Redefining Team-Win: The Making of a Great Team

“We were more selfish as players (in the past). I wanted to do everything but it’s a different game these days.” – Diego Maradona Argentinian soccer great

“It shows you that a team is not just one player. A player can win the tournament for you, like Argentina with Maradona [in 1996] but, in the end, everything depends on teamwork.” – Iker Casillas Spanish goalkeeper and captain

The World Cup was won by Spain, and they were the worthy champions. Even the Dutch coach admitted, “The better team won.” It is true that ‘Spain epitomized the approach better than anyone, with every player drilled to a supreme level of technical ability, concentration and spatial awareness that enabled them to create patterns of passes probably unsurpassed by any previous nation.

If we want to be world-class and perform at the highest level, teamwork is essential. How does teamwork really work, and become ‘Team-Win’?

Team-Win demands selecting the right people to execute the plan.

Execution is the key to translating a vision into reality.

Commenting on how he does his team selection, German coach Joachim Loew said that rather than automatically picking the best players, he had a vision of how his team would perform and chose those he knew would carry it out.2

In other words, different people are chosen to fulfill different tasks. Not everyone is suited for every project, and who is chosen depends on the project or task at hand.

If we need a strategic task force, we select those who can think strategically – creative idea generators, people who can plan with the big picture in mind and those who are willing to challenge the status quo.

If we need project implementation, we need people who are task-focused. Such people understand the importance of deadlines, are strong in operational skills and can gel together to make things happen.

Team-Win requires each person in the team to understand his or her role and execute it precisely.

Great teams focus on their roles, and then rehearse the team play umpteen times.

Wesley Sneijer was the ‘engine’ of the team, but Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong did their part in prowling across the field and creating space for the playmakers to operate in. Their defenders destroyed the opposing team’s moves, and anyone who got past them now faced the superb goalkeeping of Maarten Stekelenburg.

Execution is the key to translating a vision into reality. Holland reached the final with each player executing his roles to near perfection. Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie were the star strikers, but it was Dick Kyut’s unselfish play that created more danger for the team’s opponents.

Everyone played their role superbly. They could perform them well because of hours, days and months of preparation and practices. Great teams focus on their roles, and then rehearse the team play umpteen times.

Team-Win needs leaders who can anticipate what can go wrong, and adapt.

Winning teams know how to improvise and change their pattern of play when they take a hit. Many of the teams learnt to play with nine or ten men. Argentina and England flopped because they were not prepared for the tactics used by the Germans. When they were down, they panicked and let in more goals.

Crisis reveals the stuff that teams are made of.

As boxing great Mike Tyson put it: “Everybody’s got a plan until they get hit.”

The most important preparation in any game, especially the final, is mental and not physical. Mental strength makes or breaks the team. The ability to focus and keep calm, in spite of tremendous pressure, is the toughest to maintain. That is why experience in high intensity games counts.

Crisis reveals the stuff that teams are made of. I believe the Spanish coach must have drummed into each player that the Dutch team was going to play to keep Spain from playing their usual game, and so the Spaniards did not crumble under the intensity. Sports journalist Gary Lim was spot-on when he wrote, ‘Brazil, Argentina,

England and Italy fell apart under the pressure. Spain thrived and that is why they are the world champions.’

Team-Win requires players to play to their strengths.

I believe the Germans epitomized this best. They had a young team, but they could generate great energy and run fast. Counter-attacking was the name of their game. But it takes a lot of energy and faith for a player to perform a 70-meter pass, and a team-mate to make that perfect run to receive it.

Uruguay, Paraguay and Ghana progressed through the World Cup because they played to their strengths, based on teamwork and team play. Other fancied teams put their hopes on big names like Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, but failed miserably.

Team-Win means there is more than one winner.

One of the most gratifying aspects of the 2010 World Cup was the rapturous returning receptions from national leaders and fans of some of the losing teams.

This broadened perspective augurs well for the understanding of teams, and shows a growing maturity about winning. While the World Cup can only have one winner, it is heartening that the other teams were recognized as having won victories in their own right.

Team-Win applauds everyone, not individual stars.

The Spanish team had numerous individual stars: David Villa, the top goal scorer for Spain, Xavi the playmaker and Andres Iniesta, the final’s Man of the Match. Del Bosque, the Spanish coach, was more pleased by the collective effort. “We have hugely talented players on this team,” he said. “This success, being world champions, is a success for all of us. I don’t think we should focus on Andres or Xavi.”

Team-Win manages expectations and motivates players to exceed them.

England’s coach Fabio Capello believed that his team would get to the final, and told the press as such. Perhaps he wanted to create a winning mindset in the players and change their attitude as perennial failures – but the plan backfired. England’s hopes were raised, but unfortunately were not met. The team and country ended up completely devastated.

Great teams know how to manage their expectations but at the same time, outdo them.

Finally, Team-Win remembers those who have gone before.

After he scored the winning goal of the final, Iniesta pulled off his jersey to reveal the words ‘Dani Jarque, always with us’ printed on his inner vest. It was a touching gesture of remembrance for Daniel Jarque, the man who would have been team captain. Sadly, he had died during a pre-season tour in Italy one month after he was selected.

Iniesta recognized that there were others who had gone before him who had made victory possible. “We wanted to pay tribute to him and we thought it was the best opportunity to do so,” he said (emphasis added).

That is what I would call Team-Win!