In the 1974 World Cup, Holland astounded the world with its brand of “total football” under its coach Rinus Michels.
Its teamwork was of the highest order — any player could take over the role of another player. Even the goalkeeper moved forward to be a defender every time the Dutch launched a counter attack.
The success of this teamwork depended on the high adaptability of each footballer within the team and his ability to quickly change positions depending on the situation. Team players had to be physically fit and technically competent so that they were comfortable in multiple positions.
When a player moved out of his position, he was replaced immediately by another member, thus retaining the team’s original structure.
In this fluid system, no player was fixed in his role. Nicknamed Clockwork Organje, a pun on the title of the novel by Anthony Burgess, any member could be successively an attacker, a midfielder and a defender.
Similarly, football minnows South Korea shone in the World Cup 2002 with great teamwork, although they were not a favourite. They defeated football giants like Portugal, Spain and Italy on its way to the semi-finals, probably because its players invested more time in perfecting their moves.
How do you build a team of all-rounders like a total football team?
In 1965, psychologist Bruce Tuckman pioneered a model for peak performance with his “forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning” technique.
When you are appointed to lead a project, the first thing you have to do is to form a team. Some members are anxious, as they are clueless about what work is involved. Others are excited about the challenges ahead.
In the forming stage, you have to get members to know each another. Spell out each person’s role and responsibilities. Have initial discussions so that the team can work towards the goal.
As a leader, you have to establish your objectives clearly and give strong directions to the team. There will be some members who will find it frustrating as they want to proceed with the task immediately.
As the team settles down, the members will want to clarify their roles and responsibilities. Your position as the leader may be challenged. Some members will question you on the objectives of the project.
As leader, remain positive and never stray away from your original goal. You may face resistance. Some members may be overwhelmed by the work and you have to counsel them.
If there is any conflict, resolve it quickly and objectively. Build strong relationships between team members. Paint a vision of the future so that team members can visualise it and believe in it.
As the team moves gradually into the norming stage, they begin to know each other better. They begin to respect you as a leader, help one another and provide constructive feedback.
Progress towards the goal is evident as the team members demonstrate loyalty and commitment to the project. Help them to take responsibility for progress towards the goals. Praise them. Reward them adequately and promptly.
At this stage, team members are high performers pursuing their goals vigorously as they believe in the shared vision. Processes, structures and resources must be easily available to support the team.
Delegate as much work as you can. Be objective. Do not delegate easy work to your favourite team members. Match the job requirements with the team member’s competencies.
Delegation is a two-way process. Authority and resources are transferred from you to them while accountability is passed from the team to you.
As with all projects, once it is mission accomplished, you have to disband the team. It is hard for some team members who have now developed close working relationships with one another. Other members may be worried about their future roles.
Celebrate the completion of your project by thanking them at a small party. Interview all the members on the lessons learned.
Review and record both the mistakes and victories your team has made so that the insights can be applied to your next project.
Once in a long while, there is a magical moment when a lone ranger makes teamwork seem irrelevant.
In the 1986 World Cup quarter-final match in Mexico, four years after the Falklands War was fought between England and Argentina, the two countries were pitted against each other once again — this time on the football field.
In the 51st minute, soccer legend Diego Maradona leapt high and scored using his hand. The referee did not notice this and the goal went unpenalised — it was later dubbed the Hand of God goal.
Four minutes later, Maradona dribbled past six England players to score his second goal. It was voted the goal of the century. Argentina won the match, and Maradona was voted “Player of the century”.
The moral of the story? Organisations may celebrate their once-in-a century moments when a star performer does wonders, but their prudent managers know that for steady, sustained progress, teamwork wins hands down.