8 Team-Building Lessons From a World #1 Cricket Coach

Leadership_Cricket_Lessons-8b38574Paddy Upton is a world renowned cricket coach and speaker at Mainstream Conference. He shares eight lessons learned while transforming a fledging cricket team into a World No 1 ranked team and explains how these lessons can translate to your own maintenance and reliability teams.

As a mental-game coach, I had been fortunate to help lead two nations’ cricket teams to the World No 1 ranking. What happened next was a surprise. The captain of one of the teams in the Worlds premier cricket tournament, the Indian Premier League (IPL), called me saying, “I know you’re not actually a cricket coach, but we’d like you to lead us as Head Coach in this year’s IPL.”

The team was the Rajasthan Royals. They had been at or near the bottom of the log team for the last four years, partly due to spending the least of all ten teams on player salaries. With the same restricted budget, the task was to lead the same team of lesser-skilled underdogs to the top of International cricket.

Short on talent and low on past records, we would need to do things differently. Here’s some of what we did: 

1. No Technical Coaches
Unlike every other team in the tournament, I did not want any technical coaching staff, no batting coach, no bowling coach, no fielding coach and also no fitness trainer. I fully buy into the concept of surrounding oneself with excellence! The excellence in our team was going to come from the players themselves.

2. My Coaching Goal
My coaching goal was that this tournament would be the “best experience of each player’s career”. Two key requirements would be (an abundance of) enjoyment and success.

3. Players Designed How to be an Awesome Team
Players brainstormed two different scenarios: 1) what are the things that happen in the best teams in the world and 2) what happens in the worst teams? Everyone’s inputs were listed as we generated for each scenario, a picture/image/energy that everyone could identify with, feel and interpret in their own way. Each player committed to operating, as often as possible, in accordance with his interpretation of the best-team scenario.

4. The Team Invests in Their Team
It was not my or the captain’s team, it was all of our team. Like a bank account, everything a player or support staff member did and said to each other would either add to or take away from the team environment/culture/account. We all agreed, with our best efforts and intentions, to make positive deposits, so that there were rich reserves for when people needed to make withdrawals during difficult times.

5. Allow Mistakes
Realistically we discussed that through stress, lack of awareness or whatever reason, each of us would make mistakes, on- and off-the-field. Even the greatest are not great every day.

If this oh-so-human failing occurred, we would support rather than criticize our teammate. Within an environment of commitment to being our best, everyone was allowed to have bad moments or even bad days. Importantly, there would be no “punishment” – we were adults, and I was not interested in being a policeman. Besides, nobody plans to blow it in front of teammates he cares about, never mind in front of a live audience of over 50,000 and a television audience of 100 million.

6. Strengths-Based Strategy
Most times leaders design a strategy that players/employees have to fit into it. We had no coaches, so had no experts to drive the strategy. Which is not actually true. We had 25 players from six different countries that played under more than 20 different coaches, 20 different captains and together had over 150 years of professional cricket experience. That’s more expertise than any coach in the world could ever have. A decent team in business will almost always collectively have more knowledge, experience and expertise than their leader.

We created a rich learning environment where players learned from each other. Specialists in each position shared experiences and theories with their teammates. Players became each other’s coaches. We allowed the best thinking to emerge and then designed strategies based on the best of our unique and collective strengths. Complete buy-in happened naturally.

When we needed to tweak the strategy or even change to plan B in the heat of the moment, everyone understood the intricacies involved, so could adapt far quicker than other teams that relied on the coach to send messages onto the field.

7. Team Decided on and Monitored “Petty Rules”
Players decided on dress codes, time keeping, curfews and similar petty issues that often plague teams. They not only decided on the rules, but also on possible consequences. Of which there were none. No rules, so no consequences. We had already committed our best attempts to be a great team, which meant we would be mature, responsible and respectful of our team culture – where genuine mistakes were also allowed.

8. Optional Practices
In most professional team sports, the coach decides when the team will practice, what moves or strategies will be practiced on that day, how long practice will go on for and what time it will end. The underlying assumption is that the coach knows best what preparation the player needs to be ready for the next game. I think this is fundamentally flawed, at least with most adults and certainly in professional cricket.

All of the Rajasthan Royals in-tournament practice sessions were “optional” whereby players were asked to take responsibility for being game ready. It was up to individual players to decide whether they actually needed to practice, and if so, what aspects of their game they felt needed work on and how they wished to do so. If they attended, they were free to leave practice once they felt complete. As coach I would regularly connect with players to understand their thinking about their preparation, their game and them personally.

In the end?
It was not all plain sailing. Mid-tournament the team (permanently) lost four key players through very unfortunate circumstances. This hit us hard and took the team to a real low point.

Despite this major setback, we finished in 3rd place in the IPL and earned a place in the Champions League (where the top eight franchise teams from around the World compete). We won all our Champions League games, narrowly losing in the final.
The team remained unbeaten in all 13 home games, and the spirited, energetic, strategically exciting, never-say-die style of the 2013 Rajasthan Royals team won millions of new fans.

And as players and staff, we had great fun?

Paddy UptonPaddy Upton is one of the world’s leading experts in human performance. Paddy’s out-of-the-box leadership propelled the Indian National Cricket Team to become World Test Cricket Champions in 2010 and to win the 2011 ICC World Cup. Most recently he coached Sydney Thunder from the bottom of the log to win this years Big Bash League.

Don’t miss Paddy speaking at Mainstream Conference – celebrating the leadership, technology, ideas, and innovations that are literally transforming Asset Management.

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Image courtesy of http://www.freedigitalphotos.net and Simon Howden