For soccer fans like myself, the World Cup games are manna from heaven. The outstanding talent of the players, glorious goals, spectacular comebacks, and games won and lost affirm the power of teamwork. But not just any kind of teamwork. Exquisite teamwork.
There is an amazing opportunity for leaders and teams in all businesses and organizations to learn from the cohesion and collaboration that the World Cup teams demonstrate, irrespective of whether they win or lose. Sure, all the players are professional athletes, but beyond their individual acumen of soccer, each team’s collective action presents an opportunity to learn and be inspired by exquisite teamwork.
The World Cup teams are, in my mind, “exquisite” in their teamwork because of their:
(1) clarity and commitment to an immediate and shared short-term goal.
(2) acute understanding of how each of their roles and strengths is intertwined.
(3) ability to streamline their collective tactics
Sure, there are other aspects of teamwork and performance that are at play (no pun intended), but these three areas are ones that many teams fall short of, despite the best of intentions. If business teams are to rise to the level of teamwork that professional athletic teams demonstrate, they will need to adopt and integrate practices that support this level of excellence. If you are interested in enhancing your team’s capabilities towards exquisite teamwork, read on. I promise you’ll walk away with at least one nugget of value or more.
Clarity and Commitment to a Defined Short-Term Goal.
The World Cup is a series of elimination matches until the final game. This begins even before the actual World Cup starts with the qualifying matches. For each game, except the final match, the focus of the entire team is not on winning the World Cup (long-range goal), but on winning the match. Just the match.
What each team has in each game is Thrust Clarity – a clear, shared focus towards an immediate goal – and Thrust Commitment – complete commitment to attain the goal. Thrust Clarity and Thrust Commitment produce the hyper-focused attention, urgency, and shared commitment needed to collectively attain an important goal. The key is to create a goal that is immediate and within reach.
By creating a series of short-term goals (as part of their effort to achieve a long-range goal) and ensuring (not assuming) that each team member is completely committed to achieving it, teams can create the necessary shared focus and commitment.
Teams that don’t set immediate short-term goals often find their team members working at cross-purposes, not supporting one another strategically, and losing focus. We’ve all been on and at times lead such teams. Results are hard won and often, rework is needed along the way.
The Fix – Boost Your Team’s Thrust Clarity and Commitment:
- Review your team’s goals, both overarching goals, and ones for specific projects.
- Develop immediate/short-term goals focusing on a specific achievement that needs to be attained every two to three weeks. This will help your team move forward more purposefully with less rework and be able to measure their progress more accurately.
- Check that all team members are committed to achieving the goal – a simple yes, no, maybe – would work. If any responses are “maybe or no,” explore what’s in the way of their complete commitment (e.g., the goal still isn’t clear, there are competing priorities, or they just don’t care). Resolve to allow wholehearted commitment.
Harness the Interdependence of Roles and Strengths
What struck me in watching the World Cup matches is how each team member within any team intertwined their efforts towards a cohesive interdependence. In a soccer match, there are 11 players on the field and like all team sports, each player is responsible for specific action on a specific area of the field. Despite these boundaries, they did not operate in silos. If you’re rolling your eyes, with an “of course” running through your head, ask yourself, “How well does my team practice interdependence, or are we working as a collective of silos?”
Teams often forget to structure how their skills and talents work together, at any given stage of an effort. Professional soccer players know not only the strengths of each player on their team but also exactly what each of their team members can be counted on to do, in any given moment. This enables them to work together more cohesively while keeping focused on the goal of their efforts. This isn’t magic; it’s about creating a shared understanding.
Your team can also achieve greater interdependence between roles when team members understand each other’s strengths (think in terms of creating, influencing, relationship building, strategy, and execution) and how their roles are intertwined – upstream, downstream, and laterally within their work. Lacking this understanding relegates team members to their collective silos.
The Fix – Boost Your Team’s Role and Strength Interdependence
- Define the roles and strengths you need to achieve each short-term and long-range goal. Do you have your bases covered, or are their key roles and strengths missing? (If the latter, who can you have joined your effort or how can existing team members expand their roles and strengths?)
- If you aren’t clear about your team members’ strengths, invest in some preference indicator work to help them garner greater understanding about what each person brings to the team’s table.
- Create a matrix of the team’s strengths and share with the entire team. Discuss where there are depth and scarcity of strengths across the team. Knowing where you might stumble as a team, will enable your team to anticipate better and create contingencies for more purposeful execution.
- At each stage of work, ask, “What strengths and roles do we most need to use to successfully move forward?” and “Who on our team has those strengths and can take the lead?”
- During your goal progress meetings, assess how well the team is operating interdependently. Questions to guide your discussion include “When was it easy to work together?” “What was present that supported that ease?” “When was it hard to work together?” “What was missing from the way we collaborated?” “What would help us achieve greater interdependent effort here?” If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.
Streamline tactics to address the unexpected, but don’t ditch the strategy.
Things don’t always go as planned, in World Cup games or in the business world. Navigating the unexpected well rests on the agility of a team to collectively switch tactics as needed to execute to a goal and not completely abandon a planned strategy.
As I’ve watched the World Cup games, I’ve been impressed with the agility of the teams to change their tactics over and over again. The fluidity of their change readiness and execution has been breathtaking and made me wonder how that kind of agility could be replicated in business teams. Certainly, some business teams already have such agility, but many do not.
Consider your teams and the times when planned approaches needed to be abandoned or modified to address unanticipated problems. Were your teams able to do this swiftly, cohesively, and accurately? Or were there delays, resistance, and clumsiness in their collective switching of gears? Likely, sometimes it was smooth and other times full of friction. What’s clear about the World Cup teams and other teams that navigate the unexpected well (surgical teams come to mind), is their ability to spot problems early, remain process-driven even when hell is breaking loose, and staying more problem-solving than blame-focused.
The Fix – Boost Your Team’s Agility to Deal with Change
- Deconstruct and evaluate your workflows with the entire team so each team member truly understands how your team gets stuff done. Assuming everyone knows and understands all the steps and sequence is a recipe for delays in action and a breakdown in cohesion when changes are needed. I can only change what I know.
- Identify the critical steps in your processes that would be lethal to successful execution, as well as those steps that if skipped or modified, would not derail attainment of your goals. (e.g., Soccer players routinely play the ball back away from the goal in order to keep it in their possession and move it forward later.
- Make your process measures open and visible, so the entire team can keep their eye on how well they are executing to goal. The entire team shares the responsibility for alerting one another when approaches need to be changed or go awry.
- Structure team dialogues to focus on problem-solving and not blaming (even when someone has screwed up). There will be future mess ups; your team can either craft potential solutions in anticipation of these, or they can reduce the necessary risk-taking that occurs when one has to make changes quickly because team members fear alienation and ostracization.
- Do some roadblock scenario planning to envision all that could go wrong with a given strategy or process. Play out all the scenarios to understand what might occur. Then design-in early warning elements, check and balances, and agree on contingent approaches that the team will utilize when they need to switch gears and tactics fast.
Your team has the capacity to grow its teamwork to new heights of excellence by strengthening its collective focus, the interdependence of strengths, and agility with its processes and tactics. With collective determination, practice, and collegiality, your team can also achieve exquisite teamwork. Imagine the joy that will be to behold.
P.S. – Enjoy the last three 2018 World Cup matches. Croatia vs. England on 7/11 at 11 a.m. PST; Third Place Playoff on 7/14 at 7 a.m. PST; and the Final Game on 7/15 at 8 a.m. PST
Your insights and feedback are welcomed and appreciated. If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your colleagues and friends.
Sharon Weinberg is a Leadership and Business Strategy Coach based in Oakland, CA. She helps leaders and their teams transform how they create, collaborate, and achieve together to have greater impact and ease. She’s worked with more than 150 teams and supported the development of more than 1000 leaders. When not working during the past World Cup month, Sharon has watched 42 of the World Cup games. Sharon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are interested in learning how your team can become exquisite in their teamwork, please check out my Team Uplevel Coaching which helps teams transform their collective vision, engagement, and the way they harness their strengths for greater interdependence, execution, and fulfillment. https://sharonweinberg.com/team-uplevel