It seems a long time ago, but I once wrote a blog praising Andrew Strauss – and the great job he’d done in taking the England cricket team to the top of the world rankings.
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then: and a lot of England batsmen have found themselves back in the hutch for not many. England are about as far away from the top of the rankings as it’s possible to get: someone is needed to put things right, appoint a new coach and make Cricinfo worth reading again. Step forward, Andrew Strauss, now the ECB’s newly appointed Director of Cricket.
Strauss didn’t have the luxury of easing himself into his new role. Day one, and the hottest of hot potatoes was in his lap: Kevin Pietersen. Should KP be welcomed back into the England fold? Or was it impossible to integrate him into the team – something made doubly difficult by the personal animosity between the two men?
Opinions are sharply divided. On the one hand we have Piers Morgan and the supporters of KP (the small matter of 2.6m followers on Twitter). On the other we have some older, wiser heads, pointing out that Pietersen will be 35 by the time the Ashes come round and that, actually, his average in the last series he played wasn’t that good.
Former players have been quick to wade in – supporting and opposing Pietersen in equal measure. Dominic Cork – one of the antis – used the delightfully old-fashioned phrase “bad egg.”
The parallels with business are all too obvious. Anyone who has run a company, been in charge of a sales-force or who’s been responsible for any team will have faced exactly the same dilemma.
‘I’ve an undeniably talented person. When he’s on form he’s more effective than anyone else in the company. But he’s not a team player. He’s unpopular. There’s a collective sigh of relief when he’s not around…’
This is one of the toughest decisions any of us face in business. Do I keep him? Do I let him go? Is he encouraging the rest of the team? Does his success motivate them? Or are they held back? Does he cast too big a shadow?
Prepare for some sleepless nights. I’ve certainly had them throughout my working life: the ‘KP challenge’ has been one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to face.
Thinking back, I’ve faced it – with various teams – maybe half a dozen times. It’s easy to say that you should make the decision on a case-by-case basis as opposed to laying down guidelines – but you don’t read the blog for me to sit on the fence…
Looking back, I realise I almost always put the ‘good of the team’ first – and it invariably paid dividends. When the previously-considered-indispensable star was moved (upwards, sideways or out) those that were left stepped up, discovered talents they previously hadn’t felt able to develop and – ultimately – the overall result was a better performance from the whole team.
So the team talk – either in the dressing room or the conference room – became simple.
OK, he’s gone. Yes he was talented, he was mercurial. But he wasn’t perfect and if you’re breathing a sigh of relief this morning you don’t need to feel ashamed. But it’s up to you now. You’re the ones we’ve put our faith in: you’re the ones that need to deliver. I absolutely believe in you. I couldn’t be happier with you as a team and I wouldn’t swap any of you. So let’s do this…
As the old saying goes, cricket is a team game played by individuals. Maybe – as SMEs move increasingly towards collaboration with talented individuals – business is going the same way. But I’ll never tire of quoting the proverb: if you want go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
Let’s hope the England team does go far this summer: and I hope you’ll understand if I extend the same sentiments to a certain football team over this rather crucial weekend…