Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Learning from Champions - Part Four

The ‘Mannschaft’ or Winning The World Cup Is Not a Coincidence

The World Cup is over and it has a new world champion: the German ‘Mannschaft’. And it was not sheer luck that got them there. Although, luck always plays a role too. The ‘Mannschaft’ is the visible masterpiece, yet, there is so much more to it.
Around the year 2000 German football was suffering its worst episode in history. Even though Germany made it to the finals in the 2002 world cup. Yet, it became painfully clear that something was going completely wrong. An organizational change was needed. A turnaround if you so will. Reinventing yourself.
Getting there required building a radical new foundation. Clubs, members of the German Football Federation, were required to have state-of-the-art training facilities. And the training beginning with the young and talented kids. Hence, finding those needed talent scouts for instance. In order to do that the criteria describing the desired players had to be determined. Also, the clubs had to be financially healthy.
And it still took until 2004 when Jürgen Klinsmann with his assistant Joachim Löw took over the national team. Then, finally, something happened. They had a different approach. A modern interpretation of leadership and training. For the DFB (the German Football Federation) this was nothing less than an earthshaking change. It was not just a reform the new leaders Klinsmann and Löw demanded. They wanted to build something new from the ground. As you can imagine they encountered a lot of resistance. Some of it open, most of it 'behind the scenes'. And that's when leaders are showing their true colors. Against all odds.
Building a new 'Mannschaft' was the goal. A ‘Mannschaft’ capable of consistently playing at the top level. A ‘Mannschaft’ capable of becoming world champions. And they made it clear that this would take considerable time. What makes things even more difficult is that players of the national team belong to their different clubs. First and foremost, these players are playing for their clubs and training with different trainers at these clubs. Clubs not only in Germany, but in England, France, Italy, Spain. Hence, as a trainer of the national team you have your players only for a minimum time available. A giant obstacle for any national team. Add to this that at each club different systems are trained and played.
If there was one thing the new trainers wanted to get done and over with, then it was what's called "Rumpel-Fussball". Playing with brute force and lack of skills. And defending the status quo, so to speak. It became clear that, contrary to the myth of the 10,000 hours training, without innate talent a player cannot get there. You cannot teach a frog how to fly ... not even spending a million hours on training him. It always requires both: innate talent and pretty hard work. Learning, training, practice.
Finding incredibly talented players turned out to not be so hard as it looked like. The better the organizational aspect worked, the new training facilities of the clubs described above, the easier it became to find them. Young and smart guys playing football like an art. The challenge now is to find the right mix for the team. The right mix of older and more experienced players with the young guys. The right mix of personalities and character. And then create a team. A team that can become the “Mannschaft’.
After the 2006 world cup Klinsmann left and Joachim Löw took over. The national team was in the top four at the world cup and finished third. They played football and enjoyed it. Yet, as the world cup performance had shown, there was still this naïveté in their game. Balance was missing and also the cleverness. And there were still some older players on their way out.
Four years later, and a couple of setbacks in between, in 2010 the new national team was basically formed. And they gave such a refreshing performance at the world cup scoring many goals. Yet again they finished third. The cleverness and balance was better though, but not there yet. Hence, they lacked the effectiveness and efficiency of a true champion.
Meanwhile though Joachim Löw had quite a pool of top players to select from. Over time his philosophy of how to play modern football got more and more ingrained in each player. That’s what training is all about. You get to point when what you are training becomes automatic, becomes a habit.
Löw’s emphasis was and is always the team. Players who understand each other blindfolded in a game. Players who know that they can rely upon each other no matter what. In other words the ‘Mannschaft’. The opposite of one ‘superstar’ and all others having to make him shine. Gary Lineker, a former top football player in England said something like this: Portugal has Ronaldo, Argentina has Messi, Brazil has Neymar, and Germany has a team … the ‘Mannschaft’.
Yet, make no mistake. Löw is indeed the leader of the team. A leader these top players respect. And the respect is mutual. The respect is earned. Also, within the team there are a couple of leaders, the ‘field commanders’ so to speak. Those making sure that the system, strategy and tactics are carried out flawlessly. That way not one of the qualification and preparation games towards the 2014 world cup was lost.
And then the 2014 world cup was coming up. And suddenly Löw had some big challenges to master. Key players suffered severe injuries before the tournament. Some of them couldn’t play at all and had to be replaced by others. Some of them had just overcome the injuries but due to that had a lack of training and fitness. That was the moment of truth. That was the true birth of this ‘Mannschaft’. It was their litmus test. The ‘Mannschaft’ is not just the 11 players onf the field. It’s the entire team of all 23 players plus trainers, coaches, doctors. And that’s how everyone felt now at the Campo Bahia. As the “Mannschaft’.
Löw had to improvise. Yet, he knew that he could do it. There was such a substance in the team of players. But the team spirit made the difference. The feeling together as the ‘Mannschaft’. The willingness of each one to put their ego aside and make the ‘Mannschaft’ the star. And one could see that in each and every match. Some matches looked easy. Some others were really difficult. The opponents were difficult to play against. Remember, those were the top teams of the world. Germany won the world cup and it was no coincidence. It was due to many years of preparation and training. The analysis of the data, the numbers show that in all clarity.
The world cup was an excellent example of what complex environment means, what uncertainty means. You cannot predict the outcome, but you can prepare for the outcome to the best of your abilities. You can be aware that, even though rare, black swan events can happen. And then you must be able to improvise. More often than not. For this you need training, training, training. And you need true leadership. Leaders creating the foundation for and building of what I call the ‘Mannschaft’ here. The ‘Mannschaft’ that consistently delivers results. That’s how championships are won.
What about your organization, your company? Do you have your ‘Mannschaft’? Honestly?

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Learning from champions - part three

The Crucial Components of a Team and the Difference Leadership Makes

There is no better place to observe teams than watching sports teams play and perform. And there is no better place to observe the difference leadership makes for a team than watching sports teams.
Since we are still in the football world cup my focus is on football. As a kid I used to listen on the radio to the world cup matches. 1958 was my first time. Ever since I paid a lot of attention to how the game evolved. 1966 I was glued to the TV and my Dad began to explain to me the important role of leadership in such teams. It was eye opener for me. And the beginning of my studying, knowing, and understanding of true leadership.
Roughly one can divide a football team into three main parts: defense, midfield, offense. Most people are looking for the offensive players, the strikers or scorers, their heroes. Yet, it is in the midfield where strategy and tactics are initiated. The true heroes are in the midfield. Execution starts here. Executing the strategies and tactics created by the trainer and coach together with his team. The trainer is the top leader of the team. And he needs his field commanders. Smart leaders able to read the game and execute on what has been trained so hard for.
“The offense is winning games. But the defense is winning championships.” a top football player summed it up. And it’s true. Championships not only are requiring a team effort. Winning a championship requires the ability to defend and hold the newly gained position. Only from this plateau the team can jump up to the next one.
As much as a trainer would want it, it’s impossible to predict the outcome. And trainers know that all too well. They understand complexity. Yet, that doesn’t mean that the trainer is preaching day in and out to his players that football is a complex game. A complex game in an even more complex environment. When a game is on and in full flow the team is required to function as a unit. And each individual player plays on the position he is best at. Choreographed and orchestrated by the trainer. Any situation coming out of the flow of the play is different. Mistakes are made. Passes not reaching the intended target. Hence, the players must know how to act and react properly. That’s what training is for.
Then there are the so-called standard situations. Free kicks, corners. And these standards can indeed be trained. Trained to the nitty gritty. Only then the players reach the precision they need to execute on the standard properly. Often, matches are decided through standards. As seen in this world cup. Mastering standards is a core skill of a successful team.
The offense, the strikers, are supposed to break through the opponent's lines. For that to happen they need spaces. But those spaces are blocked by the other teams defense. And it becomes very difficult to get close to the opponent’s goal, let alone to score. Unless …
That’s where the midfield comes in. The midfielders, executing on strategy and tactics, are, through their moves, creating the spaces the strikers need to break through. In order to be able to do that the midfielders must read the opponent’s game, system, strategy, tactics. It’s about deciphering what the opponent’s trainer had in mind. For that the midfield player must be quick. Quick in understanding the situation. And quick in executing the right move, the right pass that opens up the space. One second too long and you lose the ball. Worse, you lose your momentum.
That’s why trainers together with their teams study meticulously all the games the opponents have played in the past. Pathways of the players can tell you a lot, for instance. Most players behave in a certain and repetitive way. Their pathways become predictable up to a point. Few players remain unpredictable. Usually, those are intelligent ‘instinct players’. They have completely ‘weird’ pathways and yet seem to always appear in the right spot at the right time.
A strong defense is, of course, essential. It begins with the defending players. Specialized in interrupting the attacking players’ game. Stopping them, or forcing them to redirect their attack by blocking the space. With a great defense the goalie has not much to do. Yet, you always want to have a world class goalie keeping your goal clean. A great goalie distinguishes himself from an excellent goalie through his capacity to read the game and anticipate the attack and its direction.
Concluding, every part of the team and each member are important. Strikers alone can't do the job. They need a functioning midfield. And the midfield is useless without an excellent defense and goalie. Hence, what a trainer does is putting together a true clockwork.
Another aspect a great leader / trainer understands is that exchanging a player has immediate implications on the system, and on strategy and tactics. No one understands this better than Louis van Gaal, the trainer of the Netherlands' Oranje Team. There is a reason they are called 'Clockwork Orange'. They have consistently shown their ability to change systems 'on the go' in the middle of a match. A remarkable achievement.
Each opponent is different and thus plays different. And sometimes you face another team that is incredibly hard to play against. A tournament is long and a trainer must keep this in mind. Playing always beautiful is a surefire way into disaster. Dying in beauty. Efficiency is of the utmost importance. And Jogi Löw, the trainer of the German team, has this time shown his mastery.
What’s the learning for your team in your company / organization you might ask?
Take, for instance, a sales team. It’s not just a bunch of ‘strikers’ that get the orders in. Many years ago that might have worked somehow. Nowadays it doesn’t. Enabling the ‘sales strikers’ to strike requires preparation, requires a modern sales team. A sales team consisting, besides the ‘strikers’, of a solid home base. A home base able to create, initiate and execute on the strategy and tactics. Thus opening the spaces the ‘strikers’ need to score. And the home base also needs to protect the position. Hence, you can say that such a team has also defense, midfield, and offense. And above all it has leadership by a leader who is a trainer and coach.
Professional football has consistently shown over all these years that leadership is the decisive element for a top team. The top players know how to play excellent football. They master the techniques. They are physically and mentally in top form and thus able to pull off their very best consistently. Hence, you don’t have to explain it to them. The great trainers and leaders of the top teams have understood that all along since a long time ago.
The top teams of the world are very close with their abilities to play. The gaps, if there are any, are minimal. Hence, the difference makes excellence in leadership. Trainers and coaches that can bring out this often elusive 'play beyond excellence' or playing in the zone. Consistently.
Unfortunately, organizations and companies don't seem to get the crucial importance of such leaders and trainers. Their top leaders are unwilling to dedicate time on this. Why? Maybe they are the wrong leaders. Thus, to speak in monetary terms, they leave billions on the table over time.

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