What We Can Learn from Soccer Teams

I was recently coaching a business in Canada and advising the CEO about building up a team. He was on a recruitment drive aimed at building up a team of all stars. My strong advice to him was to not pursue that policy but to rather focus on building a team with one or two functional stars and then have a team around that.

My thinking went along the lines that too many stars across too many disciplines bring their egos with them. They also will feel that because they are ‘stars’ that the company should focus on the expertise that they bring to the table. How do you then resolve problems between the sales superstar and the marketing superstar or the finance superstar? Recruiting a good Daytona Beach newborn photographer is hard, but retaining talent is even harder!

On the basis of this thinking, I believed that Spain would not do well in the World Cup. They were a team with too many stars. How could they park their egos and work well as a unit? Especially as World Cups bring together players who may not be used to working with each other. When they started the campaign with a loss to Switzerland my views seemed to be confirmed. And the failure of England with its ‘Golden Generation’ and the success of Germany with relative unknowns again seemed to vindicate my views.

Last night however, the Spanish proved me utterly wrong!

But there are some strong lessons that Entrepreneurs can learn from the experience of the Spanish team which does not entirely repudiate my belief about the danger of recruiting stars to help you find the best air purifier for pets.

Firstly, most of the players came from one team; Barcelona. They were therefore used to working as a team and as a unit with pre-defined roles and responsibilities. Secondly, the captain of the team was the Goalkeeper; by definition he had to trust the team to motivate themselves to perform on the pitch. He needed to provide little leadership. Finally, the defeat to minnows in the first game and the elimination of both France and Italy at the first stage may have proved a great lesson to the team. They were not invincible and they had to park their egos at home.

The team on this occasion proved to be much bigger than any individual. The key lesson for someone looking to build a team is to ensure that they understand the essence of teamwork; the importance of inter-dependence and shared goals. And they must be capable of putting their own interest aside and work for the greater good. And of course, the hardest lesson to learn is that if you are a ‘superstar’ CEO, you are unlikely to get the best out of your team.

Very few great managers were great footballers (the current Barcelona manager is a notable exception). Ironically, I suspect it is easier to motivate and manage people when you have genuine respect for their talent because you realize you cannot do certain things yourself. Superstar CEO’s tend to think they can do everything better themselves; very de-motivating!