Before anyone reads this I just want to say that I’m not a football fan.... Don’t get me wrong I like the international tournaments and due to having ‘sports mad’ brothers I’ve always loosely followed football in some fashion.
I have always enjoyed the connection and unity that football brings to towns, cities and nations. Even when I was a little girl sat in the stands on many cold boxing day afternoons, I would always marvel at how so many people from all walks of life would pull together to support the game. I sometimes wonder what kind of world it would be without it.
Anyway, that was to just set the scene of my limited love and knowledge of the sport and links nicely to what I wanted to write about which is the change in management at Manchester United and the lessons it can teach us about business and team culture.
Over the last 2 and a half years we have all watched the changes at Old Trafford with interest. I’m not questioning Mourinho as a manager and I know he needs no introduction to anybody who follows football. He is regarded by many players, fans and pundits as ‘one of the smartest and tactfully brilliant managers’. He has been named as one of the top 10 greatest coaches since the foundation of UEFA. So what’s happened? Why couldn’t this established manager and coach take top quality players and turn them in to a top performing team?
I’ve listened to fans and pundits’ comment on the ‘Manchester United culture’ and how that seemed to disappear during Mourinho’s reign. So how important is culture to success? Well, it appears to be vital!
Leaders have the responsibility to first articulate a team’s primary cultural beliefs, and then to proactively embody these beliefs, mobilising all employees to personally engage in shaping the new culture. But what happens when that culture is so strong and established that it isn’t easily changed?
Is it your responsibility to change your approach or leave the role?
As a leader you are appointed to implement change as necessary but you should always be aware of the generated outcomes of your actions and how this will effect the bottom line and the business in general.
So how can you manage strong cultures?
Don’t create detractors. Not everyone is going to understand your philosophy so it’s vital you work hard to develop people and learn their traits quickly so you can appeal to their nature to align their outlook with yours. Some strong personalities can create extremely difficult situations, whether it’s ignoring direction or continuously challenging your philosophy but it’s how YOU handle it which will determine the output of the team. If you are a ‘my way or the highway’ manager this approach will not breed positivity in people who have dominant and assertive personalities. Additionally, by nature these people are traditionally leaders within their peer groups so alienating them or always having to prove your authority will never end well.
Embrace the teams strengths. A well-established team will come with many strengths some of which you can overlook in an eager attempt to make a quick difference.
This can be where most managers fail because they focus so much on improving a team’s weaknesses that the strengths that already exist can be destroyed. Additionally, if focus is only on the negative, a team can feel like they are not being developed or invested in and can become withdrawn and demotivated.
Even with all that in mind, sometimes it just isn’t the right fit for the team or the manager. No matter the experience and philosophy of the leader, if both parties ideologies, methods and values aren’t aligned then the end goal will never be reached.
I look forward to watching the change in Manchester United in the coming months and I think the premier league has definitely been shaken up this season and, just to put the winning confidence back into my colleague Richard Bowe, I am looking forward to Liverpool winning the league for the first time in 29 years!