Four years ago, there was no stopping Germany.

Each individual in their team had a role to play. They were able to withstand last-minute injuries prior to the match and still go on to win the game. Now they’ve crashed out of the 2018 World Cup, and pundits blame the loss of key players: Philipp Lahm, Miroslav Klose, Per Mertesacker and Bastian Schweinsteiger—the so-called ‘golden generation’.

So, what happens to a team when the golden era has passed? Once key players move on, does a team in business just kick its heels until new saviours show up?

Farewell, 'golden generation'...

The problem with speaking in terms of a ‘golden generation’ is that it creates a mystical, intangible view of success—some kind of alchemy which cannot easily be reproduced. This way of thinking lowers morale, because no one feels able to replicate the situation and fill the void left by individuals involved in past triumphs. It also puts future success outside the team’s locus of control, so individuals within that team become less committed to a successful outcome.

But when we delve into the detail, we can get a handle on what is missing from the team, and this offers leads as to how to replace key influences in the team to work towards future successes.

Measuring behaviour; filling the void

Former German midfielder, Paul Breitner, claimed that the side lacked wisdom and leadership. He stated that they "didn't seem to have people that could solve problems": “it's like everyone is waiting for someone else to have an idea”. What was missing, in Belbin terms, were the thinking roles provided by the senior players—the Plant creativity and lateral thinking, the cool analysis of a Monitor Evaluator, combined with a smidgen of Co-ordinator wisdom. The synergy made it appear that individual players were indispensable, whereas actually, they were providing a specific kind of Team Role leadership. If this loss can be characterised in behavioural terms, the team can move towards filling the void.

This time around, it’s Belgium who have the star players, but according to Radja Nainggolan, former Belgian player, the team are suffering from problems in working as a unified entity. On Monday, they ended up 2-0 down to Japan, before clawing their way back to victory. There were "a lot of talented players," Nainggolan told them:

"But as you can see, we sometimes have difficulty with becoming a team. It's not always the individual that makes the difference in every game, so you need a collective in the team. That's the thing that maybe has been missing with Belgium."

As Nainggolan says, the conflict between individual objectives and the pursuit of personal glory can be enough to prevent a team from achieving its goals. In football, it’s the tension between teammates who are more used to playing as rivals at club level. In business, similar tensions can arise between individuals from different departments who find themselves working together on a particular project.

What's your team's story?

Whatever challenges a team may be facing, it’s important to consider the story that team tells about its identity, and its own past successes or failures. The very formula Germany is nostalgic for, is proving problematic in Belgium this time around—and it’s not even the same story Germany were telling back in 2014.

On Tuesday, England faced a last-minute disappointment when Colombia scored a goal in stoppage time. And England never wins penalty shootouts, right? Wrong. As Gareth Southgate said after the match, the team had worked on creating their own stories. They’d addressed the past, and focused on honing individual skills and team strategy, so that when the situation arose, the team was ready.

Instead of being deterministic about past successes or failures, it’s important to move forward: examine the past objectively; look at where the team is now, and analyse the resources already at their disposal.

Are you ready to get your team focused on goal? Contact Belbin today to find out how we help build high-performing teams.

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