once you have clear behaviours for your organisation to adopt, starting with small habits can quickly help your organisation change. A great example of this for Barcelona Football club is the "Rondo" a drill that formed new playing habits and revolutionised the style of football played by Barcelona.

‘Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts.’ John Wooden

Other great books by Damian Hughes


Commitment Culture

‘A team’s culture is about the conduct and behaviour of everyone involved, it’s working together towards shared objectives and, as such, is an immediately identifiable part of the group’s identity,’ Pep Guardiola.

Research from Baron & Hannan at Stanford suggests that broadly five kinds of culture can emerge:

  1. Star: organisations recruit the most talented people, may pay them the most and then hope that cumulatively their efforts will be bigger than the sum of their parts. The evidence shows that when this works, it’s spectacular, but when it fails, it’s also likely to be spectacular.

  2. Autocratic: organisations may be dominated by one powerful leader, sometimes the founder, who totally dominates what people do and how they behave. Without them the culture becomes dysfunctional.

  3. Bureaucratic: organisations are run by middle management, often based on policy, procedures, rules and regulations.

  4. Engineering: organisations recruit technically brilliant people. People become attached and buy in through challenging work and the influence of peer group control.

  5. Commitment: organisations who build a culture based on commitment, building an emotional tie between the organisation and employees, have far less likely to fail (see chart below from the Stanford research). Retention is higher at these organisations, too.

Barcelona Football Club is a great example of a Commitment culture. The culture within Barcelona can provide suggestions to business on how to also develop a winning culture.

While there is no ‘formula’ for such a winning culture, the same themes, the same principles are evident in many commitment cultures.

5 Principles of a Commitment Culture:

  1. Focus on Big Picture

  2. Arc of Change

  3. Repetition

  4. Cultural Architects

  5. Authentic Leadership

Barcelona Way Princples

3 Levels of Commitment:

  • Level 1: You show up. You do the job exactly as you’re told to do it; nothing more, nothing less. You get a little better.

  • Level 2: You show up. You do the job, and you target certain tasks that’ll help you towards your goal. You push yourself, think about the detail of what you are doing. You get a lot better.

  • Level 3: You show up, having thought about how today’s activity fits into the larger goal you are working towards. You work very hard, pushing yourself into the discomfort zone over and over, with full commitment. Later, you reflect and analyse your performance with a cool, objective eye. You get a lot better, creating what Vern Gambetta, a well-known coach and athletic consultant, calls ‘the quantum leap’

To create a high-performing culture, the difference between commitment and compliance is significant. Leaders should seek commitment from their organisation, not compliance.

Focus on the Big Picture

4 Factors to creating a Big Picture:

  • Imagination is where you sell a vision of what you are trying to achieve and why.

  • Illustration is the part where you show people how you’re going to do it. This is all about strategy and tactics.

  • Participation is allowing people to contribute. This isn’t necessarily about being democratic; more about consultation and co-authorship.

  • Integration is about making the vision a reality and ensuring that your way of doing things is embedded.

Our brains are constantly searching for a sense of meaning – of coherence – in our everyday activities. We are searching for Why?

Understanding the big picture helps you understand what business you are in. The Kerosene industry is a great example of missing the big picture. They thought they were in the Kerosene Industry. In fact, they were part of a wider illumination industry, the bulk of kerosene was used to light oil lamps. This focus on the big picture can help you understand what your product really is.

3 Attributes of a Great Big Picture:

  1. Credibility

  2. Clarity

  3. Courage

Make Behaviours Crystal Clear

For anything to change, someone has to start acting differently. Yet for some many organisations, it's unclear what behaviours are expected. Organisations need to be crystal clear about desired behaviours and the priority of values within the organisation.

A great example of setting clear behaviour expectations is Disney. At the start of the very first day’s training, the opening question from the instructor charged with the induction of new members into Disney’s traditions was, ‘What is the primary focus of every cast member at Disney?’ The primary focus of every cast member is safety,” said our instructor. ‘“Every one of you must be constantly aware of guest safety.”’

Barcelona's behavioural priorities:




By translating the club’s Big Picture into clearly understandable, everyday behaviours, a standard applied to all the players, regardless of their dizzying football talents. No matter how good, a refusal to climb the behavioural ladder will result in those who guard the culture choosing to reject you.

When an employee is faced with a dilemma, values and their priorities make it crystal clear what should be done. When behavioural expectations are not clear people will defer to default, automatic behaviour. When the road is uncertain, our brain will insist on taking the default path – the most familiar path.

"As we face more and more options, ‘we become overloaded. Choice no longer liberates, it debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize." Barry Schwartz - The Paradox of Choice

Change begins at the level of individual decisions and behaviours, but that’s a hard place to start because that is where the friction is. Inertia and decision paralysis will conspire to keep people doing things the old way. To trigger movement in a new direction, you need to provide crystal-clear guidance. You’ve got to think about the specific behaviour that you want to see in a tough moment. Unless you can describe an idea into a specific behaviour, you’re not going to easily lead a cultural change. To create movement, you have to be specific and be concrete. Instead focus on Tiny Habits.

Barcelona Way Habits

Change the Environment to Change Culture

‘Fundamental Attribution Error’ is our inclination to attribute people’s behaviour to the way they are rather than the culture or situation they are in. It can be easy to jump to conclusions about people, but what can look like a person problem is often a cultural problem. We also attribute success to people rather than their environment. Don't be distracted by brilliant individual performance and pay attention to those quieter things that really matter in the long run.

Most people go through our lives unaware of how our environment shapes our behaviour. We often think we are in sync with our environment, but actually, it is frequently at odds with the behaviour we want to display.

Behaviours shift when our environment shifts. This makes sense – our habits are essentially stitched into our environment. Many smokers, for example, find it easier to quit when they are on holiday, because, at home, every part of their environment is loaded with smoking associations. The challenge in the work environment is that environmental changes are often difficult to make. Also forming a habit isn’t just environmental – it’s also mental. It would be very difficult to tweak the environment in a way that would compel you to learn how to play the piano!

There are two practical ways of creating behavioural habits within your current environment: feedback loops and action triggers.

  • Feedback loops - Shorten the time to when people get feedback on their behaviour. This can be feedback from people or from the system in which they work. Feedback loops enable speed and agility. The weaker and slower the feedback about desired behaviours the slower change will happen.

  • Action triggers – Defining a time and place where you will perform the action. James Clear also. highlights this within Atomic Habits. By declaring the time and location where the behaviour will occur it increases the chance of that behaviour happening, and then forming into a habit. Action triggers can have a profound power to motivate people to do the things they know they need to do.

Let Cultural Architects Emerge

‘Culture is what happens when the leader isn’t in the room, which is of course most of the time.’

Group conformity within organisations is powerful. You often do things because you see your peers doing them. Due to this Cultural Architects can have a strong influence on the culture within your organisation.

‘Cultural architects are people who are able to change the mindset of others. They are able to break barriers, they have visions. They are self-confident and able to transfer self-confidence to other players. At least three, and not more than five, such figures in a squad are needed by a coach to extend the “shared mental model” that a team needs for success.’

Barcelona Way Leadershhip

In the example of Barcelona football club, these are the dressing room leaders. These Cultural Architects emerge often through their technical or social skills. Leaders cannot select these Cultural Architects they should create the conditions for them to emerge. Once they emerge continue to reinforce their role within the organisation.

‘The best leaders make it clear what they stand for and constantly reinforce that with what they do and what they choose not to do.’

Great individuals don't automatically make great teams

Research shows hiring the ten smartest people you can find won't automatically make a great team. So what is the secret sauce?

Research has also shown that groups with clear "team norms"outperform the rest. A clear understanding of "what's acceptable around here" and open discussion when team norms are broken. An excellent example of this is the concept of "Teamship" by Clive Woodward:

"Teamship is a set of winning behaviours, rules or principles created and agreed to by every member of the team or organisation and it is a powerful way to get your teams to write their own set of standards that everyone has to buy into and accept. Without being too dramatic, before I put anything in place with the team I would want them to discuss it first without me in the room. Let’s take something simple like time. I didn’t want to keep discussing time with the England Rugby team so I got them to discuss what it meant to them. They came back with a concept that they called Lombardi Time – after the famous American football coach Vince Lombardi. Lombardi time was 10 mins early. So if I called a meeting at 9am the players all agreed that they would be there 10 mins early ready to start."

Group norms are the answer to improving a team’s performance. You have to manage the how of teams, not the who.


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