People talk about motivation, work-life balance and developing a productive team. But only a few realize the importance of happiness within this equation.
Look no further than the recent cricket matches between England and Australia for a very interesting case study of the effect of leadership and morale on sustained team performance.
I'm not going to explain cricket other than to highlight that it's a team game and that each test match takes up to five days, with six hours of playing time each day. It requires sustained concentration, and outcomes are significantly influenced by the collective expectations and attitude within the team. Unlike many sports, a single star cannot make a huge difference without support from his teammates and the playing time resembles that of a normal workweek.
In parts of what was once the British Empire, the game of cricket reigns supreme. One of the sport's major contests is the series of five matches between English and Australian teams every couple of years for "The Ashes."
The outcome of each of the five series is of significant national importance -- defeating the "old enemy" makes headline news in both countries.
Unusually, in the last nine months, there have been two series played: the first in mid-2013 and the second in the current Australian summer. England won the first series 3-0. And after losses in India and England, the Australian team was written off as "the worst ever" by the local press. But then Australia won the second series 5-0, a feat only accomplished twice before in Ashes history, and now they're national heroes. What caused the change?
The difference wasn't in the skills of the players or the support staff (they were basically the same). It was the team's attitude. Prior to the start of the English series, Australia focused on peak performance at all costs. There were rules, curfews and strictly enforced discipline, which led to dissent, internal divisions and disenchantment.
The Australian Cricket Board decided a change was needed and appointed Daren "Boof" Lehmann as the new team coach just 16 days before the first English test. The change was too late to make much of a difference in the England series, but by the time the Australian series started, Mr. Lehmann's philosophy had made a fundamental -- and enduring -- change in the Australian team culture.
With Mr. Lehmann at the helm, every team member is committed to team excellence. And rather than training drills for the sake of drills to drive performance, players want to improve and develop. The drive is intrinsic, not extrinsic. The most often repeated comment among team members is, "Lehmann made it fun again!"
The Australian team members are happy, taking genuine delight in each other's successes as well as providing support and encouragement when things don't go as planned.
This transformation will undoubtedly be the subject of research in years to come, but my initial impressions of the key skills Mr. Lehmann has used are:
- Respecting and trusting his players -- garnering responsible behaviors in return
- Allowing time for life beyond cricket, resulting in a fresh enthusiasm for both the training regime and the game
- Setting high expectations, but using a supportive style to encourage striving for excellence rather than demanding excellence
Applying these techniques takes courage (especially under the glare of national publicity). Building a champion team that enjoys its work and challenges is the challenge for any leader, particularly if you want your team to help you push your project through to a successful conclusion.
How do you make your team's work fun when you need high performance?