Matt Johnson

an experienced leader in technology
[email protected]

17th May 2023

Ted Lasso can’t teach you team management

I’ve recently found myself engrossed in Ted Lasso, despite not being a fan of football. While the show has its humorous and endearing moments, it made me contemplate:

What Draws Me to Ted Lasso?

Personally, I am drawn to the theme of overcoming adversity. In the earlier episodes, I particularly enjoyed the portrayal of building a team and navigating challenges within it. However, I soon realized that Ted Lasso, both the show and the character, only scratch the surface of this topic, despite its relevance and significance in real-life situations.

The Relevance to Software Engineering

In my opinion, team-building is a transferable skill with inherent complexities that persist across different levels within a team. Thus, there are parallels between team management in the show and the field of software engineering, just as engineers have borrowed concepts from other industries, such as Kanban from car manufacturing.

Areas Where Ted Lasso Falls Short

  1. Asserting Authority: Ted often vacillates between asserting his managerial authority and relinquishing responsibility. This lack of consistency, except for being known as a nice guy who occasionally asserts authority, leads to an arbitrary tipping point for using authority. In reality, experienced leaders tend to possess a personal code of ethics that dictates when and how authority should be employed.
  2. Churn: The team composition remains largely unchanged throughout the seasons, with only a few alterations in personalities and a couple of departures or additions. However, anyone who has worked with around 26 individuals knows that there would typically be some degree of turnover over that period. People leave for various reasons, while new joiners might experience imposter syndrome, and existing team members may harbor concerns about being overshadowed by newcomers.
  3. Project Failures: Failures for the team in the show are portrayed as clear-cut: either they win or lose, get promoted or demoted in football leagues. In reality, the lines between success and failure can be more ambiguous. For example, a team may receive continued funding but not the additional funding they requested, or their latest product may receive mixed responses from the market despite board approval.
  4. Cult of Personality: Ted Lasso briefly touches on the concept of a new player with exceptional skills who garners adoration. However, the show only portrays the positive side of this dynamic. In reality, we often encounter situations where such individuals exclude or dismiss others, or form their own clique of yes-men.
  5. Hidden Agendas: In Season 1, the owner of the football club has a hidden agenda seeking revenge on her ex-husband by sabotaging his favorite team. However, once this dilemma is resolved, we rarely witness other instances of characters’ hidden plans. While not all agendas need to be overtly discussed, people naturally have motives that drive their behavior, even if seemingly benign. For instance, an engineer in a software engineering team may desire a promotion, higher pay, or more control, all of which subtly influence their actions.
  6. Nepotism: The show portrays a small instance of positive nepotism, where someone receives a role or authority based solely on their relationship with another person, irrespective of their skills or merit. However, we are not shown the more realistic outcome of such decisions: when the favored individual makes mistakes.

Ted’s Valuable Lessons

Of course, Ted Lasso is fictional, crafted by a team of writers, so it is important not to scrutinize the story excessively. Nonetheless, I believe there are glimpses of genuine wisdom in some of the lessons that Ted Lasso can teach us, including:

  1. Narcissistic Leaders: The character of Rupert Mannion serves as a recurring reminder of the toxicity inherent in leaders who appear friendly and warm but possess narcissistic traits that undermine others.
  2. The Overzealous Wunderkind: Characters like Nathan Shelley and Jamie Tartt exemplify individuals acknowledged for their individual talents but limited by the absence of a great team supporting them.
  3. Shared Context: Ted Lasso highlights the significance of shared context in team sports, but this concept is often underrated in software engineering teams. Shared context ensures that the entire team understands the objectives and the team’s current progress. When team members lack context or fail to grasp it sufficiently, the team can become fragmented as individuals build assumptions based on incomplete information.
  4. Being Personal: The show consistently emphasizes the importance of treating people as individuals, recognizing that everyone is on their own journey and dealing with personal challenges that may not be immediately evident. While it is easy to advocate for humility, honesty, and active listening, putting these principles into practice can be challenging.