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What Can the World Cup Teach Us About Cybersecurity?

When it comes to achieving a robust cybersecurity function or winning a team sporting event, there is one component critical to success. What do you think that component is? Here are some options:

  • Have the best strategy
  • Select the players (team members) with the most potential
  • Equip the players with the best training and preparation
  • Use threat intelligence to study your opponents before you engage with them
  • Develop tactics designed to defeat your opponents’ techniques

The correct answer is ... not within the options above. All of those items are important, however, just like with World Cup results, in cybersecurity, it is not always the team with the strongest players or the best technical strategy that wins.

There is one component that weaves the fabric of each team to ensure the right balance of all the critical success factors are in place.

May the best manager win
What is that one key ingredient? It is recruiting the best manager. Take a look at whoever wins a sporting tournament and you will find that their manager was able to successfully weave together all of the critical success factors. They selected the players with the most potential, provided them with the right training and motivation, primed them about the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents and allowed them to bask in their successes and use their defeats as learning opportunities.

Exemplary management is a rare and wonderful thing. When it exists, it often goes relatively unnoticed. Success brings rewards, and a good manager will promote the success of their team rather than themselves.

The team that wins the World Cup and in fact any team tournament will most likely also happen to have the strongest (or one of the strongest) team managers around.

It is not that a weak team with a strong manager can win a tournament (or deliver cybersecurity effectively). Rather, a strong manager will work out how to strengthen their team before they put them into play.

Signs of effective management
When it comes down to personal job satisfaction, nothing beats being an important and valued part of a winning team. If you want to be part of a winning team, then look for teams and departments with the best managers.

As an auditor with a governance specialism, I have seen many different cybersecurity management environments. Based on my own experience, there are the indicators that I have found helpful to work out when the function has a great manager: 

  • The manager is a skilled communicator, able to convey deeply insightful information with simplicity;
  • The manager actively encourages talent identification and personal training development;
  • Team meetings and events are held with a focus on motivational measures that really work;
  • Each individual within the team feels recognized and valued by their manager for their contribution;
  • The working environment feels continually positive and friendly, even during times of stress;
  • When there are work issues, these can be reported and are always resolved effectively, fully and fairly;
  • The management passion for their team performance is continually evident. Successes are celebrated and problems are constructively shared for input and assistance from the team;
  • The management appear to navigate their executive relationship effectively, securing the relevant support and funding.

Conversely, if I enter a department where there is a climate of fear and a lack of inter-team communication, I will always find that a huge list of wider team performance problems also will be present.

I was recently asked how a (government) cybersecurity team could stop losing staff. They thought it was a matter of money. They believed they needed to pay much higher wages to their staff. When they described their situation, they had a system where their talent was left to face daily challenges in scattered isolation and without any access to effective management that could understand their problems and help make a difference to their work delivery. When they described where their talent was going, they described larger and more nurturing team environments, with better access to personal development resources, less hours and much lower stress. Could money alone solve this problem?

When some people look at a team tournament like the World Cup and listen to the commentary, it can be tempting to think that a team won or lost because of a particular player, or the strength of its rival.

When I look at a team tournament, I see the match as already won or lost by the management decisions and performance that took place before any player set foot on the field.

Yes – you need the strongest team to win a tournament. But do you think strong team dynamics happen by accident or by design?

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