TALK ON TEAM BUILDING- THE CRICKETING WAY
PENDEKANTI COLLEGE OF MANAGEMENT
FEBRUARY 22, 2008
Good evening everybody,
Principal of Pendekanti College of Mgt, Mr. Samuel, ladies and gentlemen
Firstly I would like to thank Mr. Samuel for inviting me to speak about ‘Team Building –The Cricketing Way’, a topic on which I spoke to an audience form the HMA recently. Mr. Samuel was part of a very patient audience listening to a first time speaker.
Disclaimers first. As always. I am not the world’s leading authority on team building. Second disclaimer, I am not the world’s best known speaker. What I will do is present my perspective to team building and teams - in which most of you managers will be working.
How am I an expert in team building? One is because I wrote and published a book in English on cricket which is now on the bestseller list and I am the only Indian yet to claim a book on cricket fiction in Indian English. Two, I can share with you all the experience of having played in small teams, big teams, good teams, bad teams, successful teams and unsuccessful teams for close to 30 years since 1982 when I played for my first team, the All Saints High School cricket team. I haven’t stopped playing league cricket. Each Sunday is a new experience in team dynamics.
You are all part of teams already so you know how teams work. Your family, your group of friends, your college mates. How are you managing them? You are going to be part of corporate teams shortly. How do you think you’ll cope with that/ are you prepared?
First, make a choice. The choice you need to make is do you want to be a part of a mediocre team or of an excellent team? The choice you make right now will make the difference to the team. You will be the difference. Even at entry level. Let’s look at a small example. Let’s say we have a tea boy who is very enthusiastic, a cleaning lady who is a perfectionist. What happens? Don’t they make a difference? All the way upto the teachers, students - and you have a fine example of what good team work can do.
Winning teams, be it corporate or cricket, want one thing. What you as managers must think of now– how do we get teams to play out of their skins. What do words like winning, success, synergy, role, leaders, etc mean. I pieced together my experiences and wrote and published my first novel The Men Within-A Cricketing Tale last February. Buy it, read it. It’s actually a management book disguised as a cricket novel.
Since the book forms the basis of much of what I am going to dwell upon, I’ll introduce it to all those who have not read it. TMW is the tale of an old-glory school, Golconda Public School (GPS) which is now run down and out. The school has to win the Inter school championships to save their school. How the Principal and the new coach get a team of complete no-gooders, starting from sub-zero to actually play out of their skins is the challenge.
So then – here’s the challenge for Sampath, and for all you managers. A deadline of 90 days, a team of 15 with zero belief and all the wrong attitude, a coach with a history of losing, who carries unwanted baggage, a Principal who has been called out of retirement and who’s fighting a hostile and corrupt Board of Trustees.
Many of us would say – don’t even touch it..it’s the perfect recipe for disaster..
But then there’s this part within us which rises once in a while. One that says OK lets see. Everyone of us have it. It’s our excellent side. And when we do say ‘come on..’ then we are down to serious stuff. We must first build the team - times running out.
Sampath has two issues to address.
Firstly, how to get the team to perform at 200% from its current potential of 30%.
Second, how does one do that consistently?
But let’s see how Sampath went about it from the beginning before coming to this all-important issue.
Selection first. Of the team and then the captain. There is no discipline. The boys have not won a match for ten years and do not hope to. They are not used to discipline. Worse, the best players are also popular seniors who have a complete bad influence on the team. Do we play along and hope it works out or do we set out terms.
Sampath is selecting his team and is discussing the same with the Principal.
“Vishwanath Sharma was a little apprehensive, even though he thought Sampath had made a wise choice. “There will be trouble in the team if Siddhanth and Vikas are sidelined, Sampath,” he warned. “They are popular boys and senior players. You have enough trouble already without adding this one.”
But Sampath’s mind was already made up.
“Sir, the best teams are compact and resilient, like a fist. If any piece does not fit in snugly, we must remove it, even if it’s our best piece. Just as any one finger that sticks out weakens the strength of the fist, if Siddhanth or Vikas or any of the others don’t fit in, keeping them will weaken the entire team’s stability and strength, no matter how valuable they are. They must learn to accept this.”
Vishwanath Sharma nodded gravely. Sampath had a point.
“This is not to make anyone feel good. The interests of the team are paramount; the best man has to get the job. We must win the cup.”
As a selector I always like to think of the fist. A fist is what synergy is all about. It achieves more than what all five fingers do. You could have five big fingers but a small fist can beat it into submission. In a fist, every finger, every member adds punch. There’s a tightness to the whole affair. No gaps, no weaknesses. There is an equal distribution of work. There’s a oneness of purpose to the entire thing.
In picking the team we pick the team that best achieves the objective. I repeat. It has nothing to do with big names. It’s just the best team that was there.
Let’s look at some famous selections.
India’s combination in 1983. The famed spin quarter is gone and in its place a bunch of medium pacers. 6 to be precise. The only spinner is Ravi Shastri. Kapil Dev is understandable, but then Roger Binny, Madan Lal, Balwinder Singh Sandhu, Mohinder Amarnath, Sandeep Patil (bowls cutters) with Sunil Valson in the reserve? Not many would have given credit to the selection but in England where medium pacers get good purchase, it was the ideal team. Every one contributed with bat and ball. A perfect selection to suit the objective. I do not know who the selectors were but they showed great understanding.
The second selection we get on our minds is the T20 selection which is famous for being almost a B team. No big names, none of the best known players are in the squad. Sachin, Saurav, Dravid, Laxman, Kumble, Zaheer…a new captain, turmoil over the previous captain’s exit. Point is made. You don’t need the best names. You need the team that delivers as a team. How many times have we seen the World XI beaten by the Aussies, Rest of India being beaten by Mumbai.
Well done Vengsarkar and Venkatapathi Raju and company.
What did not work was the 2007 World Cup team. Big names. Wrong objective. Bad result. It did seem like a good team then though.
IS MY TEAM GOOD ENOUGH?
OK. Sampath has his team but when he looks at them, he feels like his team is no good. Not good enough to match his plans. What do I do. Let’s see what he does..
“What if we don’t have the best teams” we ask. ‘How then?”
Mostly we’d look at teams and say – wish I had a team like Lloyd’s team of WI in late 70s or the Aussies under Border, Steve Waugh or Ponting. Unfortunately we don’t have teams like that. Or do we?
But then an India does the Aussies in at Calcutta, an Indian outfit humbles the mighty WI’s in the World Cup and then MSD against all odds lifts the T20 cup with an undefeated record. What have they done? How can your team perform the miracles that the above mentioned teams have?
“Your resources are always raw material. You must invest in them.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS PICKING THE LEADER?
Does the best player get it? The senior most player? No. An excerpt of Sampath’s discussion with his Principal.
“Sir, you know we must have the best man for the job, someone who can get the best out of all his players. If our goal has to be achieved sir, the leader’s role is crucial”
Yes. Successful teams have much to do with good leaders. There’s an old saying “I’d prefer an army of sheep lead by a lion to an army of lions led by a sheep.”
WHAT ARE THE QUALITIES OF A GOOD LEADER?
I will now read another passsage fom the book where the captain of the team is wondering if he is the bet man for the job-a quiet chat with his coach. The coach says
“Gautam you should know better than anyone else. There is a saying that the best leader is one whose people know he barely exists. That when such a player fulfils his aim, his people will say – we did it ourselves. You are that kind of a leader. Keep your faith. Your team will deliver.”
Yes. The best leaders make the entire team believe that it’s each one’s personal responsibility to achieve their best. What do such leaders do? They exude a warm belief that they know you are doing your best. That they only expect the best from you. Its not even said. Sometimes you don’t even see these people. But their energies get to you. And you’re driven. That’s the energy of a positive thought. I’ve experienced it and I am sure every one of you have.
You, as a leader, as a manager, must merely believe in your head that your every team member is doing their best. Even if they fail ten times.
The question we need to ask here is are we that kind of a leader? If not it’s time to take a hard look at our leadership. We can all be that kind of a leader in a moment.
When I say leader I don’t mean CEOs etc. Everyone of us plays the role of a leader in some form of another. Maybe the youngest student here may be the leader to his younger sibling or his juniors at school.
The key then is to believe in your team. Which actually translates to belief in yourself.
What Kapil Dev did in 1983 was believe in his team all through. I was reading a blog by Krish Srikkanth and he starts with saying that “..none of us except Kapil believed we could win-but he talked to us and made us believe that the WI was beatable. Some of us started to think that maybe we could.”
What M. S. Dhoni did was to empower each and everyone. He invested belief in Joginder Singh, someone written off as the weakest link to deliver the final blow. He invested in Sreesanth after he got blasted out of the park by Sohail Tanveer who seemed to fancy his bowling . Sreesanth fetched him a couple of crucial wickets – including the dangerous looking Sohail Tanveer. Dhoni bowled Robin Uthappa, Sehwag in the shootout and not your regular bowlers. They never believed otherwise. They always knew that they could do it and the fact that they did it proves it. Invest in the raw material. In the weakest link as much as you invest in the strongest. Because there are no weak links! Most of us make the mistake of trying to go after the strong players and writing off the weak ones. But empower the weak ones and see what a difference it makes to the team.
As a leader you must understand that though different things drive different people, the one common thing to all is that we all love to excel. It’s a basic need. And we seek acknowledgement. So acknowledge the little glimpses first, be patient, invest. And then once it builds belief you can see results. Whatever happens believe that they are doing their best.
The shift happens only in your mind.
Its not this way - ‘they perform and then I’ll trust them” – ‘it’s the opposite “trust them and they’ll perform.”
Never does Dhoni give the impression that the boys are doing anything but their best. And when you have a captain who believes you are doing your best-you do your best. You do more than your best. As opposed to working with a captain who knows that you are not giving your best – you’ll always struggle to get anywhere close to pleasing him and your best. Dhoni appeals to the potential-not on what the guy did, the guy’s achievement.
This comes only from one place. Trust. Yourself. Your team.
I will read a small para. Anil Agarwal, the builder has helped the team plan their preparation in detail for the tournament and these are his last words before the team gets down to actual preparation
“This is all about teamwork. Trust your team, trust your captain, trust yourself. Work as a team. You will succeed. As you go on this path from Sunday onwards you will come across many things that will test you, surprise you, disappoint you, scare you. But you must go on firm in your belief. The process is the reward in itself. The Championship will happen anyway…”
Brings us to what then makes successful teams tick.
Here are some characteristics.
They enjoy the process. Of giving their best.
Other things fall in place.
Common purpose. Equal intensity. Team interest. Best prepared team.
There is an energy to successful teams. An energy that’s driven by something internal. Sustained success is because the teams believe they are good - internally. Short term success results when the team is motivated externally. Like maybe the Perth test. The Sydney test was a catalyst.
That’s what we mean by a team coming at you together – like a fist. There was no respite for the Aussies. A quiet expression of themselves in a way that they push their limits. A common purpose, an equal intensity. A feeling of lets do it we have nothing to lose. If you can do it at Perth you can do it again.
Someone could channelise that energy. You see teams like that you can actually see the energy flying off the tv screen.
It could be a senior player geeing up the forces like KD at the risk of looking stupid, a junior player bonding like Srikkanth did with his irrepressible enthusiasm in the 83 World cup or more recently Sreesanth’s aggression, it could be a skipper like Kumble who with his quiet sense of purpose and complete belief in himself and his team gets the team going together, it could be an event like Sydney which charges everyone or a Dhoni with his monk-like calm.
Let’s say these teams have good energies of a common purpose. They drive each other, thy enjoy their collective success, they want to prove a point. There’s a hunger that shifts the energy.
MAKE THE TEAM BELIEVE THEY CAN DO IT, SEE THE DREAM
Now we have a team that’s together, a leader.. What then does Sampath do? Does he make elaborate plans to condition boys in 90 days?
What he does is this. He tells the boys to look at the biggest dream for the school cricket team. And when they express their doubts he says “You have met the loser in you, now bring out the winner. Live your dream. If you want it badly enough, it will come true.”
He has told them that he believes they can. He is appealing to the winner in the boys. To their potential. Not their achievements.
Normally if someone showed such belief in me, I’d take the first step.
TRANSFER OWNERSHIP, TAKE OWNERSHIP - THE KEY TO TRANSFORM 80% TO 200%
And then he does even better. This is what he does. He throws away the plans he has made for the boys. And he does this.
“I want a detailed action plan to the Championship final from you. Go to Anil Agarwal’s office and he will help you make a detailed action plan.”
After struggling to get a team together, to get the seniors together, to get the right leader in, after getting them to look haltingly at their potential, Sampath has just given ownership of the dream to the boys. And that to me ladies and gentlemen is the difference between getting the boys from 50% to 80%.
And to getting them to die for the cause. They will when they own the dream.
I’d love to feel that way all the time. That’s the energy I am looking for.
“Sampath was amazed at the schedules the boys had drawn up and looked at the tough program over and over again, wondering whether they knew what they had signed themselves up for. The program was much tougher than the one he had prepared for them. When he showed the charts, reports, strategies and plans that adorned the walls of the dressing room to Vishwanath Sharma, the Principal was astounded.
‘Are you telling me that the boys did this?’
“Their signatures are at the bottom. I could have never got them to sign on anything like this ever. Now its their baby. We are starting our first schedule tomorrow, on a Sunday, can you believe that?’
‘Who suggested it?’
‘They did,” laughed Sampath”
We all want to excel. We all want to be happy. We want to leave our terms.
In fact Sampath has almost no role except giving small advise to the team. The boys hold all the plans. He merely guides them, approves them, suggests minor changes, improves. The boys prepare keeping the goal in mind. Even in the final the boys play out without as much as a glance at Sampath. All plans are laid out. All prep is in place. They are completely involved in the match. Its their personal campaign.
George Patton said “Don't tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.
Some readers asked-hey your coach is too much on the sidelines. Yes, because all he has to do is speak to the potential of the boys.
Many times people ask me how TMW is different from Chak De. The structures are similar but to me there’s a small difference in the treatment. The difference is in the heart of the matter. It’s what makes someone working at 40% work at 80% as compared to someone at 40% giving 200%? I am a huge fan of Kabir Khan. All honesty, commitment, complete involvement and no compromises. He is the coach I’d have loved to be. But five years ago when I started writing the TMW I discovered Sampath.
Kabir has all the plans, all the tactics, he is so involved that he knows all the strengths and weaknesses of his team and the opponents. The girls trust him. He trusts them. They look at him even upto the last goal and his preparation works out. They win..
Sampath on the other hand has no tricks with him.
Sampath transfers the ownership of the boys dream to them. Kabir khan does not.
The issue here is one of trust. Can you trust yourself to trust your team. That they are always, even in their worst days-doing their best.
MY DEFINITION OF SUCCESS – GIVING YOUR BEST AT ALL TIMES
I would like to lay down the basis of my perspective of what “success” means to me, what “enjoying” oneself means to me and what “team” means to me.
Success first. To me it’s not about winning. Though successful teams are likely to win most of the time, they are also the ones that seem to enjoy the game the most. What they enjoy is the process. They enjoy the process of being prepared. They enjoy giving their best. Only by believing in the process and not the outcome will you be able to give your best till the last ball is bowled. There is no letting up.
The WI and Aussie teams for example. They were best prepared. So at 130 for six, Symonds and Hogg redefine their roles and carry their team to safety. They are thinking of the team. When Laxman fights the Aussie pacers with the tail for company with the sole intention of getting a lead of 400 he is playing for the team.
Normally at this stage, the team starts winning more often than not. Lessons here for Ponting and co. I felt who got carried away with the result – of sixteen wins and forgot about giving their best.
To me success and enjoying are used synonymously. Famous words from Dhoni before the T20 championships. “We will enjoy the game.” And we all wonder. Oh, so you’ll enjoy yourself huh.
What does that mean. Much has been said about the best teams enjoying themselves. Most interpret enjoying to being giving the license to be irresponsible. To enjoy is to be irresponsible. But no.
When each of us looks deep down within us, our experience, we know that true enjoyment for us always was when we gave our 200%. When we give it all so much that we are immersed in the job-we forget injuries, illnesses, we transcend physical and mental states, we just fly. We are connected to the heavens. That’s what we are here for.
In that state, it is also true that it does not matter to us whether we win or lose. Because you know you’re a winner anyway, its easy to acknowledge he other wholeheartedly because you did not lose.
What is a ‘team’
Thirdly, what does a team mean to me. It’s not the 15. Its not your top management. Not your middle management. It’s every single cog of your organization. It includes the team mgt, the coach, the trainers, the tea boy, the cleaning lady, the supporters. This is the forearm, the elbow, the shoulder and the entire body that’s behind your fist. That’s your team.
When the whole team is one your side, nothing can stop you from feeling good about yourself, from giving your best. Your doorman smiles, your driver keeps the car all polished and in excellent condition, all dust is clear, teaboy smiles-imagine, with a team like that you can’t lose.
Now that looks like hardwork does it. Most would think Hey I don’t have the time to smile at all of them. To motivate each one of them.
You don’t have to.
It’s not about them. It’s about you. Can you trust them to do a good job? Can you acknowledge their true potential, their willingness to excel?
Believe in yourself - acknowledge your excellent side
Why do some teams only win once while some do it over a long period of time. Belief in oneself. Acknowledgement of achievements. Its not just teams. Individuals as well do it all the time. Lets say we have a continuum ranging from mediocrity to excellence. We all touch excellence several times in our life. If we bat with Tendulkar, chances are that many times you may get a 50 while he gets out cheaply. Do you acknowledge yourself or think you are lucky. The one’s seeking excellence acknowledge themselves. They know its not luck. They deserved those runs. If we believe this over a period of time, slowly building on our own work, we will start doing better and better.
I’d like to dwell a little longer on this topic because I think it’s the crucial to the whole discussion. I cannot place who said this maybe Longfellow but the gist of the quote is this ‘ judge not a man by his achievements but by his potential.”
Another example – 2 infact. The story of a kitten looking into a mirror and seeing a lion. That of a father and his sons at a turnstile. Father buys adult tickets for his young sons and says “these are for the engineer, the doctor and the scientist.
That’s your path. If you dream to be the CEO or businessperson, or someone managing life wonderfully, dream, see your dream, feel it, breathe it, live it. Plan and prepare for it. When someone asks “are you ready” you must be as ready as the guy who’s already in the place you want to take. Make yourself ready. Add dimensions to yourself. Know your strengths. Work on them.
Now that’s something MSD did, something KD did. Your “weakest link” surprises you when you give them freedom to be themselves. When you merely believe deep down that you expect the world from them. They’ll give their life for the cause.