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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!!

TELL: You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. Valuing your employees’ ideas builds their confidence, keeps them engaged and helps your company win.

Lasso provides a seat at the table – literally

Mid-season, club owner Rebecca Welton throws a charity gala to raise money for underprivileged children. Instead of worrying about his image or the optics around his plus one, Lasso invites Shelley to join him.

At the gala, Lasso engineers the seating chart so that the two most combative players must sit together with him and Shelley.

Kent, seeing he’s at the table with Tartt: I’m switching tables.

Lasso: No, no, no, no, no, come on back here. This is my doing. I Parent Trapped y’all...

You two knuckleheads have split our locker room in half. And when it comes to locker rooms, I like 'em just like my mother's bathing suits. I only wanna see 'em in one piece, you hear? So we're fixing this.

In an act of conflict resolution that has an impact on the entire team, Lasso shows his confidence in Shelley by having him right by his side.

TELL: Include your employees in important moments and get them in front of decision makers.

Lasso creates space to shine

Shelley, lacking in confidence but teeming with opinions, approaches Lasso with his thoughts on each player’s performance. His goal is to shed light on the gaps he is seeing in the locker room and on the field, but from the role of a kit man, it is a bold approach. Lasso reads and acknowledges that his thoughts are exactly what the team needs to hear before a big match.

But he doesn’t take credit for those ideas. He allows Shelley to deliver them in the locker room. What starts out as a cringeworthy round of trash talking ends with the team feeling energized and motivated to succeed. And when the team wins, it’s Shelley who gets the credit.

TELL: Show confidence in your employees and they will rise to the occasion.

Lasso recognizes the value of his team member – and rewards him

At the end of the season, a new kit man appears – causing Shelley to panic. But quickly, it is revealed that because of his value to the team, Shelley is getting promoted to the coaching staff. Cue the rousing celebration and presentation of a bright, shiny whistle!

TELL: If you value your people, reward your people.

For more doses of wholehearted joy, you should follow Ted Lasso on Twitter.


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