What startups can learn from the most successful soccer teams

As the Soccer World Cup tournament in South Africa is down to 4 remaining teams (Spain, Uruguay, the Netherlands and my native Germany) it is interesting to analyze why these teams did so well and other (much more favorited or traditionally strong) teams likes Argentina, Brazil, Italy and France did not. As I see it, it comes down to two main factors:

  • Talent over experience: experience is important especially in critical situations like a short tournament but in the end talent trumps experience. Germany sent the youngest national squad to South Africa since 1934 with an average age of only 25 but these young players have not only an incredible talent but also a bigger hunger to win and an amazing speed and energy that lets them out-hassle older teams. On the contrary, both Italy and France sent teams with a majority of players that participated in the 2006 final and were clearly some of the most experienced players in the whole tournament but still exited after the group phase with not a single win. But it is also important to note that the German team is not only made up of youngsters but also has a few really experienced players that provide the necessary leadership for the team.
  • Coherent vision of a team over reliance on a star performance: all 4 teams succeeded without relying on a star player (actually almost all star players like Kaka, Rooney, Messi, Ronaldo or Ribery disappointed at this tournament) but by developing a coherent system of play where the team was the star and not an individual. By getting everybody to help out on the field wherever help was needed, involving every team member in the play independent of popularity off the field and always following the game plan that the coach designed the result was much more powerful than an agglomeration of talented individuals.

So what can startups learn from all of this? I think that both points are also some of the most important success factors for startups. Always hire for talent over experience as the young, smart, hungry team member will very quickly produce more for your company than the seasoned employee that has worked in a similar position for the past 10 years (but make sure that enough seasoned leadership is in place to guide the younger team members). And always focus on the team and a coherent vision that they can follow instead of relying on a few super-stars that might do incredible things once in w while but most often stand in the way of building a great company in the long run.

Looking forward to the final 4 games – and you might guess which team I am cheering for…

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