World Cup Strategy

Volume 18 Letter 7

With the World Cup Soccer beaming in from Russia I’ve been catching some of the action with my morning coffee. My favorite team, Iceland, exited early but they were in good company when Germany, the 2014 champions, suffered the same fate.

What I enjoy the most about the World Cup games are the strategies employed by the various teams. Back in 2014, host country, Brazil, was on cruise control to the finals and looked unbeatable until they fell to Germany 7 – 1 in the semi-finals. The big question – how did such a talented team so suddenly collapse?

While the devastating result may have happened on the football pitch, the outcome was determined long before the game started. The Germans developed a game plan that shut down the talented Brazilians and by the time the would-be champions figured out their strategy it was half time and the score was already 5 – 0

When we watch a football match, we’re really witnessing the execution of a strategy. Each coach has assembled a team depending on the talent available and developed a playing system to best showcase the team’s abilities. The management staff also assesses opposing teams, evaluating the skills of each player and predicting what strategies they might employ. Before a game lineups are determined creating matchups where advantages might be gained while trying to neutralize an opponent’s assets. Even as a game progresses the strategy is constantly re-assessed and adjustments made as teams re-configure and substitute players.

In sports like soccer, the action is brief and intense and between matches there are periods for practice and reflection. By contrast, the action in business is almost always constant. The whistle doesn’t sound after 90 minutes and there is no reserved time in between games to catch your breath. These periods of reflection (when analysis takes place and strategies are developed) need to be carved out. If time isn’t set aside for self-evaluation, learning rarely takes place. If reactive decisions are substituted for the hard work of developing a strategy the ensuing result is almost always subpar.

From whichever business discipline you hail, be it R&D, HR, Procurement, Legal, Marketing, Whatever – start thinking of your business unit as a World Cup football team about to enter the final match next weekend. Think about this:

  1. If you were a World Cup football coach with the hopes of your country clearly squared on your shoulders and about to face a tough opponent how much planning would you do?
  2. As the leader of a business section, division, region or company, how much time have you taken to plan your strategy in the last year?
  3. When is the last time you took your team offsite and did a deep dive to fully immerse your team in your market?

In the next few weeks, a 100,000 screaming fans will be in the stands singing and stamping their feet cheering for their team. 50 million more onlookers will be watching on TV’s around the world. If that were the case for your business, you’d find the time to develop a rock solid strategy.

Go Iceland – 2022! 🙂 Oh yeah, and Go Canada, too!

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