Lessons Learned from the World Cup

The world is in a soccer (or should I say "futbol") frenzy right now. Every day the best teams in the world are competing for their country in hard-fought matches where the team advancing might be determined in the final few seconds of a game. In the U.S vs. Portugal game, the U.S. was the only team in their group Sunday that could have advanced to the knockout round with a win. Instead, their fate is still up in the air, with a number of possible outcomes. This got me thinking about the lessons we could learn from the World Cup.

Leadership is key. It is easy to credit a coach or team captain with leadership, but if there is one thing I've learned in the past few years, it is that anyone can be a leader—it is not defined by your title. This is evident in any soccer game in the world at any given time. Just listen to players talking to one another on a field. Often it's the goalie or center back defender shouting instructions. They may have a lay of the land that someone in a striking position can't see. I think of the Procurement group the same way—it is often the only department that has regular communication with virtually every other business unit, allowing it insight at a high-level that is difficult for any other department to replicate.

Teamwork is essential. In the U.S./Portugal game, the last goal scored by each team was made possible not because one amazing striker took the ball down the field and put it in the net, but because several players ran alongside one another and looked for the best opportunity to score. In each case, the player with the ball could have taken a shot on goal, but saw one of their teammates in a better scoring position and capitalized on it. Having the right person in the right role at the right time is critical...and working as a team always ensures that the company as a whole receives the benefit. While we are on that topic, there is no "i" in the word "team." Have you ever seen a soccer player (or in fact been that player) who blames him or herself for the loss of a team? I've spent many hours teaching my kids that soccer is a team sport, and that no one person is ever responsible for a loss...or for a win. Many things have to happen and many players have to let the ball get by them before a goal is scored. The same is true in Procurement organizations...or any organization for that matter. The best run companies are those where team members collaborate on ideas, share best practices, celebrate successes and learn from failures.

Make your "moves" strategically. Fancy footwork may be fun to watch, but it often leaves you exposed. With three, and at one time four kids playing competitive soccer, I've sat on the sidelines of many a game. Sometimes I'm in awe of the "maradona" and "stepover" moves they use in games, and other times I wonder why they chose a move that allowed the defender to sneak off with the ball. In a fast-paced World Cup game, these players are making split-second decisions. In the business world, we usually have a little more time to think through the scenarios and plan accordingly. So pick your moves wisely and make sure you have conducted "pre-mortems," which allow you to think of all the possible outcomes before they occur.

Use your head. Admittedly this one is a stretch, but bear with me. My favorite goals are those where a perfectly placed ball meets the head of a perfectly positioned player who heads the ball into the goal. Often seen as the result of a corner kick, these goals are the epitome of "using your head." And of course, the flip side is following your heart. Sometimes that is an important part of decision making too...but in business, you are usually better off making strategic decisions with logic, not emotion. Try not to take business decisions personally and you'll probably be much more content at work.

Every second counts. Had the referee called the U.S./Portugal game just a few seconds earlier, the U.S. would be sitting pretty right now. As it is, they can still advance, but it depends on many other things transpiring, both in their own upcoming game as well as in the other game in their group. I'm sure that every player on that team has thought about what they could have done differently to change the outcome of the game. Hindsight is 20/20...and no one has the ability to turn back the clock, so make every second count. Utilize resources (like SIG) that offer you ways to avoid reinventing the wheel. Develop collegial relationships with your peers both in and outside of your company--and then work at them. Share best practices with them freely--it usually comes back to you in spades. Along with the rest of the world, I'll be watching the World Cup...and hoping to gather a few more good lessons in the process. What have you learned from the games? Share your insights!

Sarah Holliman