By delivering attractive and supporter-friendly football (soccer), Nils Arne Eggen and Rosenborg football club achieved success with a philosophy based on the principle that by reinforcing individual core skills through collaboration, you achieve the best possible team success.
With Eggen at the helm, Rosenborg dominated the Norwegian league and won 13 seasons in a row from 1992-2004. They also qualified several times for the world’s biggest club tournament, UEFA Champions League. In a time of increased professionalism, where the richest clubs in Europe paid constantly increasing amounts to get the best players from all over the world, Rosenborg managed to compete with a team consisting of Norwegians and almost exclusively regional players. Among the club’s most significant accomplishments are victories against the reigning champions of England (2-1 vs. Blackburn in 1995), Italy (2-1 vs. AC Milan in 1996), and Spain (2-0 vs. Real Madrid in 1997). Eggen’s success and positive mindset have inspired many Norwegians over the years and continue to do so after his death in January 2022.
Rosenborg's legendary coach Nils Arne Eggen
Rosenborg before a match during their heyday in the late 90s.
The Best Foot Theory
What was the secret behind Rosenborg’s dominance? How did they outplay all Norwegian teams and create trouble against the world’s best teams with a bunch of regional players?
The answer is Nils Arne Eggen’s “Best Foot theory.” A philosophy based on the principle that you achieve the best possible team success by reinforcing individual core skills through collaboration .
The importance of collaboration in projects is well established in lean construction literature, so before presenting the Best Foot theory, it is essential to describe the term collaboration from a lean construction perspective. The term collaboration is sometimes confused with cooperation. Schöttle et al. examined the difference between these two terms in a lean construction context . They found that the relationship between project actors is stronger in collaboration than cooperation. The distinction between the two words is described below.
“No man is an island,” John Donne famously wrote . This phrase significantly describes the essential part of Nils Arne Eggen’s “Best Foot theory.” The term “Best Foot” is an expression of the principles in Eggen’s theory. Put your teammate in the best position to do their job perfectly by playing the ball to their best foot. A central principle of the Best Foot theory is to acknowledge that all skills are complementary: you are excellent, mediocre, or bad together. To be good at something is not an individual achievement. The key is to allow yourself and your teammates to expose your unique expertise. Everybody must be open and explicit about their skills and communicate them to their teammates to exploit this opportunity. With this in mind, you can develop relational skills. Collaboration is far more effective if all actors willingly pull in the same direction, and the relational skills of a group are far greater than the sum of isolated individual skills.
The Best Foot principle is not limited to the individual level. For example, attacking play was the collective Rosenborg’s Best Foot. They wanted to play fun, attractive, and supporter-friendly football. Each player needed to follow that principle to individually optimize the collective movement pattern. Each player was allowed to be creative and use their “best foot” if it was within the limits of their role. Eggen compared it with jazz: “Only when the common theme is decided, and under control, the creative improvisation and development make sense.”
A critical aspect of the “Best Foot theory” is to understand that it is about acknowledging your own and your teammates’ strengths, while weaknesses are irrelevant. In that way, the theory does not hinder the development of a skill, which still can be improved and, with time, become a strength. It is also important to understand that everyone has more than one “best foot”.
The Best Foot Theory in a Lean Construction Context
The “Five Big Ideas that are Reshaping the Design and Delivery of Capital Projects,” presented by Lean Project Consulting in 2004, have been used to put the Best Foot theory in a lean construction context . The five big ideas are:
- Collaborate; really collaborate, throughout design, planning, and execution
- Optimize the whole
- Tightly couple learning with action
- Projects are single-purpose networks of commitments
- Intentionally build relationships on projects.
Collaborate; really collaborate, throughout design, planning, and execution - There is much about facilitating collaboration in lean construction through contracts, systems, and approaches, e.g., by sharing risk or creating collective ownership of the task at hand. The Best Foot theory provides a way of acting great at collaborating beyond being bound to it through processes and tools. The Best Foot theory urges every actor to play on their absolute strengths while having unity as the top priority. Play on your strengths to make your colleagues better and allow them to make you better.
Optimize the whole - Collaboration at the project level reduces conflicts and disputes caused by push management and productivity management at the task level. Avoid silo thinking. This is also essential in the Best Foot theory. Eggen saw a value in aiming at product development by centering the organization around the actual producing part, the football players. The team also created a culture for the actual value-adding producers (the players) to bring forward ideas.
Tightly couple learning with action - The third big idea highlights the importance of learning from each action. In both the five big ideas and the Best Foot theory, the PDCA Cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act) is mentioned. Eggen believed that a broad spectrum of basic skills were prerequisites to perform any activity. These skills are divided into technical, tactical, physical, psychological, social, and pedagogical skills and develop over time. First, technical skills are learned. Next, you learn to exploit these skills tactically. In the end, you learn to cooperate, which develops into the ability to collaborate and use the skills to improve your teammates and the team. True collaboration is achieved when the practitioners take responsibility for their own and their teammates’ development and performance.
Projects are single-purpose networks of commitments - In a project, a group of strangers is put together in a temporary social system, where the project leader should activate a network of commitments. The most significant difference between Rosenborg and projects is that there is much practice in a football organization with only 90 minutes of actual production one or two times per week. In projects, there is constant production and minimal practicing. Still, the reality is that the practitioners in both cases have a common goal: to beat the opponent for Rosenborg or achieve an excellent project performance in a project. The key is to achieve the same commitment in a producing environment as in a practicing environment. In the Best Foot theory, accessibility and transparency were crucial for achieving a collective commitment throughout the organization. In Rosenborg, they made their performers go from having to collaborate to wanting to collaborate, believing that all skills are complementary: you are either good together or bad together.
Intentionally build relationships on projects - Frictions and minor conflicts are expected in inter-organizational relationships. The fifth big idea says that we cannot learn, collaborate, optimize or make commitments in a project without a relationship based on trust, respect, appreciation, care for each other, and practices for commitment-making. Projects will be faster on track to success when the team members become friends. Five steps are suggested: 1) explore each other’s personal intentions and ambitions, 2) cultivate practices for commitment-making, 3) make it your habit to acknowledge and appreciate team members, 4) foster an environment for healthy conflict, and 5) make the project setting a place where people can be their authentic selves without fear of judgment or mockery. These steps are similar to Eggen’s ideas in the Best Foot theory. However, he also adds humor to the mix. A good mood creates a culture of openness and safety in the performance group. It regulates tension, especially temper and aggression, in a competitive context. A good mood kills a lousy mood with laughter. In Rosenborg, minor conflicts were used to positively improve the project by creating discussions where better solutions for all parties involved were found. Eggen used to say, “you are allowed to be angry, but only for one second at a time.”
The “Best Foot theory” shows great applicability in a Lean context by possessing many of the same principles. Much of the current theory about collaboration in LC projects focuses on collaborative contracts, systems, and approaches and fails to consider creating a collaborative culture among the performers. The “Five Big Ideas” are contemplating this, and the “Best Foot theory” adds more meat to the bones by giving successful practical examples for each idea.
 DONNE, J. & ROBBINS, R. H. A. 2014. The poems of John Donne. London: Routledge.
 EGGEN, N. A. & NYRØNNING, S. M. 1999. Godfoten: Samhandling - veien til suksess, Oslo, Norway, Aschehoug.
 MACOMBER, H. 2004. Putting the Five Big Ideas to Work. Lean Project Consulting, White.
 SCHÖTTLE, A., ARROYO, P. & CHRISTENSEN, R. Demonstrating the value of an effective collaborative decision-making process in the design phase.
In: GONZÁLEZ, V. A., ed. Proc. 26th Annual Conference of the International Group for Lean Construction (IGLC), 16-22 July 2018 Chennai, India. 899-909.