HR Forum

Workplace lessons from World Cup

Once every four years, something amazing happens in organisations around the world. Nearly everyone, from the cleaner to the chief executive officer, succumbs to World Cup fever.

They will analyse, criticise and debate about the matches, the goals, the hits, the misses. Staff will arrive at the office with blood-shot eyes after staying awake all night watching that “cannot-miss match”.

It was no different last year. From June 11 to July 11, millions of football fans were glued to the television screens watching 32 teams slug it out in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Why does a game with 22 men chasing after a single ball captivate the entire world? What lessons can the corporate world learn from it? Here are some insights from football — the “most beautiful game”, as soccer icon Pelé called it.

Begin with an idea

The World Cup was conceived by Frenchman Jules Rimet. The first World Cup was held in Uruguay in 1930. The original trophy was made of gold-plated sterling silver and depicted Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. It was stolen in 1983 and has never been recovered.

Sports commentators later billed it as “the greatest show on earth”, which generated billions of dollars in revenue. It even had a positive social impact: every time a match was played, the crime rate dropped drastically in crime-infested slums from Brazil to the Philippines.

Every great product starts with an idea. Cases in point are the Singer sewing machine, 3M Post-it pads and liquid paper. Create a supportive environment in your department, where every idea is given some consideration, no matter how ridiculous it may sound at first.

You never know — you may have a winner one day.

Aim for the big prize

The replacement trophy, the Fifa World Cup Trophy, was first used in 1974. Made of 18-carat gold with a malachite base, it depicts two human figures holding up the Earth. The current holder of the trophy is Spain, winner of the World Cup in 2010. It is perhaps the most coveted trophy in sports, and its quest spurs teams to heights they did not imagine they could reach.

Your organisation, you and your team must aim for the top prize — whether it is top sales, best employer and so on. Without a shared vision and goals to achieve, your team will not be motivated. Coping with pressure

When a player takes a penalty, there is more pressure on him than the goalkeeper. In 1994, the first time the United States ever hosted a World Cup, Italian striker Roberto Baggio was heavily favoured to lead the Azzuri to victory in the final against Brazil. But Baggio sent the ball over the bar, handing Brazil another triumph.

There is a saying: “All ships are safe in the harbour but that’s not what ships are built for.”

Diamonds are formed under pressure. Subject your team to some periods of pressure to challenge their abilities and observe how they cope with failure as well as victory.

Stay focused

In the quarter-final match in 2006 between England and Portugal, the score was 0–0 after extra time and the game had to be decided by a penalty shoot-out. The English trio, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher all missed their shots and Wayne Rooney was sent off. Cristiano Ronaldo scored for Portugal, sending England home early.

Under great pressure to produce results, organisations sometimes focus all their attention on top performers, expecting them to come through every time. Managers need to engage all the members of their team, not just the top scorers. By giving the “ordinary” staff recognition for the work they do, they will be motivated to up their performance too.

Be objective

In 1998, England’s star player, David Beckham, played his first World Cup against Argentina. After being fouled by Diego Simeone, Beckham kicked him in the leg. Danish referee Kim Neilsen red-carded Beckham and he was sent off. Simeone later admitted to overreacting to the injury to get Beckham out.

In the corporate world, managers must be wary of taking sides too quickly when members of their team don’t get along. Hear what each person has to say and look at the evidence before you take any action. If a team member is constantly stirring up trouble for those he deems his rivals, it may be better to transfer him to another section. Toxic colleagues affect a team’s morale, and that’s bad for business. - Source: ST/ANN

Article by Michael Lum, master trainer and licensed American Board of NLP and hypnotherapy coach.