My annual contract with the 8 Man Rotation Group, LLC (not a real thing, but we do have an annual FREE Ebook on Sports and HR - you can get the latest version here), obliges me to post at least once about the World Cup and what similarities, parallels, or HR and workplace takeaways you might be able to glean from the tournament (which I really do enjoy), so here goes...
Talent almost always trumps all - Despite some interesting and surprising 'upsets' in the early round matches, (the USA getting out of the 'Group of Death', the legendary Spanish side failing to play to expectations), by the later stages of the event, the best/most talented teams had risen to the occasion. In the first knockout round the 8 teams that had been on top of their opening round groups, all defeated the second place in their group teams that they were matched against. And then in the quarter-final round, the four teams that advanced (Brazil, Germany, Argentina, and the Netherlands), were among the pre-tournament top four favored sides. Winning at the World Cup, and in most every business as well, remains mostly about having a group of talented people working together towards the same goal. And since every team wants to win the World Cup, the tie-breaker is talent. Not fighting spirit, not fan support, not a 'unique' culture - it's talent.
The more people needed to create the finished product, the less individual stars matter - Soccer is played by 11 people per side, thus making any single individual's ability to impact and influence the outcome of the match relatively less than say basketball, where a single star player is often the difference between winning teams and losing ones. Sure, each of the top 4 teams have their share of 'star' players, but in a 90 minute match these players can often go for very long stretches of play without even touching the ball, much less making game-altering plays. Soccer is often about discipline, strategy, organization as much as about singular talent. So while talent (usually) trumps all, it is really kind of a collective talent level that I'm talking about. Many of the top sides have seen their star players go down to injury, yet their overall talent level and team organization has allowed them to continue to thrive. The HR lesson here? Once about 10-15 people are involved in any project or initiative, you might be better off passing on the 'star' talent in favor of raising the overall talent level of the group.
Performance is relative (and a function of expectations) - Just like how for most publicly traded companies their quarterly performance in terms of absolute revenue or earnings means much less than how those figures compared to Wall Street's 'expectations' of what those results would be, a team's performance in the World Cup usually is assessed against some kind of nebulous collective expectation of what that performance would be. Case in point -the USA team played four matches in the World Cup. They won one, drew one, and lost two. The win was against probably the worst opponent of the four. The draw happened when the USA allowed a shocking goal in the 95th minute of play (essentially the last kick of the game). But yet after the USA was eliminated from the tournament, the general consensus was that the USA had a successful tournament and is on the right track for the future. But objectively, a record of 1-2-1 in four games is pretty terrible. But against expectations, it was a success. We see this effect at work all the time - someone's just sort of average performance is viewed as wonderful if they have a track record of being incompetent. Someone else's good performance is not appreciated if they had somehow done a little better in the past. We'd probably be better off trying to forget the recent past, let go of 'expectations' and try to evaluate people and performance for what they are.
Anyway, there it is, my 8 Man Rotation 2014 World Cup post is in the books!