FIFA World Cup 2018: Putting team spirit over individual stardom and other lessons for organisations from recently-concluded event

In the match between France and Croatia on Sunday, the former was more focussed, the latter more skilled. Even though Croatia had ball possession for 66 percent of the time, took 14 shots at the goal and got six corners, France was able to convert their 44 percent possession, half the shots and one-third the corners into four goals, double that of Croatia’s. The statistics around this edge-of-the-seat game will keep pouring in but looking beyond, there are three lessons that larger organisations such as governments, corporations, start-ups, not-for-profits, schools, hospitals and so on can draw from this final, as indeed from the World Cup 2018 itself.

France were an example of a side that relied on team work more than individual stardom, winning the World Cup in the process. AFP

Champions France were an example of a side that relied on team work more than individual stardom. AFP

Lesson 1: Teams deliver victory, not stars

In a game that needs experts across domains — defenders, forwards, outs, ins, halves, backs, goalkeepers and not to forget, coaches and managers — there is one four-letter word that was the overarching and underlying spirit of it all: team.

Each player has a function that he (there were no women in this game) needs to deliver. That delivery is his swadharma. His personal excellence and individual aspirations notwithstanding, it is his place in the team and the way he delivers his dharma that differentiates a victory from a defeat.

Like France and Croatia in the final, or Belgium, England, Brazil and Uruguay before them, it was teamwork that brought success. And even though Argentina and Portugal had the most popular, most skilled and most awe-inspiring stars in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo respectively — both of whom were poetry in motion and a delight to watch — it was collective teamwork and not individual stardom that brought glory to nations.

And even though we may grant the status of Superman, if not God, to leaders, success in organisations too depends upon teamwork. In the operation theatre, for instance, the role of the staff handing the right scalpel to the surgeon at the right time is as crucial as the anaesthetist who sedated the patient or the nurse who prepared her. The reputation and the resultant customer experience of a company rides on the shoulders of a salesman delivering the product in a 10-by-10 room. As does the reputation of a government or party on the performance of the beat police or the municipal staff.

Ensuring that the entire organisation works towards and serves the same objectives is key to success.

Lesson 2: Don’t wait; go where the ball is

Once the team is in place and the objective clear, individual players of a team need to pursue the ball. Simply because he has been given a position in the defence doesn’t mean he will wait for the ball to cross the half-line before defending. You need stamina to run back and forth across the 105-metre-by-68-metre field. But stamina is part of the play and depending on the state of the game, teams need to adapt.

Furthermore, good teamwork doesn’t mean that players need to be in the right position to receive a pass and take it towards the goal. It is often to go to where the ball is, pull it out of the adversary’s control and run with it, as other teammates realign themselves across the field to receive a pass and head towards the goalpost.

The one important thing leaders forget sooner rather than later is that it is not to sustain themselves within the rules, procedures, processes and systems of an organisation that they’ve been hired for. It is to deliver outcomes. But such are the hiring practices and the incentive patterns of organisations that building an invisible cubicle from which to showcase a limited outcome has become the dominating currency of discourse and growth.

Customers, as Peter Drucker said, reside outside the organisation. As do results, opportunities and threats. To create value, therefore, organisations have to look outside the spreadsheets and swanky buildings. Corporations, non-profits and governments need to rethink organisational behaviour in this light and bring focus back to the customer, the beneficiary, the citizen. They need to adapt to the changing needs, the shifting landscape and the growing aspirations.

Lesson 3: Never underestimate your adversary

This is a no-brainer. But England showed just how brain-dead arrogance can get. Reaching the semi-finals with two penalty shootouts against Denmark and Russia behind it, Croatia was expected to show fatigue against England. In a World Cup dominated by the rise of the underdog and the curse of the winner, Croatia was clearly the underdog in its game against England. And yet, Croatia won 2-1 against an England side that experts and commentators said was expected to tackle Belgium — which eventually lost to France.

“We proved everything differently that people were saying, especially English journalists, pundits from television, they underestimated Croatia tonight and that was a huge mistake,” The Independent reported Croatia captain Luka Modric as saying. “All these words from them we take, we were reading and we were saying ‘OK, today we will see who will be tired’. They should be more humble and respect more their opponents.”

Although politicians as individuals and parties as their organisations are generally more circumspect about winnings and putting down their adversaries, it is difficult to control arrogance — the Congress-led UPA in 2014, the echoes of which we can see in the BJP-led NDA today, for instance. The next eight months to Elections 2019 will showcase how adversary management shows up in outcomes. We can see similar echoes of arrogance and urge to underestimate in business — Blackberry and iPhone, Kodak versus digital cameras, Ambassador versus Maruti and so on.

With success, organisations tend to get stable and lethargic. Teams tend to align around a few stars. In a bid to become stars, individuals start to forget their customers. If success comes, arrogance follows. But in this age of constant disruption, they need to view their world as an intense 90-minute football game — dynamic, constantly-changing, unpredictable — and keep these three lessons from World Cup 2018 handy.


Updated Date: Jul 16, 2018 15:17 PM

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