Burns Eye View

Team Culture and Organisational Pyschology

With the English cricket season finished, and the winter looming, I thought I would look ahead to 2019 and the Ashes Series as well as the ICC Cricket World Cup being staged in England. There is so much exciting cricket and competition to look forward to next summer.

But, on receiving the findings form Cricket Australia’s investigation into its’ corporate culture which led to the shocking incident at Newlands earlier this year when Steve Smith and his colleagues were found guilty of using sandpaper on the ball to significantly alter its’ condition, in the Test match against South Africa, I thought it would be more timely to write about a subject I AM PASSIONATE ABOUT – TEAM CULTURE & ORGANISATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY.

Over the past decade, I have researched, inquired into, and properly explored (with leading psychologists) and have come to understand the importance of culture. The exemplary attitude and good behaviour from the top of an Organisation is vital, if high standards are to be expected of the Organisation as ‘a whole’.

As part of my learning as a Professional Mentor, I have come to appreciate the importance of culture, and the effects of sub-culture, in Organisations.

Leadership, when values-based ('from the inside out') leads to good outcomes. Quite the opposite transpired when 'the train crash' involving the Australian cricket team unfolded in South Africa last March and engulfed key people associated with Australian cricket. The subsequent departures of many senior figures has been sad to witness, but wholly correct. Individuals (especially those in senior positions) are responsible for their own actions, and must face the consequences of those if their intent is unethical and immoral. Punitive measures must be tough if poor behaviour occurs, and also provide a strong deterrent to any person who may think about committing a misdemeanour in the future. Such incidents on the field of play are less likely to occur post-Newlands, but the key to transforming organisational culture is to ensure brilliant human beings are at the core of the set-up. This means the playing side and the administrative side.

South Africa’s Head Coach Otis Gibson was recently quoted on ESPNCricinfo.com in advance of the upcoming return series between Australia and South Africa. The Barbados and former West Indian cricketer is well-travelled as both a coach and player, and has a desire to see the sport played in the right spirit.

"Guys are making friends and playing together in other teams around the world. So when it comes to playing for the national team, you don't expect them to take that friendship onto the field, but obviously, you don't want it to boil over into some of the shoulder brushing and all the stuff that happened in South Africa. It's just a game," he said, repeating: "It's just a game".

However, I would take issue with Otis Gibson’s final point. I think cricket is more than a game. It touches people’s lives on many different levels, and is ‘a global connector’ for people around the world. How individuals and teams ‘play the game’ is fundamental to the nurturing of inter-personal relationships and also to international relationships. Thus, the responsibility of those who play, coach, officiate, and administer the game is vital to ensuring its long-term health.

Mike Hussey, one of Australia’s leading players in recent times, was quoted on The Players View saying something similar. Hussey is a man and a player I came to admire during his time in county cricket with Northamptonshire and his extraordinary success as ‘a late-starter’ with Australia in the international game offered hope and inspiration to many others around the globe that hard work and perseverance pays off, eventually. Hussey is a true pro and his comments below (taken from WWW.PLAYERSVOICE.COM.AU) really resonated with me as a fellow sportsman who has turned to coaching and mentoring, and wants to inspire the next generation to contribute towards building a better future society through sport:

“I feel like we’ve lost some of the principles (we used to value most) in recent years. This does not apply to everyone – there are some very good people representing Australia at the moment – but the ball tampering issue isn’t the first time the team as a collective has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons.

The next few days, weeks and months will be difficult for Australian cricket. Jobs might be lost and heavy sanctions handed down.

But this period will also present the team with a chance to reset.

Our values. Our team culture. Our true north.

We can reconnect with the spirit Australian teams have played with in the past, a spirit that was once a source of great pride among our fellow countrymen and respect among opposing teams around the world. We played hard, certainly, but also positively and fairly.

I’ll share with you something I have learned through the years.

When you’ve finished playing, no one remembers you for the runs you scored, the wickets you took or the wins and losses you had along the way. They remember how you played.

You can’t really know that when you’re younger. You feel like the pressure to perform is always on, that your whole career is constantly on the line. But as I’ve got older, and the more people I have spoken to since retirement, I have come to realise, ‘Shivers, no one really gives a stuff about my runs now!’

In terms of the way forward, Hussey said in March 2018:

“This is going to take time. It will require more than words and pledges by administrators, coaches and players to win back the many Australians and cricket lovers around the world who have been heartbroken after Newlands. Only actions will convince them to give this team another chance.

There will be many tests along the way. When the players next find themselves in a confrontational situation, how will they react? Will they consider the spirit of cricket? Or will they let their egos and emotions take over again?

I believe we’ll get there, and the road to doing so starts with understanding the responsibility of that baggy green cap.

Like Bill Brown and me and the 400-odd other players before them, this current squad will one day be retired. And they will be confronted by the same question we all were at the end of our playing careers: did we leave the team in a better place than we inherited it?

If the answer is yes, it was a good career. If the answer is no, it wasn’t.

It’s that simple.”

Read more here

In my opinion. players deserve the best management, support and brilliant leadership (from the very top) if high-performance sport is to enable human beings to really thrive as people, as well as performers.

Former Captain of India Saurav Ganguly has (very recently) been critical of BCCI’s administrative processes. He used strong language to describe the state of cricket administration in India. He was quoted on ESPNCricinfo.com saying:

"I write this mail to you all with the deep sense of fear as to where Indian cricket administration is going," he wrote. "Having played the game for a long period of time, where our lives were ruled by winning and losing, and the image of Indian cricket was of paramount importance to us. We wake up looking at how our cricket is faring even now.

"But with deep sense of worry, (I used the word worry) I beg to state that the way things have gone in the last couple of years, the authority of Indian cricket to the world and the love and belief of millions of fans is on the way down.

"Indian cricket with its massive following has been built over the years of hard work from superb administrators and greatest of cricketers who have managed to bring thousands of fans to the ground. I, at the present moment, think it's in danger. Hope people are listening."

The ECB has a challenging period ahead of itself. The proposed new competition ‘The Hundred’ seems to have been a PR disaster from its first public outing to now, but it can work successfully if all ‘the key actors’ work together to maintain the other aspects of the sport which need to be nurtured as well. And, the new appointment of a Managing Director (Cricket) for ECB to replace the departing Andrew Strauss will be a key appointment. It needs to be a visionary person, with a strong track-record in leadership and a person who has a deep love for the game and a real ‘feel’ for top-level sport. Appointing ‘insiders’ who will ‘tow the line’ promotes a culture of compliance. Innovation, and creative flair is needed mixed with old-school values of respect, honesty, and trust, if the sport in our country is to become all it can be. It can be ‘the beacon’ of light and hope for others to take the lead from, if governed brilliantly.

And finally, I want to echo the message from Saurav’s final sentence. I hope (key) people are listening. The cricket world is watching – our administrators (and our players) need to ‘raise their game’ if we are to really thrive as a sport going forward.

Neil Burns


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