(Steve Smith, March 25, 2018)
What happened last week in South Africa demonstrated the harsh reality of what can happen during crunch times when a team - including its leadership team - doesn’t feel certain it can obtain the ‘right’ outcome (in this case, a win) and they operate in an unsafe landscape. The Australian Cricket Team was reckless, and through poor judgment and decision making, they cheated.
The interview on the 25th of March with Smith and Cameron Bancroft highlighted an underlying issue in the Australian test cricket camp. In the heat and pressure of that Test match, for the team to think there was no other way to win, and that ball tampering was an appropriate course of action, speaks volumes of the culture fostered by the team, the leadership group and the coaching staff. And by extension, the culture condoned by Cricket Australia.
Teams that operate in reckless landscapes during crunch times are high risk. Their need for the ‘right’ result is low, and systems or processes don't exist to facilitate innovation safely. In other words, teams take inappropriate shortcuts to get the result they desire.
Within organisations, characteristics of reckless landscapes can include:
Dysfunction within leadership teams
Ego in key roles, or ‘cowboys’
Little regard for consequence (perhaps they have been on a good wicket for awhile - excuse the pun)
A large perceived gap between leadership and staff
The infamous accounting fraud at WorldCom that took place between 1999 and 2002 was initiated and then exacerbated by a culture that allowed “a systematic attitude conveyed from the top down that employees should not question their superiors, but simply do what they were told.” Despite being uncomfortable with what they were being asked to do, Betty Vinson and Troy Normand, two employees directly involved in the fraud, could not see a realistic alternative. Senior leadership was highly respected and successful, and used their position in power to persuade Vinson and Normand to continue to perpetrate the fraud. There were no processes in place to protect the pair and this ultimately led to their criminal convictions in 2002.
Getting the result right first time means being clear on the level of performance needed to win and knowing the rules to play. Safety doesn’t stunt performance, it encourages it, by maximising the boundaries to play within.
The role of governance and leadership bodies are to clearly articulate, emphasise and role model expected behaviour so that during crunch times when good judgment and decision making are put to the test, there is absolutely no doubt about what’s acceptable.
Cricket has been an essential part of my summer for as long as I can remember. It’s something that I hope to continue with my family for my years to come. What has happened recently in South Africa is truly disappointing and I hope that this results a thorough review and remediation of the cultural landscape of cricket in Australia. The impact of this reckless behaviour is ultimately heartbreaking - and there is now an opportunity to reshape the culture into one that cultivates excellence in performance that is safe for everyone involved.
Because this is just not cricket.
What will you do if you see any of these characteristics in your team?
How will you use these events to start a productive conversation within your team?
 ‘right’, adj: 1.Morally good, justified or acceptable; 2. True or correct as a fact
[2} Kaplan, R & Kiron, D (2007) Harvard Business School: Accounting Fraud at WorldCom, page 3
About Alena: Alena works with leaders and their teams to connect technical and leadership skills so they can deliver to deadline without killing their people. She is a mentor, trainer, facilitator and coach. Contact her today on firstname.lastname@example.org