Want to Grow your Business? Do Less


The blog speaks, Wall Street trembles! And maybe profit does matter after all…

Two weeks ago I discussed Uber’s forthcoming IPO: 

Early estimates of $120bn have been scaled back to $90bn. But that’s £70bn – or more than 15 times the value of Marks and Spencer’s which, despite its recent problems, still made a significant profit in its last six months’ trading. 

But now Uber says it ‘may not achieve profitability.’ The company says that annual sales rose to $11.2bn and losses narrowed to $3bn. But, it warned, it expects operating expenses to “increase significantly.” 

In the event, even that lower estimate was reduced. With Uber drivers going on strike a few days before the IPO the company was initially valued at $82bn – only for the shares to fall 7% on the opening day. They have subsequently fallen even further – although that might have rather more to do with the sudden re-escalation of the US/China trade dispute than a blog written in Harrogate…

These are turbulent times, both in the UK and the wider world. Yet these are the times in which we have to build our businesses – but at the same time, keep our work/life balance well and truly balanced. 

One man who has unquestionably built a successful business is Jack Ma, the co-founder of China’s Alibaba group and estimated to be worth $40bn. 

Like many successful entrepreneurs, Jack Ma seems to have been unemployable: he was rejected by the police and was the only one of 24 applicants to be turned down by KFC. So he started his own business…

That’s great – but recently Jack Ma has been espousing the benefits of what’s termed ‘996.’ If you haven’t heard of it, 996 is simple – it’s China’s culture of working from 9am to 9pm, six days a week

“If you want to build a great company,” he says, “You have to work very hard. You have to suffer terrible things before you become a hero.” It is, apparently, a ‘blessing’ for his staff to work 72 hours a week. And he’s not alone: excessive working hours are also championed by Elon Musk of Tesla. 

You won’t be surprised to hear that they’re not championed by Ed Reid of TAB UK. Working 72 hours a week can never be a ‘blessing’ for you, your family or your staff. Throwing hours at a problem is almost never the way to solve it. Thinking ‘if I just spend more time…’ is nearly always one of the biggest mistakes an entrepreneur can make. 

Rather than Jack Ma, I prefer to look at a different example. Oscar Pierre set up a small shopping service in Barcelona in 2015. Now the company, Glovo, operates in 124 cities, employs 1,000 staff and has 1.5m shoppers. A shopping service was hardly a ground-breaking idea, even in 2015 – but by anyone’s standards that is a highly impressive growth rate. How has Oscar done it? Simple: as you’ll see in this short clip, he’s a firm believer in delegating. 

In fact, Oscar believes in delegating everything. As he says right at the start of the clip, “Make sure you walk out of all the meetings without anything assigned to you.” 

He makes a great point. If you don’t delegate you end up with such a long list of tasks and to-do’s that you become what he describes as ‘the bottleneck of your company.’ Rather than speeding things up, by taking on too much you slow things down. 

Now he says, he does the things which only a CEO can do. Everything else is done more effectively and more efficiently, while he has time to think about medium and long term strategies. The absolute opposite of ‘throwing hours at the problem.’ 

As you’ll all know, that exactly mirrors the TAB philosophy – and it’s put Oscar Pierre on Forbes’ list of 30 under 30 for Europe. 

So how do I measure up? Apart from being just a tad over 30…

With a team of six at head office it would be impossible for me to delegate everything except the ‘only I can do that’ stuff. Clearly, the boss has to be seen to be working – but I do make sure that the ‘only Ed’ stuff is right at the top of my list. And as the team grows, so I will steadily delegate more and more. 

Speaking of which, the team is growing. We’re increasing our numbers from six to eight, with one of the new people handling our every-increasing admin. Part of defining the role was to say to everyone ‘what things are you doing that aren’t core to your role, and can you delegate them?’ That effectively wrote the job description: he or she can look forward to an interesting and varied workload…

When you’re starting out, delegation is hard. You can almost certainly do whatever-it-is-you’re-delegating better and quicker yourself. But you have to let go: you have to give your team the chance to grow and – as Oscar Pierre says – ultimately your job is to do the things that only the CEO can do. 

In the long term you’ll do more by doing less. Delegation is an absolutely essential part of building your business… 

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The Importance of Cyber-Security for Your Business


The strength of TAB UK: Defence and Attack

Good morning – and welcome to 2019. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, that you have returned to work refreshed, re-focused and reinvigorated and, if it is not too late, a very Happy New Year to anyone I’ve not yet spoken to.

I’m writing this on Thursday, or – as it almost certainly should be labelled – Black Thursday. Ford are planning to slash thousands of jobs, Jaguar Land-Rover are going to make 5,000 people redundant and – in the least surprising headline of the year – Debenhams and M&S have reported poor trading figures for Christmas. The high street, apparently, had its ‘worst Christmas for a decade.’

In search of a rather more uplifting message to start the year, let’s leave the UK and head off to sunnier climes. Specifically, to Las Vegas which this week is hosting CES2019. CES stands for Consumer Electronics Show and this year (as it always does) it features some astonishing products: the Breadbot (a fresh loaf of bread every six minutes), the Foldimate (anyone with teenage children should simply watch the video and place an order) and a ‘smart toilet’ that talks to you.

Given that the smart toilet talks to you via the Alexa app and Alexa does have a previous reputation for broadcasting your conversations to your friends, I think we might pass on that one…

But much as I love fresh bread and the idea of my boys’ clothes being folded automatically, it is a rather more serious tech development that I’d like to talk about this morning.

The importance of a cyber-defence

A perennial theme of this blog has been the pace of technological developments. In 2019 they look set to go at an even faster pace – and while freshly baked bread and freshly pressed clothes might be something to look forward to, there are some rather more serious developments on the horizon…

One of the things writing and researching the blog has increasingly given me is an interest in tech and trends – and I’m delighted that former LastMinute CEO Helen Webb will be talking about ‘megatrends’ at our TAB Conference in May. So over Christmas – at least when Maison Reid was finally cleaned up after our ever-expanding Christmas Eve party – I read a lot of articles more or less entitled ‘Predictions for 2019.’

There was one prediction that struck me very forcibly – that 2019 could be the year when a piece of malware or ransomware takes down a FT-SE100 company.

Two years ago we were all worrying about the NotPetya ransomware attack, which caused millions of pounds worth of damage to countries and companies around the world. Two years on and you can be sure that the viruses, ransomware and the AI behind them are more sophisticated and more dangerous. So much so that security firm Gemalto made this prediction: that ‘an AI orchestrated attack will take down a FT-SE 100 company.’ This will apparently see a new generation of malware infect an organisation’s systems, gather information (presumably on customers, bank accounts and products) and then let loose a series of attacks that will ‘take down the company from the inside out.’

How will companies counter these AI attacks? With AI of their own. We are heading towards a world where it will not be man vs. machine, but machine vs. machine.

…Which, of course, is fine if you are a FT-SE100 companies with a ‘defence’ budget of millions. But no-one sitting around a TAB boardroom table is the boss of a FT-SE100 company. We are owners and directors of SMEs acutely conscious that if it can happen to the big boys, it can happen to us.

“Come with me if you want to live!”

That’s one of the reasons I see 2019 as a year when TAB UK will be more important than ever. Increasingly the problems brought to the TAB table will be about technology and the threats we might face: that they’ll be about defending your business as much as they’ll be about developing your business.

Fortunately TAB gives you the chance to learn from not only the six or seven other people around your table, it also gives you the chance to learn from every member in the UK. Rest assured that any advice and guidance on protecting our businesses will be swiftly and widely disseminated.

Right now it is difficult not to read the news and be depressed: the Brexit shambles, the continuing US/China trade war and – most crucially – no transfer budget at St James’ Park…

And yet I have never been more optimistic about a coming year. As I wrote in December, I am privileged to work with some hugely talented, hard-working and dedicated people. Working together through TAB, I am certain that we’ll all have a year to remember…


By Ed Reid, TAB UK Managing Director

Read more of Ed’s Blogs here:

Your Goals for 2019

How to Manage a Millennial

The Importance of Brand Perception

Brave new world? Or Lonely Planet?


We’ve all been there at some stage in our business careers. You’re called to a meeting. Attendance is crucial. A three-line whip. Apparently the very survival of the company is at stake.

You settle in. The sales director/MD/new owner drones on for an hour. You retain the will to live – but only just. “Well,” someone says as you emerge back into the sunlight. “There’s an hour of my life I won’t see again. Why didn’t he just give us the notes?”

“Too right,” you say, as you both wonder where the bar is…

I felt much the same way yesterday as I listened to the Budget. Why didn’t you just give us the notes, Phil? We could have read them on our iPads as we ate breakfast. All that time and expense saved. Not to mention the acres of newsprint and the trees…

Only three things jumped out at me from the Budget speech. First and foremost, stamp duty. Good. A sensible move: there are few better investments in life than buying your first home.

Secondly, one of the numbers – or as the Chancellor put it, “an economic-y bit.” Specifically, it was this sentence: “Annual borrowing will be £49bn this year – £8.4bn lower than forecast in March.” He announced it as good news: I found it slightly alarming. That forecast in March was made by the Office for Budget Responsibility – presumably featuring a few brains on hefty salaries. And yet in just eight months they were 15% out with their forecast? I know plenty of TAB members who’d consider that a completely unacceptable performance from the proverbial back of an envelope.

Lastly, another phrase: “Britain is at the forefront of the technological revolution.” Cue a few raised eyebrows in Silicon Valley and China – but he did at least follow it with the £84m commitment to recruit more computer science teachers.

A week or so previously I’d been chatting to the parents of one of Dan’s classmates. We’d been discussing the world of work our children would go into – and then I’d come home to stumble across a quote from Professor Steve Furber of the University of Manchester – and one of the early pioneers of the Acorn Computer. He put it very simply: “The rate at which technology is transforming the workplace means that we live in a world where many primary schoolchildren will work in technology based roles that do not yet exist, so it is essential that [they] can apply digital skills with confidence.”

So ‘technological revolution’ and ‘Brave New World’ are right. But the changing face of the workplace doesn’t just present a problem for our children. It will also present a problem for us as employers – and our employees.

It’s a well-worn stat now: by the middle of the next decade millennials – those who became adults around the turn of the century – will make up 75% of the workforce. And we all know what millennials want: they want to work flexibly, have the chance to work from home, avoid the 9-to-5 commute and have a better work/life balance.

So as employers, life becomes very simple: all we have to do is give our staff what they want – and then sit back and watch productivity shoot up: after all, it’s a well-documented fact that people who work flexibly are more productive and take less time off for sickness.

But is it that simple? Or are there some long-term trends that should concern us?

People are likely to find the traditional office environment changing rapidly in the next few years. Up to two-thirds of companies are planning to implement hot-desking and shared workspaces by 2020. The trend has started in the Far East but will quickly spread to the West as multinationals and large companies realise the savings they can make – despite evidence that employees do not like the practice.

By 2025 many companies will be holding virtual reality meetings – meaning that physical meetings will become a thing of the past and there will be even less need to travel into an office.

Even if you do go into the office, by 2030 it is likely that you will be working with an AI office assistant – a robot that will book travel, arrange virtual meetings and complete other administrative tasks. (Let’s hope science can tell the difference between milk chocolate and plain chocolate digestives…)

You might say that none of the above matters – that if remote workers are so productive they’re changes we should welcome. I’m not so sure: I think the very low-tech office water cooler still has a crucial role to play.

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I know half a dozen people who work on their own, more or less isolated from real human contact as they write, design or illustrate. What do at least three of them describe as their main problem? Not finding clients, not delivering their work and not getting paid. Their main problem is loneliness.

And with many people warning that the UK is facing an epidemic of loneliness, with all its attendant health and social care costs, adding a generation of work-at-home millennials may not be a sensible long-term idea.

So the ever-faster pace of change is going to bring challenges for both employers and their employees. Employers will need to keep an increasingly distant workforce engaged and motivated. Millennials may find that their desire to work flexibly is readily seized on by their employers – and translates not into working flexibly but into working alone, with meetings conducted by virtual reality and sales figures and reports handed over to the AI assistant. In the future, it may not be just the elderly that are lonely…

In Praise of Praise


I’ve written previously about Millennials, Baby Boomers and all the other generational labels that we pretend we know. So far, though, I’ve neglected the ‘Snowflake Generation.’

‘Snowflake,’ for those of you that don’t know, is a less-than-complimentary term applied to the young adults of the 2010s: it probably comes from the 1999 film Fight Club and its famous line: ‘We are not special. We are not beautiful and unique snowflakes.’

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It’s now come to be applied to a generation that supposedly were told they were special; children that were given an over-inflated sense of their own worth and – as a consequence – are now far too easily offended.

But now these easily-offended snowflakes are entering the workplace. So what are we as employers and business owners going to do when these ‘snowflakes’ increasingly make up the workforce? Are we going to have to constantly shower them with praise, irrespective of how well they’re performing?

Maybe the question is academic though – because far too many bosses and managers seem to have a problem with giving their teams any praise.

Why is that? Any number of research studies show that praise and positive recognition in the workplace can be hugely motivating – and not just for the person on the receiving end of it. Employee of the Month is too easily dismissed as a cliché: that’s wrong, it works.

We don’t really need a research study, do we? Our own commons sense tells us that praise works. Your wife only has to say, “Oh, darling, that was wonderful…” And you’ll be far more likely to make her another slice of toast.

One of the worst things a manager can do is reward hard work and achievement with silence. Yet only one in four American workers are confident that if they do good work they’ll be praised for it. Far too often the culture seems to be, “No news is good news” or – as they say in Germany – “Nicht gescholten ist lob genug.” (No scolding is praise enough.)

But we all know that’s nonsense. So why do people struggle to give praise? Maybe it starts with a false belief that really good managers are the tough ones who don’t hold back when it comes to telling people what’s wrong. Maybe some managers believe that giving praise will encourage staff to take it easy and rest on their laurels. Some might be consciously or unconsciously copying their own previous bosses: some managers might even see giving praise as a sign of weakness.

Whatever the reason the number of managers who don’t give any positive feedback is frighteningly high – 37% according to a recent survey in the Harvard Business Review. And you can probably add a few percentage points more: there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that what a manager sees as ‘straightforward, honest feedback’ is all too often perceived as criticism.

I think that’s a tragedy. There’s no better way to motivate people than by giving praise and it always works. There cannot be a more effective phrase in a manager’s vocabulary than, “You did a great job. Thank you.”

Not for the first time, I’m struck by the parallel between managing a team and being a parent. I’ve always tried to be honest with my boys: if they’ve done brilliantly, I’ll shower them with praise. If they could have done better, I’ll try to tactfully point it out – and suggest a way they could improve. I’ve never been a believer in praising everything they do – otherwise praise becomes meaningless – and the same is true in the workplace. But if someone has done a great job, tell them.

It will be the best investment of time and no money you ever make.

And now I must turn my attention to my own beautiful, unique snowflakes. If you can call someone who thinks his bedroom floor should be covered in underpants and needs a three course meal two hours before a three course meal a ‘snowflake…’

The Road from Newport Pagnell


Over the last seven years it has been my privilege to listen to some outstanding business advice from the members of TAB York. It’s been advice which has transformed businesses [and] transformed lives.

Those were words I used in my final paragraph last week. Some of you may have detected a valedictory tone.

Well, it’s not farewell. It is, however, time for a change.

Seven years ago I ‘pushed my breakfast round my plate in a desolate motorway service station’ and decided that enough was enough. I walked out of Newport Pagnell services determined to start my own business. In December 2009 TAB York was born and the journey since then has been by far the most rewarding of my business life.

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But, you come to a fork in the road: you have a choice to make and that choice determines your future direction.

In 2015 Paul Dickinson and Jo Clarkson offered me the chance to take over TAB UK – to become the franchise holder for the whole of the United Kingdom.

I thought about it long and hard. It was a significant financial commitment and it meant giving up the regular contact with the majority of my Board members. But that chance – and the challenge – had been offered to me. And – like so many TAB members up and down the country – I didn’t want to think “what if…”

I talked it over with Dav – several times – and thought about little else as I drove around North Yorkshire. And then I committed myself.

So I’m delighted to announce that from today I will no longer be responsible for TAB York: I will be responsible for TAB UK. It will be a challenge, but it’s also a huge opportunity for me. I’ll be going into business with an old friend, Mags Fuller, who’ll be my brilliant co-director and co-shareholder. And right now I’d like to place my thanks on record for all the help Mags has given me in getting the deal over the line, and to Paul and Jo for the incredible work they’ve done from the start.

So I’m looking forward to working with her, with all the franchisees and with Suzanne, Rena, Emma, Nathan and Nick – the outstanding team at TAB UK’s Harrogate head office.

Will I have regrets about giving up TAB York? Yes, of course I will. I’m no longer going to have the same monthly contact with several of my TAB York board members, all of whom have been a huge pleasure to work with and who have contributed to my life. As I said last week and repeated in the opening paragraph, it has been a privilege to work with them.

I will still be running one board, with Paul taking over the Board I’m relinquishing. Now, I’ll also be chairing our internal boards of the 28 TAB franchisees: that will see me leave Yorkshire for London and the North West once a month. Breakfast at Newport Pagnell? Maybe once, to reflect on how far I’ve come and how much TAB has given me.

And the blog? EdReidYork? Rest assured that it will continue: the tone and the content may be slightly different, but writing these words every week has been a central part of the last seven years: it’s given me a chance to pause and reflect and – in doing some of the research – I’ve learnt a lot. And the feedback has been consistently brilliant: intelligent, insightful and supportive.

So a chapter has ended – but a new, and very exciting one, is about to start. Let me finish for this week by saying thank you: firstly to the members of TAB York, who have simply been outstanding over the past seven years. And secondly to Dav and our boys for their support and encouragement as I take the next, exciting step in my career.

Rather more prosaically one of the next steps I take will be on to the ski slopes in Morzine. The blog will be on holiday next week as I try to keep up with Dan and Rory and will return on Friday March 3rd., tanned, relaxed and hopefully not aching too much!

Thoughts from a Mile High


As you read this I’m in Denver: the end of August, and time once again for the annual Alternative Board conference.

This year there are more of us than ever from the UK, and we’re joined by TAB colleagues from Germany, Austria, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Australia and New Zealand, as well as Canada and the US. It feels truly international and I’m absolutely loving it.

I won’t say the conference is the highlight of my year – just in case my wife pops Ed Reid York into Google – but when I sit down in November to plan the following year the last week in August is at the front of my thoughts. I simply love mixing with colleagues from other countries and the exchange of ideas.

In many ways it takes me back to my days at Northumbria University, when I was Chairman of the sexily-named ‘Polyglot,’ the society for foreign language students. These days Polyglot has matured into ‘EU Students at Northumbria:’ it’s clearly sobered up since the days when my definition of ‘international collaboration’ relied heavily on Sangria…

Not that alcohol won’t make a fleeting appearance in Denver. So far the ‘Brit evening’ has featured Pimms, gins, an Irish pub, cocktails, real ale and bowler hats. Despite the best efforts of US counter-intelligence our plans for this week remain a closely guarded secret…

A lot of my American colleagues are old friends now. I first went to Denver in 2009. At the time Dan was seven and Rory four. So mixed in with the views on Brexit – and the unappetising choice between Trump and Clinton – there’ll be a fair amount of catching up with family news as well. And the issues are always the same…

Yep, whether you’re in Denver or Dringhouses, Colorado or Clifton Moor one of your children is having problems at school: your daughter is refusing to eat her vegetables and your teenage son has just come home two hours after he promised to be home.

And isn’t that exactly the same with business?

The conference in Denver will bring TAB franchisees from eight or nine countries together: without exception, their members will have the same problems.

Yes, local legislation may alter the fine detail, but the wider principles – and the worries – are the same the world over.

• How do I achieve what I’m capable of achieving?
• How do I stay in control of the business and make sure the business doesn’t control me?
• And how do I keep my work/life balance truly balanced?

And so on… The more time I spend working with entrepreneurs the more the common threads emerge – wherever the entrepreneur is based. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose needs a business equivalent.

I’ll be back in the UK after the Bank Holiday and next week’s post will be dated September. Is that a sign of me getting older? This year seems to have flown past. Then again I’ve a friend who’s now into his eighties. “Make the most of it, Ed,” he always says to me. “By the time you’re my age you’re having breakfast every half hour.”

I certainly do intend to ‘make the most of it’ – starting with the last four months of 2016. In many ways the September to December period is the most important part of the year. It’s the four months that’ll see you hit your targets for the full year, and it’s the time to lay all the groundwork for the following year – which I’m absolutely certain will be helped by the insights, wisdom and experience of my TAB colleagues from around the world.

Have a great bank holiday weekend.

Lessons I Learned from my First Job


That’s that then. Whit’s over, the kids are safely back at school.

For a few weeks. And then the long summer holiday stretches in front of us.

Maybe it’s time to send your offspring out to work…

Dan, my eldest son, has just turned 14: I’ve been thinking about his first job for a while – ever since I was at York races in May.

I always like going to the races – especially in May. And yes, I know real men go to Wetherby in February, but May meetings hold a special place in my heart.

They remind me of my first job. That was at Chester races – and the Roodee is synonymous with May.

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Aged 18 I was a bar porter. Nattily dressed in a green boiler suit my job description was simple: skivvy for anyone and everyone. The general perception was that I wouldn’t be up to it – “talks too posh” was one of the politer comments – but I must have shown some promise as I was ‘promoted’ to the Grand National meeting the following year. And it was a great first job: it taught me about real life, it taught me that you’ll sometimes need to prove people wrong – and gave an early boost to my cash flow. Being there first thing in the morning and hearing all the gossip from the stable lads was invaluable!

So what, I wondered, did other members of TAB York learn from their first job?

Here’s Suzanne Burnett of Castle Employment, someone else who learned valuable lessons in the catering industry:

My first job – aged 15 – was at the Tramway Café in Scarborough. I helped to make the food and clear the tables. It was my first time working with older people who weren’t teachers, relatives or friends of my parents. And it taught me I could make friends with people outside my own age bracket and from different backgrounds. I also learned that not everyone has the same work – or life – ethic. I learned that customers aren’t always right but they’re still customers – and I learned that money gives you independence and freedom. I also learned that I was strong-willed and didn’t necessarily like to conform: I wonder if that was the start of my entrepreneurial spirit…

But not everyone had their first taste of the workplace serving up a full English…

Richard Shaw of Ellis Patents had just turned down a place at Nottingham University:

I had no idea what to do. Eventually my father insisted I did something productive and I went to work in the flattening press department of our family business. It was a dirty, noisy and dangerous place to work – and I remember buying a new pair of overalls every fortnight! I was there for a year and it changed my life. The works manager saw my aptitude for engineering and – despite my initial protests – I ended up on an engineering course at Leeds Poly. The main thing I learned about was stress. At the beginning of each month I was given a ‘panic list:’ orders that simply had to be out by the last Friday. And in the last week of the month I was given the ‘panic, panic list.’ I learned – and I’ve never forgotten – that controlling the workflow is crucial to the success of any business.

Finally, we’re ‘back of house’ again. Chris Wilson of Tailor Made Sales started his working life in a Beefeater Steak House.

It gave me a ‘taste’ for the hospitality industry, seeing the stresses of a busy Saturday night service. I was washing up: being prepared for the onslaught of dirty crockery was an important lesson. Above all, it taught me how quickly your own service can impact on how others will treat you. Make a cracking cup of tea for the chef and you got pans that weren’t burned and even the odd well-cooked sirloin. Include the waitresses in your brew-up and they’d scrape the plates clean before they got to me – and maybe even give me a share of their tips.

Three different people, three different jobs – but in many ways, very similar lessons. Being prepared, seeing things from other people’s perspective, working with a team and – as Suzanne suggests – the beginning of that feeling we all know. I want to be the one in control…

Don’t discourage your children when they come to you and say they want a part-time job. Don’t worry that it’ll impact adversely on their school work. It’s part of them growing up and it’s part of you letting go. And it may just be a key part of their eventual success…

Why You Should Hire a Scrum Half


“Man on!!”

“Pick him up!!”

…And of course, Tony Adams marshalling the Arsenal back four of the late eighties, arm aloft and yelling “Out! Out!” like a fervent Brexiteer.

Yes, communication in football has always been a simple affair. But still, it appears, too complicated for today’s young players. You may have seen this story in the papers last week: Southampton boss Ronald Koeman is so dismayed by the amount of time his young team spend with their headphones on and/or playing on their mobiles that he’s sending them back to the classroom – to learn how to talk to each other.

So much for football: let me switch sports. When I read that article about football I realised how much time we spend with my son’s U14 rugby team bellowing one basic instruction: “talk to each other.” It’s simple: the more they communicate, the better they play.

I spent most of my short rugby career on the wing: but I was occasionally switched from that splendid isolation and thrown right into the thick of it. “Need you to play scrum half today, Ed.”

The scrum half’s job is simple: he’s the communicator, the instigator. You see it in nearly all school teams: the chirpy little livewire with no. 9 on his back.

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…And of course thinking about communication in sport set me off thinking about business. I read a great blog post recently from one of TAB York’s members, looking at the different roles and personalities within successful teams. The post referenced the work of British management theorist Meredith Belbin and looked at the nine different roles he identified within teams.

Was ‘scrum half’ one of them? No, not quite. Probably the closest role that Belbin identifies is the ‘Shaper’ – someone who ‘provides the necessary drive to ensure that the team keeps moving and doesn’t lose focus or momentum.’ And you don’t need to watch many games of American football to realise that’s an exact description of the quarterback’s role.

So does your business need a scrum half/quarterback? Or in business terms a ‘shaper?’ Someone whose strengths – according to Belbin – are that they’re challenging and dynamic and have the drive and courage to overcome obstacles.

In my experience what every business – and/or team within that business – really does need is someone who’s enthusiastic, who’s focused on the objectives and, above all, who communicates well.

That might well be the owner of the business – but it doesn’t have to be. I’ve seen plenty of successful businesses where it was the second-in-command, or simply one of the team members.

There’s another strand to good communication that is perennially important in business. Fortunately it’s one that Ronald Koeman doesn’t need to worry about. Footballers may occasionally telegraph a pass: there’s no evidence yet of them needing to e-mail each other.

But how many times have you received an e-mail from someone – especially one pitching their services – and thought, ‘you must be joking. If you can’t even write a coherent e-mail, how can you possibly expect me to do business with you?’

There have been plenty of times when I’ve quoted from Rework on this blog. A sentence that always stays with me from that excellent little book is this one:

If you’re trying to decide among a few people to fill a position, hire the best writer. That’s because being a good writer is about more than just writing. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking.

Substitute the word ‘communicator’ for ‘writer’ and that exactly summarises my thinking. Communication is more important than ever in business – and good communicators will increasingly be at a premium. It’s not just footballers who are growing up with an addiction to headphones, mobiles and – as we saw last week – emojis.

So when a natural scrum half walks through your door – someone who’ll communicate your message inside and outside your business – tie him down to a long term contract.

Do you really need an office?


Why don’t you make a tube train your office? Or a treehouse? Or take the office off dry land altogether and turn your yacht into your office?

Don’t have a yacht yet? Maybe it’s because you’re stuck in a conventional office…

treehouse-office-belgium-1

Sometimes the purpose of this blog is to ask ‘why?’ Sometimes – in the words of Robert Kennedy – it’s to see things as they could be and ask ‘why not?’ To question the accepted business wisdom: something we’ll need to do more and more if we want to be successful.

So do you really need a conventional office? Or would you be better off in the tube train or a treehouse?

Let’s rewind to when you started in business. An office was essential. In fact it was well beyond essential: it was where you saw your boss, saw clients, worked with your colleagues and gathered round the mythical water cooler. But fast forward to 2013 and the Regus Global Economic Indicator of 26,000 business managers from 90 countries revealed that 48% of them are now working remotely for at least half their working week. And the percentage for 2015 will undoubtedly be higher.

Many start-ups are now doing very nicely without an office – as this story in the Guardian illustrates. And the more you think about it, the more getting rid of the office makes sense. I can easily come up with half a dozen reasons:

How much money would you save? Rent, business rates, office equipment, worrying about which chairs to buy…

Collaborative working is becoming easier and easier. I remember reading about 37 Signals a few years ago – before they became Basecamp. I think at the time they had 17 people spread over eight different countries. Increasingly companies want to work with the most talented people they can – and not limit the pool of talent to a 20 mile radius of a particular building.

The evidence is clear – people who work remotely are more productive. Here’s just one article from the Harvard Business Review that confirms it: the internet is awash with them.

Top people are increasingly looking for flexibility and quality of life: of course they want to build a business, or be part of a team that builds a business. But they want to be at Sports Day as well – not stuck in an office or driving round town looking for a parking space.

Get rid of the office and everyone saves time travelling. And lastly, there’s a new generation of people entering the workforce. They’ve been brought up with Skype, WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook. They don’t see sitting at a desk going through 200 emails as an indicator of success.

I’m increasingly wondering if the office has simply become symbolic for many of us. ‘I’ve got a business so I must have an office.’ Or is it somewhere to retreat to? Is the office the suit and tie equivalent of the garden shed?

As I said last week, we’re all in the results business, not the hours business. We’re not in the attendance business either. So I don’t see it as a problem if your team work remotely: they still need to produce results and not producing will quickly be apparent – wherever they’re working from.

Ten years ago the idea of being successful without having an office would have been laughable: ten years from now starting a business and immediately digging a hole in the cash flow with rent, rates and desks may seem equally ridiculous. So don’t be frightened to ask, ‘why not?’ – even if the question is ‘why not get rid of the office?’

Team Building? Or Team Busting?


I started drafting this post on Tuesday evening. Tomorrow morning the Ashes start. I’m absolutely certain that by the time you read this on Friday the match situation will be as follows:

England        500 all out

Australia      157-7

How can it be anything else? The England squad have been on a four day trip to Spain. They’ve been mountain-biking, played golf and met the new coach. The Aussies – seriously, what do they know – have warmed up for the cricket by… well, playing cricket.

There is, I suppose, the tiny possibility that it could go wrong. Sadly the ECB has a long history of pre-Ashes boot camps: they haven’t always gone according to the script…

2013/2014 Staffordshire. Kevin Pietersen described it as “a shambles” and the team lost the Ashes 5-0

2010/2011 Bavaria. Jimmy Anderson broke a rib and Graham Swann called it the “worst four days of my life.” But the team still won the series 3-1

2009 Flanders. Ravi Bopara lost his passport and Freddie Flintoff came off second best in a contest with the local beer. No matter: England won 2-1

So much for sport – in fact we’d better turn away from sport fairly quickly: right now hundreds of professional footballers are setting off on pre-season tours. Freddie’s problems will soon be eclipsed…

What about business? Team building exercises, bonding sessions and away days are endemic throughout the corporate world. I’ve spent a couple of days in a remarkably fine hotel and I’ve spent a couple of days in a tent – both in the belief that my team and I would ultimately perform better and the company’s bottom line would benefit.

indoor-team-building

But do team building exercises work? Do they really strengthen bonds and trust between colleagues and benefit the company?

A survey published in the Telegraph suggests that the answer is a resounding ‘no’ – that team building exercises leave people feeling awkward around colleagues and less than impressed by a company they feel has wasted time and money.

Instead of benefiting from events like bungee jumping or kart racing, the survey showed that employees simply wanted better, more open collaboration at work. And that ‘trust’ exercises – such as being blindfolded and led by colleagues – were derided as irrelevant and embarrassing.

“British companies are spending a huge amount of time and effort [and money] in building more effective teams,” said a Vodafone director. “The research confirms that people place more value on open, collaborative and flexible ways of working, rather than one-off exercises.”

So with those two days in the tent a – thankfully – distant memory, what do I think?

With the economy picking up team building will be back on the agenda: it seems to appear and disappear as the economy waxes and wanes. In my experience it’s one of the first things to go when the economy turns down. Ironically, that’s probably the time when getting the absolute maximum from your team is essential.

What works? Both Nestle and Diageo were committed to team building exercises and I’ve taken part in some fairly dramatic productions: but in my experience the ‘low-level’ team building, such as going out for a drink together or supporting a common charity, is just as effective as the ‘stage-managed’ events.

What I liked were specific events: if they were aimed at developing you as a leader they were fine. Ditto if they were developing the team. But when the messages were muddled the events always disappointed. “Well that was two days of your life you’re not going to get back,” as the politer participants put it…

If you’re thinking of organising an event for your team there are two more suggestions I’d make:

  • First of all, when the team come back, take action. Do not say, “Oh well, Paul, you’ve spent three days in the Brecon Beacons with the SAS, now could you just go back to normal?” If Paul’s learnt one thing in the Brecon Beacons it’s almost certainly that he wants a new ‘normal’ – so don’t disappoint him.
  • Secondly, make sure the basics are right back at the office. Remember the results of the Telegraph survey: what your team really value are open systems in the office that allow them to work effectively, not spend their time dealing with red tape and procedure.

Long before you go anywhere near a mountain you need the right atmosphere and culture at work. You need to make sure your team have the skills, training and tools they need to do the job, and a culture in which they can grow.

That’s down to you as leaders – and if there’s one thing I don’t worry about, it’s the quality of leadership round the TAB York boardroom tables. If only I could say the same about the Ashes…