Guest Column: Learning from the Book of Cricket
Role clarity is extremely important as players of a winning team always have their individual roles well defined and know how they are connected to each other
When multi-cultural and multi-locational teams come together, establishing that common purpose right from day one is very critical
Unconventional, yet true – there is a lot that business houses can learn from cricket. Tiger Tyagarajan, Chief Operating Officer, Genpact, writes about the universal nature of team work
With the exception of perhaps employing dancing cheerleaders with pom poms, there are several lessons companies can learn from the Indian Premier League (IPL) and sports in general on how to (and sometimes how not to!) lead people – a critical factor to achieving success, especially in today’s turbulent times.
In a recessionary environment, employees are usually amongst the first casualties, with non-performers running the risk of getting the axe and performers being pressured to raise the bar. In such situations, there are high chances of employees becoming over-burdened and eventually disengaging from the company.
In my mind, there are three things that distinguish winning teams from others – both on and off the field –
a) an insatiable hunger for winning,
b) having role clarity in the team and
c) placing teamwork above individual performance.
Get these right and you’ve got your people strategy right.
Insatiable hunger is that killer instinct to win – to always be ready and to go for the kill when the opposition is down – a thirst and hunger for learning, wanting to do more, improve, as an individual and as a team.
Role clarity is extremely important as players of a winning team always have their individual roles well defined and know how they are connected to each other. Shane Warne’s apparent clarity with his team members in the Rajasthan Royals on who does what is perceived as instrumental in the team’s success… particularly versus potential.
Teamwork might seem like the simplest of all three, but is often the one trait many falter on. In some team sports (and in business), this manifests through the fact that individual awards like Man of the Match, Employee of the Month, et al, are given too much importance. What is the explanation for India having a disproportionate number of players in the Top 20 batsmen and bowlers in world rankings, despite not being in the Top 2 teams consistently in the world? It’s the fact that the individuals do not combine to produce results that exceed their sum. This is the single biggest change that M. S. Dhoni, as the Captain of the Indian Cricket Team has brought in!
I do believe that Indian teams, in most sports, are selfish and the sport that highlights this the most is hockey where there is no value for individual brilliance and yet, time and again, we see individuals who are brilliant behave selfishly on the field and end up in a loss for the team.
In business too, we often see a ‘crab mentality’ that ‘if I can’t make it to the top, I won’t let my teammate make it as well’. It is very important for different business units to work without any boundaries to solve customer problems or attack an opportunity rather than worry about who is going to get credit for it.
This obsession with individual glory and awards comes in the way of being team players and ultimately in the way of success.
Probably the biggest change that M. S. Dhoni has made to the Indian Cricket team is making it known that it is the team, which is of utmost importance where individual players bask in the glory and performance of their teammates as much as their own – as long as the team wins!
A true team player is one who clearly defines success as ‘success of the team’ even if he / she does not win the Player of the Tournament award and who, in every situation, subsumes team goals to individual records and goals.
To achieve all this and at the same time build loyalty and bonds might be a challenge as today’s teams are often multi-locational, multi-functional, multi-cultural or even short-term project-based – which is true for businesses as well as the IPL cricket teams.
To do this, in my opinion, the most important thing for any leader is to create a common vision and a common set of goals. When multi-cultural and multi-locational teams come together, establishing that common purpose right from day one is very critical. This is best done as a group in an interactive manner that gets their buy in and gets excitement and clarity around the goal.
Leaders must determine as a group, behaviors that are acceptable and unacceptable and establish the role each person plays to show how they are all connected. They must determine how success will be measured at a milestone level so there is no confusion and it is measurable at many points in the journey. And most importantly, they must establish a communication rhythm as a team to study progress towards goals and take corrective actions to create drive and motivation.
A leader is as much a coach in business as in sports. In cricket, for instance, the captain is often a hands-on coach on the ground -- always available for help and bringing in clarity into every player’s role. Similarly, in business, a leader has to be a coach – for the team to deliver the best and keep winning. Isn’t the CEO the best coach? Sometimes you wonder if teams ever need separate coaches! Isn’t the captain the best coach? However, if the captain has a gap in a certain area, you need to flank him or her with a separate coach, just like the HR leader in an organization can sometimes be the eyes and ears of the CEO.