It took the 113th minute to break the deadlock.
With an ominous penalty shootout lurking on the horizon, Andre Schurrle skipped down the left touchline and crossed a superb ball into the Argentine box. It was expertly trapped by the young German prodigy on his chest and wonderfully volleyed past Romero into the Argentine net; encapsulating a breathtaking display of skill, usually associated with the Latin American version of the beautiful game.
For that one moment Mario Goetze was not human.
For the rest of his life, he will always find restaurant table reservations at the last minute, absolutely no problem in Germany.
In the end, few can dispute that Germany were the deserving winners of the 2014 World Cup. Die Mannschaft, which literally translates into ‘The Team’, was unequivocally the team of the tournament.
And in the narrowness of their one goal victory over Argentina in the final, there lie a generous width of ideas, pertinent to anybody involved in creating effective teams. In their style of designing world class automobiles, the Germans this World Cup, also shed some light on engineering world beating teams.
Out of the ditch@full throttle
Ten years ago, Germany had a disastrous outing at the European Championships in Portugal. They were knocked out at the initial group stage. It was truly a low point in their footballing history. The consensus seemed to be, the talent had dried up in German game. At such times, most teams tend to embrace a defensive approach to stay competitive. But two German coaches turned this conventional idea on its head, first Jurgen Klinsmann in 2006, and subsequently Joachim Low (who began as Klinsmann’s acolyte).
In every tournament, beginning with the 2006 World Cup, the Germans came out flying. They not only scored goals by the bagful, they even began transforming a dour stodginess, in the perception about the German team. They became the most exciting team on the planet. Their attacking intent also presented them the onus early on in matches, and soon they began to chalk up an impressive record.
Many times organizations trying to turn the corner become more and more defensive in their strategies. This results in an adherence to ‘tried and trusted’ procedures, quite a few of which might be responsible, for landing the company in that predicament in the first place. To dramatically turn things around, bravery in one’s strategic and executional approach, is often the need of the hour. It can catch competitors off guard. It can inspire belief in the team within. It can provide the organizational momentum to get out of tough situations. It can ensure there is always joy to be had, when the final whistle blows.
Component diversity, enhances performance
Previous German teams used to largely (if not exclusively) feature players of pure German ethnicity. But this new exciting revolution in German football; will also be remembered for the manner in which players, who had a dual heritage, began to feature regularly and prominently.
There is a distinct ‘United Nations’ feel to the German national team these days. Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski are part Polish. Mesut Ozil is of Turkish descent. Jerome Boateng has a Ghanaian father. Sami Khedira has Tunisians roots. And these players have opened the doors for many others.
Any ecosystem is richer for the variance it possesses. The same is true for teams in any organization. Diverse cultural upbringings always entail a distinctly different perspective on things. This is an invaluable asset in the competitive times of today.
It is also a real boon when the company is on the path of innovation. This span of different viewpoints, not only leads to a contrast in opinion, which might catalyze an interesting conflict or ‘abrasion of ideas’ (to borrow a term from Professor Robert Sutton), that is always great for the creative process, but it also ushers in a novelty and an increased range, to the task of conceptualization.
So whether it is the question of generating an out of the box idea, or putting together an eye catching move on the pitch, teams with richness in diversity, always have more chances of impressing.
More mileage per player
German players are ingrained in the concept of ‘Total Football’. It is one of the country’s contributions (along with Holland) to the sport itself. Hence it was no surprise to see forwards like Klose and Muller coming deep in their own halves, to fulfill their defensive duties. Nor was it any cause for astonishment, to see the likes of central defender Matt Hummels score a few goals, and often make penetrating runs deep into opposition territory. However what was really new; was the absolutely defining manner, in which Manuel Neuer forever changed the expectations of a goalkeeper.
He exemplified a new concept, that of the ‘sweeper keeper’. His outrageous performance against Algeria, in a knockout game, surely made coaches and experts round the world sit up and take notice. Neuer was not just the last line of defense; with his excellent distribution, he was the first line of attack as well. He ventured further than any goal keeper ever had in the World Cup, metaphorically and quite literally as well.
In these economically uncertain times, Neuer does lay down a behavioral template for the modern day employee. Role definitions and boundaries should start becoming nonexistent. The only thing which really matters should be the overall organizational goal. And everyone goes beyond the confines of their visiting card to contribute to that cause.
Can those in marketing bring back better cues from the market, for the R&D to think about when developing something new? Can someone from the domain of finance, lead an organizational charge, because she has spotted a key financial trend which can truly leverage the company’s offerings? Do ideas really have to be the preserve of any one particular department?
Neuer shows us, that only when we are able to go beyond the limitations of our very own penalty boxes (organizational, psychological and otherwise), can we truly expect to uncover new ground.
Drivers Changing. Experience Consistent
Football is a great team sport, as are so many others. And yet, one finds individual milestones, sometimes taking precedence over team interests. Many would recall how some cricketing teams slow down, when a batsman is inching towards a hundred. In this World Cup, Germany painted an inspiring example of how team sport can, and should always be conducted.
Their indifference, to Miroslav Klose’s proximity to the record for the highest number of goals ever scored in the competition, was an eye opener to many. The only reason, Klose was brought onto the pitch or stayed on it, was to try and get much needed goals. Eventually it was almost inevitable that if they won the World Cup, he would break the record too; as should always be the case.
Losing an absolutely key player like Sami Khedira just before the final, could have been crippling for many; not the Germans. They calmly shrugged off this misfortune, and replaced him with the young Christoph Kramer. When Kramer himself picked up an injury in the match, the Germans hardly broke stride in bringing Andre Schurrle on. The feeling was any of the players on the pitch, could have played in any other position, with almost the same impact. And there were several on the substitutes bench, equally skilled in the same positional flexibility. Individuals did not matter that much. The team was truly the star for the Germans. And it was shining brightly.
Corporate life is no stranger these days, to individual self-interest taking over the progress of a group. In these ‘i-obsessed’ times, managers need to balance individual aspiration and fulfillment, with the achievement of team goals. This task demands sterling personal examples be set. And instances, of team members going beyond their call of duty to help colleagues, are positively reinforced by open acknowledgment and rewards. An evaluation of individual effort, never in isolation, but always in the context of how the team was bolstered (or impeded) by it, needs to become more of the norm in modern day workplaces.
There is also a ‘star culture’ in the corporate world. Perhaps there will always be merit in that, as many sporting teams do show. But being overly dependent on one person, can never make for either an effective team or a great organization. Having understudy’s being nurtured to step into those big shoes, when the star is absent or chooses to move on, is an initiative which has to be seriously considered for the long term health of any organization.
Developing a pool of talent, with a cross functional perspective, able to fill in at least temporarily, into different slots on the organizational matrix, is also a policy worth considering. Die Mannschaft did present a rousing case study in this direction at the World Cup, especially when one considers how the likes of Brazil and Argentina went about their business.
In conclusion, Die Mannschaft not just won the World Cup; they kindled insightful ideas in management thinking, to address the challenge of building winning teams
Gary Lineker had once said, ‘Football is a game where twenty two men, run after the ball for ninety minutes. And in the end the Germans win’.
Perhaps we are set for that kind of an era, where the Germans are likely to change gears nonchalantly, briefly savor the purr of their immaculately crafted engine, and leave the rest of the world miles behind.