It’s World Cup time again. This global football-fest is always a great source of teamwork stories, including that moment in 2010 when I got called as an “expert” to comment when France’s players refused to practice in protest of one of the star players being expelled. Well, Russia 2018 is providing its fair share of stories and, as usual, the stories could just as easily be happening in the office as on the soccer pitch. This year’s first big story is about imposing consequences for not performing.

Sent Home

In their first game of the tournament, with only minutes left in their match against Nigeria, Croatian manager Zlatko Dalic asked striker Nikola Kalinic to come on as a substitute. He refused, citing a back injury that had already been his excuse for sitting out a recent match against Brazil. Kalinic has now been removed from the squad and sent packing.

There’s lots of speculation as to whether the back injury was just an excuse and the real issue was a bruised ego (apparently, being a substitute at the 86thminute with a 2-0 lead isn’t an important enough assignment for some). Whether it was insult or injury, the manager made the call that if he wasn’t ready to play, he shouldn’t be on the team.

This decision is particularly meaningful because there was no upside for Croatia in sending Kalinic home. The World Cup doesn’t allow you to bring in a new player to replace an injured one after the start of the tournament. So Dalic was just sending a message—everyone must earn their spot, even if that means leaving a spot empty.

Do You Impose Consequences?

How do you handle similar situations? Do you carry folks who aren’t able to live up to their obligations to your team? Does it make a difference to you whether the person is legitimately struggling with the job or just demonstrating a bad attitude or bad behavior? What are your expectations of someone who has a spot on your team?

Personally, I think Dalic’s move was bold and sends a clear message for this team (and future teams to come) that there is no cruising on Croatia. I believe that a true high-performance coach had no good alternative but to send the unfit player home.

But it’s not what most team leaders in organizations do. While many people talk about creating a high-performance culture, it’s often just lip service. It’s corporate bumf. The truth of most leader’s standards is exposed by their inability or unwillingness to impose tough consequences on people who don’t show up for their team.

Obviously, running a team in an organization is not the same as coaching a football team through the World Cup. You have to make the team perform over the long haul, not just for 32 days. I still think it’s a great provocation.

  • Who are you carrying on your team that doesn’t deserve a spot?
  • Who thinks that they are above some of the less glamorous assignments that need to be done?
  • What message would it send to your strong performers to see that there are consequences for letting down the team?
  • How would consequences for one instance of poor performance decrease the likelihood that there would be more?


We’re not even done the first round and the World Cup is living up to its tradition of providing us with great conundrums of teamwork. I better get back to the television and see what other stories of team performance and dysfunction will emerge!

Further Reading

Talent, Teamwork, and Winning the World Cup

How to Increase Accountability

Tolerating Poor Performance



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