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?

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