For the past three weeks, I’ve joined hundreds of millions of people from around the globe in watching the FIFA World Cup football matches in Brazil. This World cup has produced many incredibly well-played matches that were decided in the final minutes or extra time.
While watching the games, I thought about the teams that consistently advance in the World Cup while other teams, filled with talented stars, get knocked out in the early rounds. I realized that the World Cup is a lot like the world of business. There are companies that remain industry leaders for years while other businesses enjoy meteoric growth but often fade as fast as they rose.
Here are six takeaways from the World Cup that easily translate into the language of business.
- Teamwork: The game is played with a team of individuals working together in order to achieve a common goal – to get the ball in the net! The actions of the best performing teams are coordinated and in unison. They use all available tools to advance toward their goal. If one player is lost, the team suffers. Typically, the team that works best together wins and advances.
- Stars are good with the support of their team: The stars are out everywhere and on every team at the World Cup! They shine brightly, but only when their team provides the support they need to demonstrate their skills. Lionel Andres Messi is the captain of the Argentina national team. He is considered one of the greatest players in this World Cup. During the quarter finals, Messi’s selfless pass to Angel di Maria put the ball in the back of Switzerland’s net and helped Argentina advance. For the semi finals, Argentina played a grueling 120 minutes against the Netherlands that resulted in penalty kicks. Messi and the rest of his team came together and outscored the Neatherlands to win a birth in the final. Without the support of his team, Messi’s star would not shine so bright.
- The highest paid teams do not always advance: Some of the teams with the highest paid athletes (e.g. Spain and Italy) took an early exit while others with a fraction of the combined team salaries (e.g. Algeria, Costa Rica) advanced to the knockout round.
- Adversity drives future performance: An early goal can knock the wind out of team, but it can also motivate them to a higher level of performance that may result in victory. Brazil overcame an opening goal by Croatia to advance with a 3-1 victory. The entire country was shocked by Croatia’s early score, but they picked themselves off the pitch to win convincingly.
- Leadership is essential: Placing the right players into the right game plan and motivating them before, during and after matches is essential. Great leaders have their teams ready to flawlessly execute the game plan. Take the German coach, Joachim Löw. As a leader, he sometimes has to make tough decisions. In the semi-final, it looked like Ghana would steal the game away from Germany. To breathe new life into the team, Löw brought in veteran Miroslav Klose off the bench. Within 112 seconds, Klose’s first touch resulted in the goal that helped Germany tie the game and advance.
- Winning tastes very good! While playing in the World Cup is a thrill in itself, winning is everything! Germany hadn’t won the World Cup since 1990. People speculated if they would ever hoist the cup above their heads again. This time, persistence paid off and Germany became the first European team ever to win the World Cup in the Americas.
We can all take away many lessons from sporting events to leverage in our business lives. The drama that unfolds on the field of play often relates directly to what occurs within the four walls of our companies as we play to win at the game of business. After the last whistle blows, there is a winner and there is a loser. Take what happens on the field of play and apply these lessons to improving performance in your workplace. You might be surprised when someone shouts “Goal!!!”
Hernan Marino is the SVP, Global Head Marketing & Communications Global Partner Operations at SAP. He has a deep understanding of international markets through leadership roles at IBM, Microsoft and SAP, among others. He is also an experienced corporate spokesperson noted for his interpersonal skills and ability to develop highly successful teams.