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What can Ted Lasso teach us about employee engagement?

Author’s Note: I am the official Ted Lasso promoter for Small Potatoes Communications. I take this unsanctioned role very seriously, so I must warn you: there are spoilers in this blog post. If you’d like to run over to Apple TV+ and watch the series, I’ll await your enthusiastic thank you. If you’ve seen it or are curious to see what all the fuss is about, read on.

Ted Lasso sets the stage for a powerful people-focused culture.

“For me, success is not about the wins and losses. It is about helping these young fellas be the best versions of themselves on and off the field. And it ain’t always easy…but neither is growing up without someone believing in you.”

And as Lasso’s kindness, optimism and sincerity permeate the club, the AFC Richmond Greyhounds begin to believe. The best storyline that highlights this transformation as it relates to culture and employee engagement is the personal growth of one of the team’s front-line support staff.

Background: Nathan “Nate the Great” Shelley is the club’s kit man. He’s bullied and beleaguered, but he still maintains a passion for the team.

So, what can Ted Lasso teach us about employee engagement?

Lasso shows interest

In their very first meeting, Shelley hurries over to scold the new manager as he admires the pitch. When he realizes that he’s been yelling at a very important person, Shelley cowers and apologizes, but continues to protect the grass.

Then, a small moment, something seemingly simple, but very jarring for Shelley: Lasso asks his name.

Lasso: Hey, what’s your name, by the way?

Shelley, shaking his head: Me? No one ever asks my name.

Lasso, nodding: Oh…

Lasso stands silently, looking expectedly at Shelley.

Lasso: Well, I mean whenever you’re ready!

Shelley: Oh! It’s Nathan.

Lasso levels the playing field by expressing genuine interest in Shelley, someone who everyone else ignores, as he begins the journey at this new organization.

Ted Engagement Lesson Learned (TELL): Every employee matters, so show your genuine interest.

Lasso gets leadership on board

Shelley is the victim of locker room bullying, but instead of stepping in as the “big boss,” Lasso takes another approach. He influences the team captain to intercede on Shelley’s behalf.

Roy Kent, played brilliantly by Brett Goldstein, is a foul-mouthed secret softie who recognizes that it’s up to him to put a stop to the abuse. Kent goes to great lengths to eliminate this toxic culture, starting with big, bold actions (headbutts aren’t just for the ball!) that transform into subtle shifts in behavior. As a result, the other team members start to change how they treat Shelley.

TELL: Lead by example and expect your leaders to follow suit.

Lasso asks for an opinion – and uses it

Out of Lasso, assistant Coach Beard and Shelley, Shelley clearly has the advantage on football knowledge – a fact that Lasso realizes and uses to the team’s advantage time and time again. From asking about different plays, to leaning on Shelley to learn about the other team members, Lasso values his expertise and builds his confidence.

Lasso: I’m officially on the prowl for any new ideas, you hear? [Shelley makes an audible noise] You got something Nate?

Shelley: …You know what, it's not even very good. It's probably really bad. It's embarrassing even.

Lasso: Sorry, Nate, I have a real tricky time hearing folks that don’t believe in themselves, so I’m going to ask you real quick again. Do you think this idea will work?

Shelley, quietly: Yea, I do.

Lasso, yelling: WHOA! Why are you screaming at us, Nate?! We’re right here!!