Lessons from the Euros: What Football Teaches Us About Building Global Teams
This summer all eyes were on France as football fans from across the continent descended on the country to watch their teams compete for the honour of lifting the UEFA European Championship trophy.
In the end, it was Portugal who triumphed, spoiling the home nation’s party by beating France on their own soil. And they did this despite playing for most of the match without their star player, the talismanic Cristiano Ronaldo.
It was an exciting tournament, not least for the final twist, as numerous underdogs fought their way through to the knock-out stages. We saw Iceland, a nation with a population of less than 340,000 – equivalent to a tenth of Berlin – making it to the quarter finals. Wales, attending their first major tournament in nearly 60 years, went one better and booked their place in the semi-final with a win over the much-fancied Belgium, only returning home after defeat to the eventual winners.
In each story of success, there is one common thread: football is a team game, and each member, whether starting up front or sitting on the bench, must contribute. What makes a football team successful can also be applied to your business or organization.
Here, we look at some of the biggest lessons that the Euro 2016 tournament taught us…
1. Portugal: Define roles and responsibilities from the outset
The overall winners pulled off a surprise victory as they snatched the trophy out of France’s hand at the Stade de France. It would, however, be inaccurate to say the team impressed throughout the tournament. Despite having some of football’s biggest names in the team, Portugal struggled through their group, ending up in third place before relying on extra time and penalty victories in the knockout stages, against Croatia and Poland respectively. Indeed, they didn’t win a game within 90 minutes before their semi-final triumph over Wales!
But, for all the complaints, Portugal showed a keen understanding of their own strengths. While the mercurial Ronaldo was given a free role for much of the tournament, the rest of the team operated in strict roles. Having such well-defined responsibilities meant that while the team struggled for goals, they rarely put a foot wrong and turned out a masterful defensive display that took them all the way to the lifting the trophy.
2. France: Market the results
Understanding the power of football to unify a nation – especially after his own World Cup victory in ’98 - manager Didier Deschamps talked up the importance of France’s performance. He motivated his players, and their continued success helped bring back the nation’s je ne sais quoi (for the month at least). With the people’s support, the team cut a near-unstoppable path to the final; defeating high-flying Iceland and beating long-time rivals Germany.
As one fan put it: "All the country was together behind France, and that's the sort of thing we will never forget: even if we lose, we are together, we are French, we are happy to be French."
3. Iceland: Secure adequate funding
Iceland may be a tiny nation but thanks to its investment in grassroots football and a culture of mentoring, the country is now on track to enter their most successful period on the pitch. A project 16 years in the making,Iceland now allows any child, from the age of three, to access one of the country’s 600 top coaches. This translates to one coach for every 825 Icelanders – in contrast, England has about one per 11,000 people.
This demonstrates that investment is crucial, and with the right tools it is possible for teams to achieve almost anything.
4. Develop team spirit and identity
While there may be hierarchies and specific leaders within a team, there must be a sense of respect and togetherness that binds all members together and pushes them towards a single goal.
When we come to Wales, we see this more than in any other team. Famed for building an exceptional team spirit, this is a team where two-times Champions League winner Gareth Bale plays comfortably alongside 20-year old forward George Williams, a player who spent the last season on loan at Gillingham in the third tier of English league football.
Playing for Wales is “like playing with my friends” says Bale. And as friends do they pulled together, worked hard for each other, and came away from the Euros with the country’s best ever tournament performance.
5. Spain: Attitude is Key
Speaking to my friend Oriol Vives, a player at 2nd Division Catalan football team CF Besós Barón de Viver who has first-hand experience of the pressures in both team building and football, he noted that attitude is crucial part of being a good team. Using Spain as an example of when things don’t go so well, he told me:
“Although Spain were champions of Europe in 2008 and 2012, as well as World Cup winners in 2010, the team’s free fall started two years ago in Brazil and has continued ever since. Even though the team is filled with technically gifted and talented players, this is not enough. Attitude is a decisive factor and one of the reasons, for example, why the aforementioned teams did so well in the tournament.
“Spain on the other hand, have lost their most valuable asset in recent years: the hunger for victory and success. Without it, for all our talent, technical skill, and tactics, we are powerless. Reaching the top is not easy; falling back down is.”
Applied to a business or an organisation, the lesson is that when you are at the top of your game, complacency is as big a threat as any competition. Driving motivation, concentration and innovation are crucial to not only getting to the top, but staying there.