The Big A4 Diary

I’m not quite as up to speed with electronics as some of the other guys are, so I still use a big A4 diary.

Who’s the quote from? Andy Flower, team director (that’s ‘coach’ in old money) of the England team trying to retain the Ashes in Australia this winter.

The quote is in an article on the BBC website: you can read it here. Flower – the former Zimbabwean batsman who led England to the top of the test rankings – makes some excellent points, particularly on getting the best out of a team of individuals. It’s one of those times when business can learn a lot from sport.

Cricket’s always struck me as fascinating: it’s a team game and it’s an individual game. In no other sport is it so plainly evident that the team succeeded but you failed. The team can win by an innings and plenty: you can be clean bowled first ball and lose your place.

So the coach’s job is hard. The only way for the team to win is for individuals to perform to their best. But how do you get 11 very different characters to do that?

Well, the answers are in Andy Flower’s ‘coffee-stained A4 diary.’ And here are five of them that I picked out. None of them will be new to you – and you’ll instantly see that they’re every bit as relevant in managing your company’s team as they are in managing the England cricket team.

Communication Part of the preparation involved a camp [before the team left]. We wanted to educate the players on effective communication, leadership and how to give and receive feedback in a healthy and constructive fashion. I don’t think I’ve much to add to that. Anyone who’s ever played a team sport will know that there’s plenty of ‘feedback’ – just as there is in business. But you have to make sure it’s constructive feedback that builds the team, not negative stuff that breaks it down.

Growth Flower places a real emphasis on helping his players grow – both as individuals and as cricketers. They’re all encouraged to work towards continuously improving: We’ve been winning quite a lot. But if we don’t keep improving we’ll slow down and the opposition will catch us up.

Planning The planning has been meticulous. We’ve requested that the wives with younger kids arrive a few days earlier than we do, so they and the children are over jetlag by the time we arrive – so the players’ sleep isn’t affected. As you can see, there’s more to a cricket match than inducing Michael Clarke to nick one of Jimmy Anderson’s outswingers. In exactly the same way that there’s more to getting the best out of your staff than making sure they’ve been trained on the latest software.

Trust I don’t want them constrained by curfews. I want them to make decisions like adults. This may not seem a great idea when Joe Root is getting punched by David Warner at 2:30 in the morning, but I think Andy Flower is absolutely right. Sooner or later you have to trust people: and in my experience the more trust you place in them, the better they respond.

Fun We want them to have fun too. We want them to finish the tour of Australia saying it’s been the best three months of their lives. And doesn’t that apply in business as well? If you don’t enjoy it, then the chances are that in the long run it won’t be profitable.

I think there’s a lot of common sense in those points and if you’ve five minutes I’d recommend reading the full article. But how does Andy Flower himself stay focused, and make sure he’s also constantly improving? I have used an executive coach for two or three years now, he says. He’s a great sounding board and also challenges me about my own personal growth.

And with that remarkably sensible comment I’ll leave you for this week. Have a great weekend…


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