The Art Of Team Selection; How To Create A Balanced Team.

By Simon Hartley, Founder of Be World Class

I’ve just finished watching a weekend of international sport. One of the real challenges for international team coaches and managers is team selection. Of course, this challenge isn’t limited to those leading the world’s best sports teams. It is a demand that many sports coaches and business leaders face on a daily basis. So, what can we learn from watching international sports teams?

Let’s start by looking at some of the challenges faced by the British & Irish Lions rugby team. They have a 5 week, 10 game, tour of Australia. Warren Gatland and his coaching team have already recruited their squad of players and the team of support staff. In addition to the touring squad, they may also have a number of back-up players identified, in case members of the squad are injured during the 5 weeks away. However, in the build-up to each game, the coaching staff face an interesting challenge; to select the team that will take the field.

Businesses have similar demands. They recruit members of the organisation, in a similar way to the Lions creating a touring squad. However, many businesses will select teams for specific projects or assignments. Often within business, a great deal more thought goes into recruitment than it does to the selection of the project teams. Arguably, as with sport, the selection of the team will have a significant impact on its success.

So, how are teams selected?

Is it simply a case of finding the best player for each position and throwing them onto the field together? Whilst that may be the case with some teams, the very best in the world use a more comprehensive process. In many cases, the coach looks to create a balanced team. In this context, the word ‘balance’ doesn’t mean that there will always be equal distribution. It is better to think of balance in the same way that a chef would think of balancing the flavours in his dish. To do this, the chef won’t use the same quantities of each ingredient. Instead, the chef will skilfully blend the ingredients to ensure that the flavours complement each other perfectly.

Obviously, each team is made up of position specialists. In the ODI (One Day International) cricket match between England and New Zealand yesterday, the commentator said that England’s problems started in the selection room. He said that they had too many players who “do a bit of this and a bit of that”, and not enough who do one or two things exceptionally well. However, just filling the team with position specialists is not enough to create balance.

Many coaches will also look to ensure that there is a balance between experienced operators and those who are new to the team. There is real value in having both the experienced players, as well as those who have the fresh perspective that comes with naivety. England’s football team have seen the benefit that young ‘fearless’ faces bring. Some of the world’s best coaches also take time to ensure that the blend of experience and ‘new blood’ is interspersed throughout the team. This helps to avoid having pockets of inexperience. In a rugby team, this could mean that the coaching team will take time to assess the overall experience of the units within the team, such as the front row, back row, half-backs or back three.

If we look at our units, or sub-teams, do we have combinations that work well together and complement each other? Do we have personalities that can pull the various units or sub-teams together well? Do the team members make each other’s lives easier or more difficult?

A team also needs to ensure it is balanced in other ways. Leadership is a prime example. Experience and leadership don’t always go hand in hand. The experienced members are not always the best leaders, and visa versa. The coach needs to know how the players are likely to respond in various situations. Who is likely to step up and lead in adversity and how they will lead? Who will provide the direction? Who can change the strategy on the field, when necessary? Is the person who detects the need for a change in direction also the person who can best communicate it?

Creating a balanced team also means identifying possible imbalances. Do we have a balance between the dependable players and the risk takers? Do we have both calm heads, and those with ‘fire’? Is there a balance between the intuitive and instinctive players, and calculating or analytical players? Do we have a balance between the predictable and unpredictable, the creative and steady? What is the mix of personalities in the team? Do we have the balance that we need?

In addition to all of these considerations, a coach will also need to ensure that they select a team that can best meet the demands of the immediate challenge. In sport, there are always contextual factors. One of the most obvious is the opposition. However, there are also environmental factors such as the climate and conditions. The British & Irish Lions kicked off their tour in the heat and humidity of Hong Kong. They faced a Barbarians team that contained a host of world superstars who had only been together for a week or two. The game plan to face the Barbarians is likely to be different from the one employed against Australia in the first test. Which team is best equipped to execute the game plan?

The coach may also need to consider the likely scenarios that will occur within a game and select players that will tend to cope better. Of course, to select the “best team” a coach needs to understand the job that the team need to accomplish with absolute clarity; they need to know the “Two Lengths of The Pool“.  With a clear understanding of the job at hand, and the game plan required, selecting a team becomes much easier.

These are all considerations that Olympic gold medal winning coach, Chris Bartle, understands well. He’ll be sharing his insights into the art of team selection with the guests at our next Dinner with Be World Class event on 20th June in Leeds. He will describe how he goes about selecting the very best team for each event. If you’re interested in joining us, please email