Team Effectiveness at The World Cup

Brazil fans watch World Cup quarterfinal

Photo courtesy of Ben Tavener(CC Attribution)

Watching the FIFA World Cup has been interesting indeed. As a Learning & Development professional I couldn’t help but notice similarities between football teams and corporate teams, in terms of  how effective they are in achieving good results. There seems to be a direct correlation between how the elements of each team function within that team, how they handle changes and external influences and the results the team achieves.The Insights Team Effectiveness actually looked very applicable to explain some of the seemingly bizarre results we have had at this World Cup finals.

The Insights Team Effectiveness  model is built around what we call the four pillars of Team Effectiveness : Process, Focus, Flow, and Climate

Insights Team Effectiveness Model


The process pillar looks at issues around working methods and measurement to ensure success.Clear roles for each member, with the right mix of capabilities within the team.Germany, has very good players without nearly obsessing over one or two individual star players. Watching them one feels that there is a sense of “we are in this together” feeling in the German camp. Their strategy does not look to be circulating around individuals. To me, if they lost any two players I still wouldn’t bet against them! They have a superb working method. As for Brazil, it seemed their working method was dependant on the brilliance of Neymar, and with him out, that posed a big challenge, you can add to that the suspension of their leader Silva.They almost had a very single dimensional method of operation which depended on specific individuals.This is in contrast with Germany who seem to have taken a McDonald’s approach: it does not matter who is handing you the tray, but the burger tastes the same.


The focus pillar talks about results orientation and shared purpose. A team with focus has a clear vision, goals, and believe  these can be achieved.Right from day 1, this Brazil squad did not look like they believed, nor did England…Costa Rica was in shock rather (but well done to them).A team with focus has its sights firmly on the deliverables and is willing to take action and be mutually accountable for their commitment. Yes, this sounds like a description of the German team right now.You can throw in Argentina but I don’t quite get the mutually accountable element from them. It’s Messi who has to be accountable because should they loose the final I am pretty sure there will be a newspaper headline somewhere putting the blame squarely on him (and he knows that-talk about pressure) Its great to have a super-star in your team but how much pressure are you piling on them?, can they handle it?, do they feel they will carry the blame if things go wrong? On a day the star player does not turn up, a good team has other players who have the desire to step into the breach and be accountable. Germany has this in bundles, Argentina have the personnel….not so sure if the personnel has the focus.


This pillar is about how a team is able to create solutions and solve problems effectively (or create solutions to take advantage of a rival team whose main threat is a 20 year old who is not playing and the leader who has been suspended on bad behaviour).This team is able to respond quickly to external influences, making the required changes to overcome obstacles as they arise. Brazil struggled in the area of FLOW. The loss of star striker Neymar and leader Silva, exposed their inability to respond quickly and make the required changes to overcome such obstacles. What about Uruguay I here you say, they had Suarez. They obviously struggled in the first game without him which they lost.They he came in against England at his mercurial best.In the next game against Italy….ok I wont get into that. I think Suarez is one of the best players you can ever pay your hard earned money to see, but he is a bit of an “unguided missile” in my opinion (& just to put it out there I am a staunch Liverpool fan…#YNWA )


The fourth pillar is the CLIMATE pillar: this refers to levels of trust and cohesion in a team. I think come the final, this is going to be the area which Argentina is  going to be tested the most.They have Messi, and what a brilliant footballer the “little maestro” is.He is certainly capable of winning them the final! The question for me is , does the rest of the team trust themselves enough to step up to the plate incase Messi is shackled by a relentless German team.Is there cohesion between Messi’s brilliance and the ‘prodigiously talented individuals’ in the rest of the team Argentine squad. Bring on Sunday!

Lionel Messi

I guess its all to see in the final.Pound for pound Argentina has a group of supreme athletes, Di Maria, Higuain, Kun Aguero and Messi himself. However Germany has a pride of lions.Thats what I liken them to. With a very sophisticated hierarchy where each individual knows his role and every man pulling in his weight.They may not play the “champaign”  football of Arsenal (sorry, couldn’t resist) but goodness me they are effective.Talk about German precision!

Whatever happens on Sunday the 13th 2014, it has been an intriguing World Cup Finals. One for us in Learning & Development can use as inspiration and material for our ongoing research and  further study on the anatomy of great functioning teams. The highlight for me is that a great team is not a destination but rather a journey. There are so may variables that can affect teams. Functions, purposes and elements in and around teams are dynamic. You may have a super star performer who may not be good for the chemistry, image and purpose of the team (Suarez anyone?). Or your business strategy may be hinged on a few top performers…are you agile enough to ring changes should one of these decide to ply their trade outside your ranks (eh Liverpool)? How well is your team doing on the 4 pillars of Team Effectiveness; Process, Focus, Flow and Climate? If there is one take home (or maybe take to the office), for business, I’ll put it in the words of Himanshu Sexena :


Nurturing your company’s Neymars and Silvas at the cost of a larger pool of talent could be hugely detrimental to long-term success. As the individual stalwarts succumb to unforeseen contingencies, out goes the fighting will and capability of a unit.

There have been many instances where an organization’s fortunes suddenly turn into misfortunes because key leaders departed from the scene. Organizations must build a better bench and create fungibility wherein no one is indispensable.

Irrespective of the non-availability of an exceptional individual, the team must trudge along on its pre-determined course. Great organisations are those who have decoded this formula of building collective-systemic strength rather than investing in individual flair.

My name is Mark Chivere, senior consultant at Accelerate Performance, and we help great organisations build great performing teams (we love football, some of you call it soccer…we love it all the same).

Enjoy the final!

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