The Status: World Cup Lessons for Dynamic Teams

What can the teams at this year's World Cup teach us about forming successful and dynamic teams?

Soccer team celebrating after a win

VOTRE FORCE, NOTRE PASSION. Congratulations are due to all who picked Les Blues in our superbly popular World Cup pool.

Since the beginning of the competition, those of you who participated collectively checked your standing over 250,000 times! If only tracking your time was so popular. We actually did receive some feature requests to make time tracking into a similar competition. We’ll have to think about that one…

Beyond entertainment and goodwill competitiveness, the World Cup can teach us a lot about how to form and manage a team when your opponent is unknown and the circumstances unpredictable. When all you have to zero in on is an outcome, you have to be agile — a way of operating that we all need to master to succeed.

In today’s rapidly changing business world, organizations need to be agile, argues McKinsey. To become agile, organizations need to master forming dynamic teams that focus on specific outcomes. These teams must be able to change and adapt in real-time to address challenges along the way and function independently, with minimal executive “supervision.”

Can soccer teams provide us with insight?

Agile project teams are outcome-focused. This outcome defines the success criteria for a project, but it does not specify a single solution for how to accomplish that outcome. The outcome is set by the executive team or perhaps a client, but team members figure out which solution is best. In the World Cup, the coach sets the outcome, trains and develops the players before the tournament. He will observe and adjusts strategy at half time, but ultimately trusts the team to make actual decisions that lead to the desired outcome.

Well-functioning team are made up of T-shaped people. They have deep knowledge in their core discipline, but also have some experience in others. Compare that to soccer players; they each have their own special power, dictated by their role and specialized set of skills, but also a broad set of skills so they can work well together. An attacker can step in and defend. Everyone can dribble, but each has a special power that gets augmented by the special powers of those around him.

Good teams are self-governing. For a team to be autonomous, they need to understand the desired business outcome. Then, track and understand their progress at a high level so they can course correct when needed. At the World Cup, the most valuable players are the ones that can see the big picture and know when and where to pass.

In the end, a world cup team is the ultimate agile organization. Players play in different teams, they come together sporadically in the 4-year period before the competition for qualifying games. The competition itself is less of a test on individual skills but more of a test on team dynamics. Even Pele agrees: “I am constantly being asked about individuals. The only way to win is as a team. Football is not about one or two or three star players.”

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