Success comes in midfield

I do not even know much about football, but I can also see that a team’s success stands or falls with the quality of the midfield. The midfield provides an overview, sees where there is room, uses that space to make the game run as optimally as possible and is the continuous connection between attack and defense. The midfield ensures that attack and defense can function as a team.

It’s the same in the organization.

Historically, the civil society in the organization – operational leaders, management and professionals in the staff – has mainly had the task of making the organization as effective as possible to make … it’s still important, but not enough anymore. Since the beginning of this century, we know this efficiency is becoming increasingly important. In recent years, we have also noticed that devising plans in advance and wanting to implement them using strict management and control is anything but a guarantee of success. The world is constantly changing due to digitalization. It is necessary for organizations to change faster and more flexibly and respond more quickly to movements in the market.

For this, the organization’s midfield must be further professionalised – by securing six roles:

  • Role 1 – Strategist

This is the role that actually takes shape in all organizations – provided, of course, that there is a strategy. In practice, I see many organizations that have no real strategy. In these organizations, annual goals are formulated, which the organization is aimed at. But there is no underlying perennial goal or vision that provides guidance in the event of unexpected events.

One could see it in the football metaphor as a task ‘All balls must go to Ronaldo’† Makes sense, because if you can get the ball to Ronaldo, you have a good chance of being scored. But what if Ronaldo drops out in the first half and has to leave the field …? The command ‘all balls to Ronaldo’ no longer makes sense. If the players adhere to this instruction, all balls are played across the line.

  • Role 2 – The information provider

The second role of civil society is the bottom-up counterpart and is about raising information that is important to the management of the organization and making better choices.

There are basically two types of information here:

  1. Information on current progress and state of affairs in executing the strategy. It’s about progress or management information.
  2. Information from the organization and the market about changes or disturbances in the market.
  • Role 3 – (work) culture builder

The third role is again a role that runs top-down through civil society: the core values ​​of the organization must be translated into a practical system of do’s and don’ts within which cooperation can take place. And thus civil society largely determines how the cooperation takes place.

  • Role 4 – Reality Checker

In general, the people sitting at the board table have been away from the operational field for a while. And that means the picture directors in general have come from how the organization (or similar industry companies) functioned when the directors themselves were still in operation. The fourth role of civil society is to link images to the reality of the organization and the market.

An example of the distance between the driver and reality today is what I now call a ‘John de Molletje’. John de Mol did an interview in the online program Boos about cross-border behavior in the program The Voice of Holland. Cool! John de Mol’s actions quickly turned against him. De Mol kept explaining that the assaults had not come to his knowledge and if there were assaults, the ladies had to report. There really were counters enough. And procedures. And confidential. He could not do anything until there were reports.

A story and approach that would have been received five years earlier if ‘they have arranged it well there, they are really aware of a safe working climate’† But the world has changed a lot in a short time with all the #metoo scandals at this point.

The role of a well-functioning civil society is to make visible and tangible to the board the picture of the changed reality inside and outside the organization.

  • Role 5 – Process Innovators

The next role of civil society is to ensure (and guarantee) that the organization is constantly evolving. It is not a question of WHAT the organization wants to achieve – the strategic course and the goal are determined by the board – but there are always new opportunities in HOW that goal is achieved. Technological development and development of the team provides new opportunities to work faster and smarter. Civil society explores these opportunities, tests them, and gains experience and best practices to improve in other parts of the organization.

  • Role 6 – The Strategy Challenger

The last role of civil society is the role in which decision-making on strategic issues is made as sharp as possible – the strategy challenger. In this role, civil society helps the board gain insight into all the considerations and arguments for making the best possible decision.

This role is not about being ‘courageous’ – or about an alternative strategy that is better in the eyes of the midfield. The point is to think along with the board and uncover all the pros and cons. Challenging the strategic choices of the midfield prevents tunnel vision when it comes to allocating people and resources and the much-needed management attention.

More insight and research is needed – and you can help with that

Merijn Zomer – a graduate student at the University of Utrecht – examines the roles of civil society. Please participate in his research. See note.

Merijn’s study on the roles of civil society is available here: It’s a long study; rain for 30 minutes. I make an e-book available to anyone who completes the survey – via the last question – where the necessity and roles are elaborated. In addition, I have included three specific tips for each role, allowing you to further develop your own effectiveness.

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