I’m writing this as the EURO 2016 football tournament has finished the group stages and the knock out phase is about to start. Watching some of the games and comparing team’s actual performance vs their predicted performance has parallels with the things you see when building teams.
The Portuguese team can boast one of the best players in the world in the form of Cristiano Ronaldo. However, they have scraped through their group in 3rd place. This was a group they might have expected to win. They didn’t win a game, they drew all three fixtures. On paper Portugal are a good team. They have a number of good players many of whom play for successful league teams. So what is going on?
In the first two games their performance was lack lustre. They were operating as individuals and expecting Ronaldo to create something from nothing. And it wasn’t as though he wasn’t trying. The UEFA stats indicate that he had 33 goal attempts across the three games, which is more than all the attempts of 8 teams in the tournament. An average of 11 attempts per games is not to be sniffed at. In the final group game things seem better, Ronaldo scored two of Portugal’s three goals, which would have been perfect, if only their opponents Hungry hadn’t also scored three.
What you have here is a team with an obvious over achiever. In a development team this might be your rock star developer or a fire fighting hero. These people stand alone as technical experts in their field. They have a track record of results and their reputation precedes them. But having them in your team does not guarantee results. Success is measured in terms of team effectiveness and not an individual’s performance. The rock star developer cannot carry the team just as Ronaldo can’t guarantee a win by scoring two goals, if his team’s defence has let in three.
This happens in many teams not just development teams. My post, When Efficient is not Effective, cover some of my thoughts about this. The crux is that you can’t just throw people together and simply expect the team to work at the same level or above the level of the highest performer.
If you look at some of the so called lesser teams, the teams that held Portugal to a draw or the Republic of Ireland who beat Italy (past Euro runner’s up and World Champions) you see something different. Here you see players working as a unit. Whilst they have good players, none are at the same level of Ronaldo.
The old adage of the whole is greater than the sum of its part rings true.
Update: As it turned out, Portugal, the team with the over achiever, the team being carried by one player, went on to win the tournament. So does that mean that this is the most effective team mode? If you watched Portugal’s final against France something interesting happened. Within the first 10 mins Rolando was obviously injured in a challenge. Despite trying to carry on he was substituted mid-way through the first half.
The star player was gone and the team looked shocked. For some time it seemed that there was no plan B. Portugal went on the defensive (something that had worked well for them over the course of the tournament) possible hoping to overcome the pressure and force the game to penalties. Penalties are nothing to do with the team and all about the individual.
France, had there fair share of attacks but Portugal’s defence held strong and when France did break through luck was not on their side. As the game went on Portugal’s confidence grew and they looked more like a complete side, forming their own attacks and not just relying on defense. And then late into extra time, with penalties looming, Portugal created a chance and scored. This was enough to see them through to the end of the game and to lift the trophy .
So what happened?
The team lost their star player and where forced to reform. Not only did there team members change but also their tactics. They focused on what they we good at and they realised that this was a strong foundation to build on. Without the star, other team members came to be fore and they self organised into an effective unit. This reorganised team went on to meet there objective and win the game.
It is hard to say whether Portugal would have still won if Ronaldo had stayed on the field. But what this game did highlight was that sometimes unexpected bad things happen but teams can still be effective if they have the ability self organise.