Big data and Water Carriers 


In business it’s all about the numbers. Analysing the huge amount of data businesses are now able to collect is being used to provide fresh insights into performance. But an obsession with the numbers might lead managers to miss something that the more experience  manager might previously have picked up on through intuition. 

In football and other team sports we have seen the idea of big data being used to inform the clubs recruitment strategy, away of unearthing talent that might otherwise have been missed. Managers are now routinely provided with detailed performance information, they know which strikers have the best shots to goals ratio, who has the most assists, who makes the most tackles who makes the most successfully completed passes who covers most ground. And this info can be broken down in all sorts  of ways, such as performance against minutes on the pitch.  

This focus on the numbers might lead a manager to bench or transfer those who don’t have impressive individual performance data. But wining teams are not simply made up of individuals with standout performance figures. There is an important statistic missing the fact that the team performs better when a certain individual plays and below par when they don’t. This is not the top scorer, the big tackler, the creative player who makes the killer pass. This is the individual who makes everyone play better, the one who brings others into the game, the one who knows how to get the best out of those along side them, the one who exerts a positive influence on the field, in training and in the dressing room. 


Sometimes team selection is based on factors other than talent and fitness. The manager of my local pub team tells a story about arguments over team selection. After a particularly acrimonious training session one of the awkward squad asked why a certain player continued to be selected when he was clearly past his best. The managers response wrong footed the questioner. The manager replied ,” he has a big car and we need players with cars to get others like you to matches”. 


At the other end of the sport a high profile international player know for his outrageous skills publicly dismissed one of his team mates as, “just a water carrier”. Meaning he did not give the team any creativity. In response the manager pointed out that when this individual played the team won. 

This is more than being a good team player some one who is prepared to do their fair share of the unattractive stuff and help out a colleague should the need arise, there is after all an expectation everyone will be a team player. This is an unofficial leader, not a challenger to the manager or a spokes person for the disaffected. This is not someone who wants to take charge but someone who is capable of inspiring others and gets their satisfaction out of seeing colleagues do well. 

Modern organisation that have streamlined their management structures, got rid of deputies and assistant managers,need  to recruit and retain water carriers
and not be blinded by the performance statistics. 

Blair McPherson former director, author and blogger

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