On Tuesday England drew with Montenegro in a workd cup qualifier. Having dominated for much of the first half, leading 1-0 at half time, they were left scrambling to hold on for a 1-1 draw by the end.
The make up of the England starting line-up included five players from Manchester United, three from Manchester City, two from Liverpool and one from Chelsea.
Under Roy Hodgson this is not the first time the England team have started well and then struggled in the second half. This might be seen as surprising, given that nearly half the team was from Manchester United, with their reputation for coming good late in matches. Some time ago in Never Know When You’re Beaten! the point was made that Manchester United because they have this attitude on numerous occasions have scored the winning goal late in games. So why should this England side have developed a habit of fading.
Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, quoted this week as saying that England should play more like a club side, pointed out that where players are familiar with each other cohesion in the way they play will come easier. However, he also pointed out that the confidence that teams thrive on is also fragile. “… it takes very little to destabilize a team. You can play very well for 30 minutes but then one player loses one ball where he should not do and the opponent has a goal chance.”
FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt), as discussed last week, has a destructive impact on performance and, as Wenger observed, occurs at the team level not just with individual performances. Confidence, the counter to doubt, is a fragile thing (more for some than others) and needs to be fostered,
The same is true of team energy. The dynamics of the relationships between players are complex but an important factor. Teams that have been together and are comfortable together develop their own culture and habits. Rituals that they develop reinforce the culture. As the playing season goes on getting out of a bad run of form is extremely difficult. Just like winning teams develop winning habits so do losing teams.
However, in team performances, like England’s last week, it is relatively easy to start with high level of energy but managing the momentum over ninety minutes is more difficult. Energy will ebb and flow to a certain extent but to be able to pick it up after a brief respite, without any damage to the team performance is the mark of good teams.
In failing change programmes, teams are beset by a culture of failure. The typical consultancy approach is one of replacement. However, stats in the premier league football would indicate that replacing the manager of a relegation threatened team rarely succeeds. There is clearly a need for action but what?
Team culture plays a crucial part in performance, as does ensuring team members have a clear vision of how what they need to do to execute a winning performance. Building a habit of winning, or success is critical to high performing teams. One of the (several) reasons for large work programmes failing is that delivery is remote, given the time it takes to deliver, so in large change programmes small and early wins need to be engineered into the plan and then celebrated when they’re achieved. Of course, taking the England analogy, there needs to then be a time to re-focus on the next milestone or phase of the programme.