What if your Team would play Soccer?

soccerI am not a soccer fan. I never watch the game. Until now. I have followed the Belgian soccer team during the world championships in Brasil. Last Tuesday I could witness an incredible game between the Belgian team and the US Team. Never before I was captured like this in a game. In the aftermath I was wondering how it would be like when a team would be functioning like a soccer team. What can we learn from that team? Here are 11 insights and questions.

  1. They share the same goal. Here the goal is very clear: to win and to go to the next round. The mere possibility to become the world champion is energizing. The fact that the Belgian soccer team gets in to the quarter finals was maybe hoped for, but not in words. Today the team has exceeded expectations by winning the 1/8 final against the USA. So the next aim is winning against Messi and the Argentinian team. That would be the day.
  2. All members of the team are talented. They are among the best and they bring skills to the team that enable the team to function. They are hand-picked with care. The choice is based not only on their individual skills but also on the complementarity of their skills. You only need one goal keeper. You need forwards, defenders and midfielders. You need agility, speed, endurance, tactical insight, field overview, camaraderie …
  3. Although all team members have excellent skills they cannot play alone. The combination of skills makes them excel. They have to rely on the other. No-one of the team can be a star. And no-one serves the other (unlike in biking where group members must support the one who the team coach wants to see winning).
    Sometimes personal ambitions are put aside to achieve a team goal. To sit on a bench and watch your team mates win (or loose) is probably very excruciating. But in the interest for the collective target this is accepted.
  4. Team members take the responsibility for their actions. When to pass, when to take a shot. The goal is not to have the ball as long as possible, but to make a goal. Team members that have as a goal to score and put this objective above the common objectives do not stay long in the team.
  5. Since the soccer game is not predictable, the team needs to adapt. Agility is important. What you have planned does not come true in spite of all the preparations. So the soccer team needs to be vigilant and follow the flow of the game.
  6. The roles in the soccer team are clear but organic. Even when players switch positions (a midfielder becoming a forward). The game is fast and fluid. So players can switch positions organically. There is a team captain who gives directions and leadership on the filed. (the coach needs to be next to the field).
  7. Trust is key. I noticed in the game how other players were able to trust the goalie blindly to catch the ball. They did not try to save the situation themselves. If the goal keeper would have missed, the team would be in trouble. But if everyone would rush to save the situation, the rest of the game could be jeopardized. So they need to trust one another.
  8. The interaction is intense. How players interact to create space and advance is passionate to see. They seem to have pleasure in passing the ball to the other. This interaction seems easy and light, but it’s not. I can imagine that a lot of training precedes this level. A national soccer team is a temporary team and members play with other teams in other countries that have other traditions. So achieving this level of interaction cannot be simple. It requires openness of mind and willingness to adapt.
  9. The role of the coach is as always a conundrum. During the game he has to stand at the side (yelling, shouting, snorting). But he is the one who selects, defines strategies, decides on replacements during the game. It is he who has to motivate the players and mold them into one team. He decides what he wants to see on the field and what not. He gives feedback. He comforts frustrated players. And he shares the defeat and the victory. That is the role of the team leader.
  10. Celebrating successes is a skill that many teams do not have. A soccer team has that. They celebrate together with the audience.
  11. Every team needs an audience. A soccer team has the fans as its audience. The fans give meaning to the soccer game. Without the audience of fans there is no point. Winning in en empty stadion – it happens – reduces the soccer game to a technical matter. The muggy atmosphere of a boiling stadion in Brasil in which only a handful Belgian fans mingle with other spectators.

11 questions to ask

Here are 11 questions to ask about your team.

  1. Question 1: Is the goal clear and to what extent is it shared?
  2. Question 2: How would you describe the strengths of the team members? Is there enough diversity of skills, opinions, …?
  3. Question 3 : To what extent are team members able to set aside their ego?
  4. Question 4: Do all team members take their responsibility?
  5. Question 5: What is the level of agility of your team?
  6. Question 6: Are the roles in your team clear without being static?
  7. Question 7: How real is trust in your team?
  8. Question 8: What is the quality of your team interactions?
  9. Question 9: Does your team have someone who takes the lead and fulfils that role?
  10. Question 10: Do you celebrate successes?
  11. Question 11: Who is your audience?

Becoming more like a Soccer Team

What the soccer game #belusa did to me that it made me get interested in the game. I saw a team who had the 11 aspects within them. And what would happen if the team you belong would have the same characteristics. Imagine that your team would function like a soccer team. How would that be? Feel free to share your thought as a comment to this blog.
Here are the highlights of the game Belgium – USA

Team Building – Team Coaching – Team Something

Peter is a recently hired manager in the consulting industry, facing a challenge: his team – if that’s the appropriate name – consists of 7 people, spread over 4 countries. And due to recent restructuring and changes in the organization, it is not really sure they all know each other already, so probably a team kick off or building or something was necessary. They must get to know each other and work together on projects, according to John, Peter’s boss.
Peter realizes that that part of the expectations towards him could have been clarified more in detail during the hiring process. Anyway, it’s a bit late now to mention that. So crafting a team would be one of his main challenges.

Team Building

What could he do?

    • Call each one of them for a one on one first?
    • Organize a meeting to see who shows up?
    • Explain them ‘his vision’ (provided he has one)?
    • First listen to them and their expectations?
    • Hope they become a team, or take initiatives towards that goal?
    • And what initiatives precisely could he undertake?

Quite worried, he has started reading some articles on team building and team coaching and that made him decide not to take any impulsive initiatives, but to contact his HR manager to ask for some comments, advice and support. That HR Manager was me. I had the honour and pleasure to converse with Peter about his concerns. These are some of the topics we talked about.

Team building

Team building literally means the “building” process of a group of people into a team. The attention mainly goes to the roles being held within the team. Very often a trainers choses outdoor-activities that provide challenges the team needs to deal with. The team members will spontaneously take up certain team roles during the process of accomplishing these challenges.
E.g. if you put a group of people on a sailboat, you will quickly be observing who is starting doing what and how: who is taking the lead, who is making sure there’s a good atmosphere, who is coming with solutions, etc.
As of the moment the team has an insight in the available team roles, people will start to really see each other as being different and to experience complementarity in a way that you would probably never do in “normal” working circumstances.
A day of team building typically has an informal character and combines fun with serious activities. It clarifies relations and consolidates involvement among the team members.

Team spirit

Team building also improves the team spirit and challenges team members to see each other in one’s uniqueness and essence. Team spirit grows when the team members become truly convinced that they are more productive working together as a team, than if each one of them would work on their own. You recognize team spirit when you see team members who:

  • like being part of the team;
  • look forward to collaborate (again and again) with each other ;
  • produce humor;
  • return to a relaxed state, after more difficult moments.

Team coaching

Team coaching goes beyond team building. Team coaching is not about getting to know each other and each others differences and complementarity. It is about creating awareness about the (invisible, hidden) interaction, communication, relations, possible blocking factors and conflicts among the team members. This can only be effective after the process of team building. This means that there is already team maturity with e.g. the need to integrate new members. Becoming aware of these hidden things is one purpose; breaking through certain ineffective patterns and turning them into effective ones, a second.
Another way to say it:

  • Team building clarifies visible, observable roles and their effect. With a metaphor: it stays above the water surface.
  • Team coaching clarifies what’s happening under the water surface. It clarifies the invisible, hidden causes of certain ineffective behaviours, interactions or old habits the team members seem to turn around into. How and why precisely do they unconsciously trigger each other to a certain ineffective behaviour ? And how can these patterns be broken through and turned into effective ones ?

What about Peter ?

Through our conversation Peter realized that in a first phase he would have to organize one on one encounters with every team member. And his team members would have to get to know each other during an informal kick off allowing them to (1) physically meet, greet, listen and talk to each other; (2) playfully work together on nice, challenging team building missions; and (3) experience the chemistry of team work through all these activities.
Near the end of the first team meeting, he found a moment to listen to them about their ideas about purpose, goals, projects etc., to share (not impose) his ideas, after having carefully listened.
He suggested continuing physical meetings at regular timings, even though the international character of his team and budgetary realities would not always make that easy. But it was not an option to simply hope that after a first encounter, the group would automatically become a team and stay a team, without any further effort.
He asked me if I could support him as a coach with those eventual further challenges. Of course I accepted.
Peter was quite worried when he started this journey. I had helped him to discover the next steps and gave him a feeling that he was not standing alone in this challenge.