I was recently reminded of some consulting work I did last year, for a large well established company that was looking to reboot it’s technical department to meet the challenges of competing with the modern day giants like google or apple.
Recommendations ranged from small tweaks to large overhauls, but there was one recommendation I felt was most important to the company, and it was about developing a vision for the unit, something they could all stand behind but also interpret in their own way.
This straightforward principle turned out to be pretty sticky as it was viewed by the client as ‘fluffy stuff’ which had no practical realisation.
Fortunately timing was on my side, the German world cup victory was fresh in everyone’s mind and a story was circulating in the English media which caught my attention in the form of an article on a British airways in-flight magazine, called ‘How Germany reinvented football’.
Expecting the typical ‘hero’ above all odds narrative that the press tends focus on to attract readers, I was presently surprised by an anecdotal and factually led piece. It focussed on the well researched, planned and executed structural changes Jurgen Klinsmann had introduced into the German national side to focus on training, commerce, organisation and vision.
Fascinated, when I got home I did some more research and read further around the subject. In one bbc article I found the masterstroke behind what he had done that had made his restructuring so successful.
…but we still had to decide on our playing style.
To do that, we quizzed everyone we could.
We held workshops with German coaches and players, asking them to write down on flip charts three things: how they wanted to play, how they wanted to be seen to be playing by the rest of the world and how the German public wanted to see us playing.
If we could define all of that, we thought we could lay out how we wanted to work and then, from there, sort out the training and paperwork behind the scenes.
What we ended up with amounted to 10 or 12 bullet points laying out our proposals. We then announced that it was our intention to play a fast-paced game, an attacking game and a proactive game.
That last term was something the Germans did not really like because they did not really understand what proactive meant. We just told them it meant we did not react to what our opponents did, we played the way that was right for us.
As soon as I read that I realised Jurgen had been to ‘Agile’ school and knew exactly how to reboot an organisation, build consensus and align vision, whether it’s a football team or a hospital or a software development organisation.
Armed with my new found anecdote and practical application I returned to my client to show him how he too could be the Klinsmann of his technical organisation. This of course ended in him telling me that he was running a company not a football team and the two were completely different.
Luckily for me, a lesson learned and a great anecdote is worth more than hollow victory.