Portugal had Ronaldo and Argentina had Messi, who depending on whom you ask are claimed to be the best players in the world. They also overcame a Brazil side which was a shambles once they were shorn of their best player and possibly the third best player in the world Neymar. In fact in lists of the top 10 players in the world there were no German players included.
Each of these sides relied on the brilliance of an individual rather than on the collective talents of their teams, which meant that when their stars faltered they, they faltered, they had no plan B to fall back on.
That’s not to say that the German did not contain stars players, but they play in a way that they put the team rather than the individual first. This approach allowed them to overcome the injury to one of their top players in the warm up, Sami Khedira, and for him to be replaced with another player who stepped in performed his duties.
When you focus on the team rather than the individuals it makes it much more difficult for teams to prepare to play against you. With Argentina, the goal of their opposition was, stop Messi and if you can do that then you have a good chance of stopping Argentina.
Whereas with Germany there was no one player that you could focus on stopping which would then stop Germany. Individually Argentina was a great match for Germany, but collectively they fell short.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, teamwork doesn’t just happen, the leader needs to build teamwork, it takes time and effort. If you have great individuals it’s much easier to defer to them than build team work, but then you can become reliant on one or two individuals.
This is what happened to Brazil, they focused so much on Neymar, they relied too heavily on him, to such an extent that when he was injured and no longer available, the belief in the team and also of the team dropped. And in the few days between him becoming injured and the next game it was too little time to build the teamwork that would help them against Germany.
This German team has been built and worked upon over the last 4-6 years, it’s not a sudden overnight success. In the last world cup they were excellent and produced some great results but ultimately lost to Spain in the semi-final. Spain were another country who put the emphasis on team first and individual second.
When you focus on team you make every player feel important, you make every player feel that they could be the difference, so when your star players under perform then you have many players who could step in and fill the void.
In this World Cup 8 German players scored goals, of whom 6 scored 2 or more goals, compared to 4 scoring players from Argentina, of whom only Messi scored more than 1 goal, and 5 scoring players for Brazil of whom only 3 scored more than 1 goal.
In many companies I have worked for they have taken a similar approach to those teams with star players, looking to identify their top performers and then focusing on them believing that star performers will lead the company to top performance. But in business, as in football, it’s teamwork that allows us to achieve our full potential.
We do need to ensure we get the best out of our top performers, but we also need to focus on building the team, increasing the collective output of the team by working to improve all players, not just the superstars.
If you choose to focus on individual contribution, when the individuals turns in a poor performance, is ill, or chooses to leave, then where does that leave your company.
Teamwork cannot be a plan B that you fall back on, that won’t work, teamwork should be plan A.