What the World Cup taught us about organisational strategy!

By 13th August 2014Article

The Big Question, before the final of the World Cup in Brazil was; would the best team or the best player win out? And the final result? A resounding victory for the ‘team’! And let’s be frank here, there is little surprise to this answer. In my lifetime, teams have always won through, with one exception – the outlier of Diego Maradona! But, what remains a mystery is the alchemy behind what enables organisational performance. So Germany, c’mon… how did you do it?

Let’s start with character.  We could see from the German team: ambition, togetherness, belief, passion and a commitment to a clear set of values. At half time against the hosts Brazil (an astonishing 5- nil up) you could imagine the hubris. But no. The German team concerned for their hosts, showed no swagger. There was no showboating in the second half – they continued to play with focus, humility and respect for the game.  A far cry from the cliché of narcissistic, millionaire superstars! At the final whistle the Brazilian fans applauded them off the pitch.

But, let’s move from character to leadership and vision. The development of the German national team has been one of the great pieces of social engineering going back over a decade. The difference is not that there was a clear vision. It was how all essential stakeholders in German football had bought into this vision. This has led to collaboration towards a common purpose. It has shaped long term planning, and defined management succession. It has channelled investment of over $[US]1 billion and shaped a modern playing style.  It has developed an enviable pipeline of player talent; all key players have an adequate replacement. And most importantly, the leadership of German football was not shaken off course by setback. Two years ago, Italy humiliated the core of the same team during the European Championships. Other international teams would have panicked and sacked their coach Joachim Low. But not Germany. They took on board the lessons from this defeat, but maintained their continuity and stability.

When tactics, talent and motivation align, you start to witness something special on the pitch. As consultants in the financial services sector, our clients ask: “can you ever bind the likes of traders, bankers and executives towards common goals? Egotism and self-aggrandizement will always prevail“. I can then picture Bastian Schweinsteiger, the German captain at the end of the final. This is one of the best midfielders of his generation and exhausted having run more than any other player on the pitch. This player stood in the changing rooms draped in the flag, wearing a shirt signed by all surviving members of the three previous World Cup-winning Germany teams. This was a man motivated by identity, history, and a nation. Not himself or a pay cheque.

Finally, lest not forget the basic dynamic of any organisation is the interaction of individuals. Late in the final, Joachim Low replaced his record scoring striker, with a young 22-year old starlet – Mario Goetze. His words to him were this:  “Show to the world that you’re better than [Lionel] Messi, show that you can decide the World Cup.” Goetze would go on to score the goal that won the World Cup final for Germany. But let’s examine what Low said. He made the message personal with a clear and specific target. He stated his belief in Mario and what he could achieve. He conveyed a sense of opportunity rather than of pressure. This was an empowering moment where the manager gave his player wings.

So, what do we take from this? Firstly, Germany’s success pays homage to long term holistic organisational thinking. It has applied vision and leadership to create a new performance culture. They have embedded this from the grassroots to the top of German football. Secondly, they have applied a coherent approach to management succession. They have invested in the creation of home grown elite talent, and applied modern tactics to the way the team plays. Thirdly, it has bound the manager and the team to a cause bigger than themselves. They have focused on player values that are self-less and grounded. Finally, it made each player clear of expectations, self-confident and free to make decisions.

As an Englishman, this pains me, but Germany may have laid the foundations for a team that will be winning trophies for some time to come. As an organisation change consultant I find this inspiring!

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