With the release this week of the film ‘The Class of ‘92’, about six of Manchester United’s youngsters who achieved amazing success on the football pitch. The six, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary and Phil Neville and Nicky Butt, all became household names during the nineties, winning an unprecedented treble in 99.
Despite their fame, quotes from the six reveal a down to earth element but also between each other and from their manager, a level of care that might be surprising but which, I believe is vital to team success.
Quotes include: “It was just six young lads who were enjoying life … We were just playing a game of football with our mates”.
Their thinking of one another came from the man that managed them through that period, whose focus was on team success not personal glory, as Phil Neville says: “There was a team ethic, there was no I in Sir Alex Ferguson’s team. It was team before everything else. It was we before me. That was what was driven into us. When we were in the youth team, if you could pass to someone who was in a better position to score a goal, even if you were on a hat-trick, you had to pass that ball. It was not about personal glory. The minute you started thinking for yourself, being a little bit selfish, you would be out of the door. We have seen that over the years.”
Ferguson, as we have commented before, was unusual and it rubbed off on his charges, Paul Scholes: A lot of managers now won’t know who the youth team players are, won’t know their names.
“We had Sir Alex Ferguson, he knew who every one of us was from day one. He used to come and watch training on Monday and Thursday night. They don’t have to do that, it is not part of their job. I can’t see many managers today doing that. Sir Alex knew our parents, he would speak to them regularly on the phone. I just don’t think that happens these days.” (Phil Neville).
David Beckham also said in the trailer to the film: “There was not one piece of jealousy between any of us. We all had each others back.”
They had both a unity of purpose together with a care for other members of the team, both essential to high performing teams. Despite this kind of high profile example, it is not always the case in both the sporting and working worlds.
Some years ago I had been handed a failing programme at a leading bank and we turned it round. Having overseen the turn round I decided to move on. One of the young technologists working on the team was clearly disconcerted and when asked why he told me that he was worried about who might take over running the team. His experience of working at this particular bank had been of one where managers focused on managing up and not talking to or engaging with their team members. His measure of my care for the team was that I spoke to him every day, including greeting him first and last thing. It seemed that such common courtesy was actually unusual in this environment yet such small things display authenticity, critical to engaging teams.
“If you want to be a leader, you have to be a real human being.” – Peter Senge (Presence)