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soccerI am not a soccer fan. I never watch the game. Until now. I have followed the Belgian soccer team during the world championships in Brasil. Last Tuesday I could witness an incredible game between the Belgian team and the US Team. Never before I was captured like this in a game. In the aftermath I was wondering how it would be like when a team would be functioning like a soccer team. What can we learn from that team? Here are 11 insights and questions.

  1. They share the same goal. Here the goal is very clear: to win and to go to the next round. The mere possibility to become the world champion is energizing. The fact that the Belgian soccer team gets in to the quarter finals was maybe hoped for, but not in words. Today the team has exceeded expectations by winning the 1/8 final against the USA. So the next aim is winning against Messi and the Argentinian team. That would be the day.
  2. All members of the team are talented. They are among the best and they bring skills to the team that enable the team to function. They are hand-picked with care. The choice is based not only on their individual skills but also on the complementarity of their skills. You only need one goal keeper. You need forwards, defenders and midfielders. You need agility, speed, endurance, tactical insight, field overview, camaraderie …
  3. Although all team members have excellent skills they cannot play alone. The combination of skills makes them excel. They have to rely on the other. No-one of the team can be a star. And no-one serves the other (unlike in biking where group members must support the one who the team coach wants to see winning).
    Sometimes personal ambitions are put aside to achieve a team goal. To sit on a bench and watch your team mates win (or loose) is probably very excruciating. But in the interest for the collective target this is accepted.
  4. Team members take the responsibility for their actions. When to pass, when to take a shot. The goal is not to have the ball as long as possible, but to make a goal. Team members that have as a goal to score and put this objective above the common objectives do not stay long in the team.
  5. Since the soccer game is not predictable, the team needs to adapt. Agility is important. What you have planned does not come true in spite of all the preparations. So the soccer team needs to be vigilant and follow the flow of the game.
  6. The roles in the soccer team are clear but organic. Even when players switch positions (a midfielder becoming a forward). The game is fast and fluid. So players can switch positions organically. There is a team captain who gives directions and leadership on the filed. (the coach needs to be next to the field).
  7. Trust is key. I noticed in the game how other players were able to trust the goalie blindly to catch the ball. They did not try to save the situation themselves. If the goal keeper would have missed, the team would be in trouble. But if everyone would rush to save the situation, the rest of the game could be jeopardized. So they need to trust one another.
  8. The interaction is intense. How players interact to create space and advance is passionate to see. They seem to have pleasure in passing the ball to the other. This interaction seems easy and light, but it’s not. I can imagine that a lot of training precedes this level. A national soccer team is a temporary team and members play with other teams in other countries that have other traditions. So achieving this level of interaction cannot be simple. It requires openness of mind and willingness to adapt.
  9. The role of the coach is as always a conundrum. During the game he has to stand at the side (yelling, shouting, snorting). But he is the one who selects, defines strategies, decides on replacements during the game. It is he who has to motivate the players and mold them into one team. He decides what he wants to see on the field and what not. He gives feedback. He comforts frustrated players. And he shares the defeat and the victory. That is the role of the team leader.
  10. Celebrating successes is a skill that many teams do not have. A soccer team has that. They celebrate together with the audience.
  11. Every team needs an audience. A soccer team has the fans as its audience. The fans give meaning to the soccer game. Without the audience of fans there is no point. Winning in en empty stadion – it happens – reduces the soccer game to a technical matter. The muggy atmosphere of a boiling stadion in Brasil in which only a handful Belgian fans mingle with other spectators.

11 questions to ask

Here are 11 questions to ask about your team.

  1. Question 1: Is the goal clear and to what extent is it shared?
  2. Question 2: How would you describe the strengths of the team members? Is there enough diversity of skills, opinions, …?
  3. Question 3 : To what extent are team members able to set aside their ego?
  4. Question 4: Do all team members take their responsibility?
  5. Question 5: What is the level of agility of your team?
  6. Question 6: Are the roles in your team clear without being static?
  7. Question 7: How real is trust in your team?
  8. Question 8: What is the quality of your team interactions?
  9. Question 9: Does your team have someone who takes the lead and fulfils that role?
  10. Question 10: Do you celebrate successes?
  11. Question 11: Who is your audience?

Becoming more like a Soccer Team

What the soccer game #belusa did to me that it made me get interested in the game. I saw a team who had the 11 aspects within them. And what would happen if the team you belong would have the same characteristics. Imagine that your team would function like a soccer team. How would that be? Feel free to share your thought as a comment to this blog.
Here are the highlights of the game Belgium – USA

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.


  • Johan Roels says:

    Since it was the first match you saw I have to warn you… Not always a soccer team scores 11/11 on your aspects. Frankly, it is practically never the case.
    A lot of soccer teams are like teams in Organizations and Control and Command, Ego and so on are killing the Creative Interchange Process. Not at least in most matches the System is killing the Flow (cf. ‘Fuck the System’ – Jan Mulder).
    Watch a couple of matches today and you’ll find out 🙂

  • Hi David. Good to hear that you’re still open for discovering new experiences. Wow, even soccer ;-).
    Here are 3 additional lessons that we also can learn from a soccer team and soccer players:
    – The training frequence and intensity. They practice their play at least once every day, get instance feedback from the coach and their collegues. What would be the effect if each of us would spent every day one hour f.e. on reading business books or would be followed by a mentor or would just walk around and observe all work processes in our company?
    – They are healthy and happy. Of course they are, they are sportsmen. But they need to do some efforts to keep so. That makes them extremely resistant to mental illness and guarantees continuous performance. What would be the effect if all employees in your company would eat / sleep / move like a professional football player?
    – However most of them earn tons of British Pounds in the Premier League, motivation for playing in the national team is rather instrinsic than extrinsic. They play for honour and are pround to be part of the team. What can we learn from that for the people retention policy in your company? The players on the field are like your employees in the offices: the most important people of the story. Make them special. Your customers, shareholders, applicants and your managers are the audience. I hope they all love your employees: They support, they complain, they tell when it’s good and yell when it’s not. Like in the arena.

  • Great article! Beautiful identification of eleven important issues for a team to pay attention to.
    One minor suggestion: “Rather than turning the issues into questions, I would suggest that they could be turned into a Sentence Completion Survey of all the members of a team, for them to fill out on their own and then share in the group.”
    For example, question 1 becomes:
    1. a. My current understanding of my team’s definition(s) of “winning” or “success” (its “goals”) is/ are:
    b. In addition, I wish we would also define winning or success as:……………………….
    2. a. Some ways we currently celebrate success or winning as a team are:
    b. In addition, I wish we would celebrate our successes by:……………..
    3. a. On a scale of 1 (very low) to 7 (very high) I would say that trust level between the members of this team is team is:
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7
    b. One or more things I intend to do to raise the trust level between our team members is / are:
    c. One or more things other members of my team could do to enhance the trust level is / are:
    etc. etc.
    Having people fill out such a survey beforehand and reflect on the eleven issues could lead to an even deeper conversation than just raising the questions AND you have done the critical work of helping people take what they know and have seen in a very popular world (soccer) and translated into something from which they can learn and do deep applications in their daily work. GOAL!

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