What are some stand-out lessons we can learn after the dust has settled on the Group Stages?
But what has been the recipe of those that were successful? Or the folly of those that have not been so far?
Is it just a matter of having players of more superior pedigree? If so, how would you explain the result Mexico got against Germany?
Given it’s a team sport (Cristiano Ronaldo may wink to that), we thought it would be timely to look back at the group stages to see what lessons we can take from the teams that have done well, and those that have not on how to build effective organisational teams.
After all, the principles of building teams are the same, whether you are building them to win a football tournament, or to achieve your organisational goals.
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1. Never put individuals above the team
Croatia dumped striker Nikola Kalinic out of their squad and sent him back home when the Milan striker refused to come on as a substitute against Nigeria in the opening match.
It was a bold and quick decision against the kind of individualism that could’ve potentially fractured the squad.
As a consequence (or maybe even a direct result), the team rallied to beat Argentina comprehensively 3-0 in the next game, and winning the game after that against Iceland – finishing with a perfect record in the Group stages.
Coincidence? Maybe not.
Organisational managers too have to balance many things in their bid to bring the best performance out of their teams.
At times, it’s allowing their star performers to remain individualistic so that they do well and in turn, help the team achieve its performance targets. But this is a slippery slope.
Managing individualistic and petulant performers can be tiring and unsustainable. It’s much better to invest in team players who want to work with each other to achieve the department’s goal.
A positive culture that’s fostered will always have a multiplying effect which will eventually help the team achieve its targets without breaking the manager’s back.
2. Never stop encouraging their strengths
So far, this World Cup has been filled with tales of teams who leverage on their natural strengths to defeat their opponents.
Whether it was Mexico’s usage of their team’s natural pace to unsettle Germany, Iceland captain Aron Gunnarsson’s marauding long throws to take advantage of his team’s natural height or Uruguay organising what is the meanest defence in the tournament so far, teams have fallen back on their natural strengths to get ahead.
It has paid some dividends with unfancied teams such as Iran, South Korea and Morocco giving good accounts in this tournament from playing ‘their game’ despite being knocked out.
In the same way, you should discover and know your team members’ natural strengths and leverage them to bring your team’s performance to greater heights.
No one likes to be constantly told they have a laundry list of things they need to improve on.
Why not highlight their strengths where you can and use them to your team’s advantage? They will feel good flexing a strong muscle and you get to see your team go from strength to strength.
3. Never stop developing them
Germany’s shocking early exit at the hands of unfancied South Korea has sent ripples through the football world.
This proud footballing nation that has made a habit out of performing exceptionally (sometimes against the odds) at tournaments have uncharacteristically gone to sleep in this one.
So, what happened?
The omens had been so good last year leading up to the tournament with their under-21 team winning the Euros and their senior team winning the Confederations Cup with a second-string squad.
It would seem Germany could do no wrong. Yet, it has collapsed so sensationally and noisily like a tower of sardine cans stacked too high.
The buzz coming out of the camp was they got complacent; they underestimated their unfancied opponents.
To finish bottom in a group consisting of Mexico, Sweden and South Korea is a meal that their fans would find hard to stomach for a long while.
In the same way, never assume your performing team will remain like that continuously. Never stop challenging and developing your team to go above and beyond themselves.
Unfortunately for managers, there is no time to sit around and enjoy your spoils of war.
It’s a continuous process to get your team to go from strength-to-strength. Never take your eyes off the ball.
4. Never despise the young
Mexico’s Hirving Lozano’s match-winning strike against Germany proved that this is a World Cup that favours the young.
At just 22 years of age, the Dutch club PSV winger turned in a man-of-the-match display, playing with bravery and power to help Mexico to a famous victory over Germany.
With 29 caps since 2016, the fiery up-and-comer has shown that if you entrust youth with responsibilities, it can pay off.
In fact, for the record, England and France have brought the third and second youngest squads to the tournament respectively, and both nations have qualified for the next round.
We live in an age where experience only tells half of the story when it comes to performance. Sometimes, you need an injection of new energy and out-of-the-box thinking to get ahead of the pack.
Inspire and empower your young team members to perform above themselves. Charge the outstanding ones with key responsibilities and you may find yourself very pleasantly surprised.
Now, onto the Round of 16. Happy watching!