As we count down to the beginning of the 2018 World Cup, there’s no end of speculation and commentary as to how the teams will fare. Of course, there are so many variables which can make or break a World Cup team. Here, we take a look at some of the factors that drive team success and examine the distinct behavioural styles of some of the managers.

What do teams need for success?

Balance

It seems obvious, but teams need goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and strikers. The squad needs to be balanced too, in case of injury or other unforeseen circumstances. This ensures that the team is never over-reliant on one player. Each person in the team needs to understand and value not only their own specific skill-set, but others’ contributions, and the formations, strategies and techniques which make the team work. Armed with this knowledge, they can maximise their collective strengths and mitigate weaknesses to enhance the team’s performance on the pitch.

Psychological safety

Teams have to trust in one another and in their manager. They need to be able to take the kind of risks that score goals, without fear of recrimination. In successful teams, individuals don’t apportion blame to one another, but feel able to take responsibility for mistakes and work out how to move forward. For World Cup teams, this groundwork will have been laid well in advance and, in the midst of a high-stakes match, this can be crucial. As we know, many a game has turned on a dressing-room talk at half-time. For team members, understanding what each person contributes to the match and how to mitigate the team’s weaknesses will help each person give of their best.

Team-focus

Star players may attract media attention and accolades, but, as we know from Brazil’s 2014 fate, they’re not enough to ensure success, and often the pressure on one person is detrimental both to individual and team. The team needs an identity and a system that can withstand last-minute changes, injuries and disappointing decisions, not to mention media scrutiny and political and personal issues off the pitch. The team is a whole engine and each person within it needs to feel that their efforts are valued and appreciated.

Adaptability

When the unexpected does happen, team members sometimes need to be able to play out of role. In Belbin terms, this is called a ‘Team Role sacrifice’, because the individual is sacrificing the opportunity to play to their most comfortable or preferred roles, and playing a manageable role for the benefit of the team. This strategy is usually only effective in the short-term, but understanding the role strain it can cause, and practising cultivating manageable behaviours in advance can ease the burden.

No matter how balanced or adaptable, every team needs a good leader. In Belbin terms, any Team Role combination can work well in leadership, depending on the balance of the team and the leader’s awareness of their own strengths and shortcomings.

So, which behavioural styles are in evidence among the World Cup managers and how might this affect their teams’ performances?

We think England manager, Gareth Southgate is a quintessential Teamworker-Co-ordinator. He has his squad firmly on-side and has spoken in the run-up to the championship about how to build trust, respect and strong relationships with the team. Unlike his predecessors, he has focused on getting junior and senior team members working fluently together, and describes how the team’s “togetherness” in adversity has improved performance. With an exclusively social leadership focus, it remains to be seen whether the strategy and action will follow the talk.

German manager, Joachim Löw demonstrates some Co-ordinator qualities too. With a staunch belief in himself and his team, he identifies, promotes and rewards talent. However, Löw is apparently a painful perfectionist too. In true Completer Finisher style, he “precision-engineers” a plan for each team Germany faces. In Brazil, he personally checked the construction of the players’ living quarters and training facilities, and upon arrival in Russia, he reportedly complained that the grass on the pitch was a few millimetres too long. We think there’s a smidgen of Monitor Evaluator too. Despite some grimaces on the touchline, he keeps his cool, is a great admirer of balance and wants to see things done the right way. Co-ordinator-Monitor Evaluators can be effective, hands-off leaders, but may not be the quickest to respond to a crisis. It will be interesting to see how Löw reacts if Germany are caught off-guard. Will he blame the length of the grass?

Nicknamed ‘El Recreacionista’ on account of his unorthodox training methods, Mexico’s Juan Carlos Osorio shows some Plant behaviours. He has no shortage of ideas, coming up with a new line-up for each match. His meticulous note-taking and attention to detail indicate that he also shares Löw’s Completer Finisher tendencies. Whilst interviews suggest that he places value on order, others indicate that his quest for change disrupts the team’s efficiency. Could it be that he sees more Implementer behaviours in himself than others in his team might report? Might Mexico suffer from a lack of organisation when it comes to the crunch?

Brazil’s manager, Tite, is described as cerebral and studious -- a man who ‘breathes football’. Like a typical Specialist, he loves to learn and spends his time studying how other teams win and turn games around. In true Resource Investigator form, Tite is also a persuasive speaker, able to think on his feet and sell others on the idea of his team’s potential. Whilst he may be able to deliver a rousing half-time talk, as a Specialist manager, Tite will need to be careful that he doesn’t focus on the technicalities at the expense of the bigger picture.

Next Steps

Is your team all talk and no action? Do you struggle to get people to look around them and find the space to move towards the goal? Perhaps you’re a manager jumping up and down on the touchline, but no one’s paying attention?

At Belbin, we help build high-performing teams. Visit us at www.belbin.com and find out what makes your team tick.

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