On 18th December 2018, Jose Mourinho was sacked by Manchester United as team Manager, after he led the team to their worst start to a Premier League season in 28 years. 19 points behind log leaders Liverpool at the time, they had won only 7 games out of 17, and the mood in the team was clear to see. The atmosphere was tense, the team were unhappy, and the relationships between Coach and key players had broken down.
It was evident that something had to change, and 1 day later that change came in the form of ex Manchester United Player (and current manager of the Norwegian side Molde), Ole Gunnar Solskjær. He was appointed caretaker Manager the very next day, and had the unenviable task of trying to pick up the pieces and restore some form of pride to the mighty ‘Red Devils’.
Only 1 month on, and Solskjær has equalled the record for the most successful start of any Manchester United Manager in history, leading the team to five league games victories in a row! Even the most hopeful Man U supporter could not have realistically imagined such a change in fortunes overnight. So the question is how?
As someone who is fascinated by the dynamics of great teams, I had asked myself this very question… but the answer was quick to find. He had done the one thing that he could do, and the one thing that can actually transform a team better than any strategy can…he changed the mood.
In the space of a few days, or even a few weeks, Solskjær has himself acknowledged that he could not redefine game plans, and fundamentally change the technical play of the entire team. What he could do, is change their mindset as a team.
He stated “my job has been to speak to the players, to get to know their feelings, their confidence levels, and how they feel about their situation”. “I give them some guidelines of course, but there has been lots of talk on freedom of expression…they are good players and it’s up to them to use their imagination, their creativity and just enjoy playing for this club, because that is the best time of your life..”.
This support and emotional intelligence has allowed players to break free of the gloomy team environment they were in, and to start expressing themselves off and on the field; something that was noticed after their first victory over Cardiff, with one sports pundit stating “They’ve been bright tonight…they looked mentally bright, mentally alert…”.
This new sense of freedom and fluidity has not only brought a renewed sense of energy, enthusiasm and accountability, but more so, has brought smiles back to the faces of players who have been reminded to actually have fun and to enjoy playing the game that they love.
While the road ahead is still an uphill battle, this story is an excellent reminder that great teams are built on great culture, and that something as ‘simple’ as a fresh mindset and team vibe, can produce extraordinary results.
About the author…
I work as a Learning and Development Programme Manager for a large Retail company based in South Africa. I have spent the last 12 years in the corporate world of L&D. I hold an Honours Degree in Organisational Psychology from the University of Cape Town, and I am also a qualified Integral Coach (ACC). I have a passion for individual and team development, leadership and culture work in business and in sport.