What the 2018 World Cup Can Teach Us About Our Teams

Since the final game of the 2018 World Cup, I find myself considering what an extraordinary tournament it was—replaying my favorite moments (for one, that soap-opera-dramatic-penalty-kick-come-hat-trick by Cristiano Ronaldo against Spain!), wishing Belgium had made it to the final and wondering what Neymar’s hair looks like this week. And I’m thankful the 2018-19 Premier League season begins next month, when we can once again admire the grace and surety of our household’s beloved Kevin De Bruyne.

Anyone watching the tournament who either leads teams or is a team member likely couldn’t help but draw correlations between team success and team dynamics. Below are some lessons we can learn from the 2018 World Cup.

Chemistry and comradery can trump talent and experience.

This statement may sound blasphemous from a traditional organization design perspective, but team chemistry equals cooperation, productivity and loyalty – which in sum equals success. Members on a team where chemistry and comradery exist simply show up. France had the second-youngest team in the tournament – and prevailed beautifully, becoming the youngest team to win the World Cup since Pele’s 1970 Brazil team. Admittedly, the French players also displayed immense talent, but their chemistry overlaid onto their talent created an exponential effect, where the whole was most definitely greater than the sum of its parts.

Trust in leadership is critical for a win.

This statement after a Croatian defeat by Argentina’s coach Jorge Sampaoli, who lost the trust of his team during the tournament, shows he would tend to agree: “It’s not the boss’s partial responsibility, it’s his total responsibility.” He admitted plans went awry when he tried to rely too heavily on Lionel Messi (see point below). The Argentinian team, in a revolt led by team captain Messi, tried to have Sampaoli removed as head coach, convinced he actually had done no strategic planning in preparation for the tournament. This turmoil almost certainly had a detrimental effect on the team’s success.

On the other hand, consider French head coach Didier Deschamps. He prioritized creating a shared team spirit, banning mobile phones when players ate together, maintaining unity and not allowing the team to become divided or cliquish. He’s also credited with developing the team’s winning game plans. French player Antoine Griezmann said, “We need a coach who gives us his confidence, who knows how to approach the games. Since the beginning of the competition he has got it right.”

One player – no matter how special – does not make a team.

If Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are not the epitome of this maxim, I don’t know what is. These two all-time soccer greats were expected to carry their teams with some sort of superhuman skill, perhaps not all the way, but at least further than either country survived in the tournament. Neymar is another personification of this lesson, but from the opposite perspective. A team blessed with a “special” player with immense talent should surround and enhance that star power with as many other immensely talented team members as possible for success.

From up in the stands, team dynamics and its correlation to team success become much easier (and more enjoyable) to study and dissect. It’s much more difficult to decipher what’s lacking when you’re on the field with the ball flying at you. For more information on team dynamics, check out our extensive work on team development.

See you in 2022, Qatar!

Great companies are almost always made great by strong teams. ArchPoint’s approach to Team Development begins by measuring what often seems nebulous and undefinable – how teams work.  We work with clients to improve overall team effectiveness using proven survey tools to shed light on the current state of a team and pinpoint strengths and weaknesses. Register for a free team survey here. 

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