The Barcelona Way


Last Autumn at Heathrow bookstore I was skimming through interesting books. I picked up a book to my hand which stated in golden letters The Barcelona Way – How to create a high-performance culture. Reading the back-cover of the book, you could understand that Barcelona at the title referred to a Football Club Barcelona, which has won 74 Spanish domestic trophies, 17 European trophies and 3 Worldwide trophies. In the sports industry there is no-one who could deny that they are hugely performing club. Surely a remarkable team, but I am not a football fan. Neither thought I that HR could learn anything from the sports industry. As such I was not naturally interested to read through the book. However, I said to myself that you should have curiosity to read different kinds of books. So, I bought the book, and after reading it, I can say that this book won the Most Surprising Book -award in my mind.

The book combined Barcelona’s history with organizational theory, and built brick by brick a model on how you can build a culture that brings success and victories.

Every successful culture starts from the Question of Why. Our brains are always looking for the meaning, and if you search for the emotional glue of any nation, organization, religion or team, you will come to the purpose

Prof Damian Hughes lists in his book, that there are typically six categories of meaning:

  1. Universalization: The organization wants to bring something valuable for everyone. For example, start-up has a great application that they want to see that is used at every country in the world.
  2. Innovation: The meaning for the organization is to create something cutting edge, develop something that others have not done.
  3. Global responsibility: The organizational meaning can come from trying to solve the massive global issues, such as environmental issues or powerty, at their own impact zone.
  4. Excellence: The organization is driven towards perfection. Old successes are made to be beaten, and if there is some competitor in the market, you want to become better. As such in the business world, we see this driver typically around.
  5. Fresh challenge: Some organizations get energized from the obstacles. They seek to be the underdog, fight against complacency and arrogance, and they get satisfied once they have won a seat of the table. After reaching this challenge, they can focus on something else.
  6. Human values: For some organizations, the meaning can come from creating good for the stakeholders, such as customers or employees. Once the people are treated well, the organizations are at the optimal situation.

What happens if you do not have strong meaning:


  1. If that purpose is missing, there is no strong driver, why the employees in the organization come together. In companies this lack-of-purpose -culture could be called as “I just come to work here” -attitude. There is no discretionary effort. Like the organization would be moving onwards with autopilot, and playing in the comfort zone.
  2. We know that if there is a vacuum, by law, it will get filled. If the organizational leadership does not bring a story of compelling meaning for the employees, people will create their own purpose. Such as your teams or divisions will have meanings, or even individual employees have a meaning, something that keeps them driving at work. It is natural that there are always several meanings, but the question is about the balance and alignment. If there is no organizational level meaning, the balance shifts towards team or individual level meanings. And those several meanings could be conflicting with each other, which starts to prevent the organizational engagement and success.
  3. If you do not have an organizational purpose, you might take someone else’s purpose and think it as your own. You start to become what people think you are, and not what you want to be or what you should be. Your purpose starts to drift. As an example, the outside world gives you pressuring praise of the records you keep beating, and you move towards the Excellency, even though what made you successful was the Innovation.


When evaluating the success of Barcelona Football Club, the meaning is always extremely clear. For them the meaning is not the success itself, not even the beautiful football they want to play, but to be more than a club – Més que un club. As a team their purpose is to fight for Catalony. Such a powerful purpose gets connected to deep and powerful emotions and needs. After understanding the meaning, everything got so clear – you could understand where they are coming from and where they are going. You could understand what they do and where do they get such a passion to win. Even a person like me, who is not a football fan, got fascinated and inspired by their meaning. Such is the power of why. Think about what your organization can achieve when people who already are working together, share a strong meaning.


So, how is it at your organization? How simple is your purpose statement? How much power does your meaning have in the minds of the people? Are you more than an organization, or just another organization?