Lessons from the World Cup

There are many parallels between the worlds of sport and business – and, showcasing some brilliant and appalling football, this year’s World Cup offered rich pickings for lessons about strategy and teamwork in action. Here are my top three conclusions from Brazil.

1. It’s all about the team

In the run-up to the World Cup there was a lot of talk surrounding the star players. Cristiano Ronaldo, Mario Balotelli and Andres Iniesta were all cited as players capable of carrying a nation single-handedly into the final – and yet all were on their way home after the group stages. In business you could compare these players to the star salesperson, who struts around the office proudly telling everyone how great they are and how they are saving everyone’s jobs as a result of their latest great deal. My experience is that you can only be the star salesperson when you have a great team around you delivering on your promises.

In my mind it was the defensive unit of Argentina, marshalled by Javier Mascherano not Lionel Messi that took them to the final. Germany, however, were the ultimate demonstration that the strength of a collaborative and selfless team far outweighs that of a lone star. As a business we need to acknowledge and celebrate the operational and administration departments that make us look so good week in, week out.

2. You have to take risks

USA’s Tim Howard’s 16 saves against Belgium were enough to set a new World Cup record. Guillermo Ochoa of Mexico also made a name for himself with a number of amazing saves. Statistics show that the USA had the best defence in the tournament, making the most blocks and tackles but neither the USA nor Mexico progressed to the final. Germany had the second best defence – but Germany also had the best passing record and the top goal scorer. A well-organised business with good processes is the foundation which keeps customers happy and coming back, but to grow and develop you need new customers and products. You can’t win in any discipline unless you’re willing to take calculated risks, go out into different parts of the ‘pitch’ and try and score with some new customers and markets.

3. You have to believe

I sat with a friend to watch the Germany vs. Brazil quarter final and as we watched all the pre- match build-up, he turned to me and said: “Brazil are going to get thrashed.” They just didn’t look up for it. The Brazilian team completely overplayed Neymar’s injury and the lengths to which Brazil’s federation went to get team captain Thiago Silvawho’s suspension overturned sent a clear message to the rest of the team: we do not believe we can win without these players. Brazil lost hope and forgot to play. There are many occasions in business when we could convince ourselves things are not possible. We have all heard things like ‘we can never get that finished this week’, or ‘that company will never deal with us’. Opportunities and chances are dead before they are even started in a self-fulfilling prophecy. But a little belief can go a very long way.

View all blogs