I confess to being a “soccer tragic”. This is evidenced by a forty year devotion to the Arsenal Football Club.

I recently watched the European Championships, won by the brilliant Spanish, who in the process have redefined how the beautiful game is played. They have refined what’s known as a  ‘Tiki-Taka’ philosophy and style of football. A ‘pure team’ approach popularised at club level by FC Barcelona and embedded in the DNA of their pupils at the ‘La Cantera’ (their academy) from the age of eight. Tiki Taka is a combination of effectiveness and aesthetics, characterised by flair and creativity, short passing, possession of the football and the fluid movement of players. The approach calls for every player in the squad (not just the starting eleven) to be patient, highly technically competent and to fully commit to the need for fluidity in the role. They are required to play to support the team achieve their goal.In spite of Barcelona’s club success and Spain’s international dominance, back to back European Championships and a World Cup, something never achieved before, critics find the style boring. They prefer a traditional approach, where roles are clearly defined, leadership is vested in a few senior players and the contribution of the individual to victory is more visable.

This ‘pure’ team philosophy got me thinking about the challenges that currently face our health systems where professional roles and expectations of traditional leadership are hard wired into the fabric of the organisation. Innovation and change efforts often become mired in professional ‘turf wars’ and the status quo can easily prevail. We have evidence that successful innovation, organisational change and system improvement relies on shared leadership, how people act together, this is the multidisciplinary team approach. If we are to evolve health systems and develop leaders and a workforce fit for the 21st century, it’s time to review our traditional approach to leadership development.

Spanish lessons anyone?