Whose side are you on?
Santhosh Babu / New Delhi October 04, 2005
What the Indian cricket team can’t teach you about team leadership
As usual, the Indian cricket team is in a crisis. But the present crisis began when the public saw the rift between the coach and the captain. With 21 victories to his credit, Saurav Ganguly, who took over in 2000, is India’s most successful test captain; but his recent batting form has been disappointing.
And Greg Chappell, who was appointed in July this year to boost the one-day side in time for the 2007 World Cup, has been supported by several ex-India players, including former captain Bishen Bedi who has said the coach is more important to the team than Ganguly. Let us explore this issue from a human resources perspective. What is the problem? Is it a clash of two individual egos? Is it a leadership issue? If yes, who is the leader here? The coach or the captain?
The trouble is, the problem has been identified wrongly. And as a result, we’re all trying to answer the wrong question. This is not about who’s in and who’s out. Rather, the crisis in the Indian cricket team is more an issue about the team. And it’s a good sign that the differences are coming out in the open — now, something can be done.
Let us begin with a thought experiment. Think, for a moment, about one of the finest teams you have ever seen — one that performed superbly, that operated increasingly well over time, and whose members came away from the group experience wiser and more skilled than they were before.
Next, think about a different group, one that failed to achieve its purposes, that deteriorated in performance capability over time, and whose members found the group experience far more frustrating than fulfilling. In your view, what factor is most responsible for the difference between these two teams?
If you are like most people, the first explanation that comes to mind will have something to do with the leadership of the two teams. Indeed, a “great leader” is almost always central to the image that comes to mind when we think of a great team.
Our tendency to assign to the leader credit or blame for successes and failures that are actually team outcomes is so strong and pervasive that we can call it the “leader attribution error.”
People generally assign causal priority more to things they can see (and leader behaviour is usually quite salient), than to things that operate in the background (structural and contextual features that shape team performance often go unnoticed).
Effective teamwork and interpersonal relationships are critical for any work teams; and this does not exclude sport teams. The present situation facing the Indian cricket team is not an issue between the coach and the captain, but an issue about team effectiveness. The interpersonal conflict between the coach and the captain is just an offshoot of this.
This fact is increasingly gaining recognition. Consider Mickey Arthur, the new South African team coach. He’s gone on record that his top priority is team building. “We really need to develop a good team spirit because it is such a long, hard season. We need to get the team like a family, with the amount of cricket coming up, we need to be able to fall back and rely on each other,” Arthur has said.
The lesson? While it is important to pay attention to the tasks on hand — in this case, winning matches — it is critical to pay attention to building an effective team.
How do you do that? Every team, whether in an organisation or in the sport arena, goes through four stages.
The forming stage involves the introduction of team members, either at the initiation of the team, or as members are introduced subsequently. Members are likely to be influenced by the expectations and desires they bring with them, and will be keen to understand how the group will operate.
In particular, they will be keen to understand how the leadership is likely to operate, in terms of style and character. This is a stage of transition — from being a group of individuals to becoming a team.
As team members grow more confident, the team is likely to enter the storming phase. Team members will have different opinions on how the team should operate. The best teams will understand the conflict, actively listen to each other and navigate an agreed way forward. Other teams may disintegrate as they bolster their own opinions to weather the storms of the group.
Is our cricket team going through a storming phase? If yes, narrowing down this issue into a coach-captain conflict will be a mistake. This issue then will have to be settled looking at the long term purpose of the team, the vision, the role clarity and role expectations.
As teams emerge with an agreed method of operating, they enter the norming phase. Team members have agreed to a common working method, and everyone is usually willing to share in this. During thisphase, team members are able to reconcile their opinions with the greater needs of the team. Cooperation and collaboration replace the conflict and mistrust.
Finally the team reaches the final phase: performing. The emphasis now is on reaching the team goals, rather than working on team processes. Relationships are settled, and team members are likely to build loyalty towards each other. The team is able to manage more complex tasks, and cope with greater change. Sometimes, the performing stage leads to a return to the forming stage as group membership changes.
What we now do is to look at the Indian team in terms of the team dynamics and team effectives they are displaying at the moment. A team health check-up would put things in a better perspective.
What are the characteristics of an effective team?
Clear charter: The team’s foundation is based on clear, common goals, so that every member understands how success will be measured. These goals have to be well articulated and understood by all.
Commitment to team members and team goals: Understanding team goals is not the same as buying into them. Every member needs to commit to the goals. In addition, a common source of difficulties can arise when people are committed to the goals but dislike other team members.
However, diversity of style and personality are at the heart of successful teams since these differences foster creativity. Team-building exercises can help individuals appreciate diversity and to teach them how to work together cooperatively. Dislike can be replaced by respect for each other’s differences.
Meets team deliverables: Successful teams meet their deliverables consistently. To accomplish this, communications must flow freely and in all directions.
Clear roles and responsibilities: Clearly stated role definitions and clarity regarding responsibilities is characteristic of successful teams. Blurred responsibilities can lead to power struggles and conflict.
Competent team members: Successful teams pay attention to the competency and placement of each individual in the team. At times a highly talented person can be wrongly placed, which can throw off the functioning of the team. Competent team members need to be placed in the right position.
Ongoing feedback and evaluation: To ensure success, well-functioning teams provide and encourage ongoing feedback in all directions. This allows for mid-course evaluation and corrections as needed, as well as encouragement for a job well done.
Effective conflict resolution: There can always be disagreement between team members, with the leader, the board or with the coach. Successful conflict resolution takes divisive energy and redirects it to positive ends.
Good relationships: In successful teams, members have good relationships with each other, with the leader and with other stakeholders.
What the Indian cricket team now requires is a team health check-up. Ideally, it should opt for an offsite meeting where differences will be resolved, a sense of purpose will be created and role clarity will be improved.
Santhosh Babu is Managing Director, Training Alternatives, an HR consultancy.