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Functional Coaches - a Leaf from Indian Cricket (Part 1)

Functional Coaches - a Leaf from Indian Cricket (Part 1)

In a career spanning more than 20 years, I’ve spent most of my time in Business roles. I have worked with many functional and transformational teams like QA, Recruitment, Key Account Planning, Employee Engagement, Knowledge Management, Marketing etc. on several initiatives. My relationships with these teams have always been cordial and we have supported each other to help the business team deliver better results. However, I’ve always found disconnect between intent and action on the ground.

Over time, this disconnect between the teams only seemed to widen, to the extent that there was very little faith between the teams. The business teams were focused on delivering results rather than focusing on what the support teams advised. And the pile of unfilled templates, number of ignored meeting requests, and challenges in achieving the end goals (growth, customer satisfaction, innovation, etc.) only grew.

When I spoke to the heads of these functional teams, most of them said the same thing in different ways:



As a business leader, I was sympathetic to their point of view and thought that I need to support them better and drive the initiative closely to ensure its success. So I went back to my team and asked them to try harder to work with the functional teams but this what they said (mostly implicitly):



There were some success stories but my experience with most initiatives was mixed. A couple of years back, I took up the leadership of a Functional organization and went to the “other” side of the fence. From my firsthand experience with functional teams, I now believe that they can create a much higher level of impact by changing how they view their role and how they work with the business. Let me explain with an example.

A fast-growing organization decides to launch a new initiative for mining their existing customer base and sets up a Key Account Planning (KAP) team. The KAP team is usually staffed with a senior leader and some bright MBAs. They work either by themselves or with the help of a consulting firm. They lay out aspirational goals (x% growth from top accounts), come up with a comprehensive process, templates and pepper some impactful terms based on precious metals (Platinum, Gold, Greek Alphabet (Alpha, Mega) etc.

Once they are ready for launch, the CEO sends an e-mail to the entire company announcing the transformational initiative and how she is going to personally sponsor it. The KAP team is at the peak of their motivation and believe that they are going to “transform the company”. They schedule training for the business leaders and provides them the necessary tools (best practices, templates, checklists etc.) and wait for magic to happen.

The first set of KAP plans start coming in – 20% of the business teams have done a decent job, another 30% of teams have done a poor job and the remaining 50% did not even turn in their work. The team gets the shock of their life – several months of dedicated efforts, their sacrifices are simply being ignored by their colleagues. So they start following up (with witty, sarcastic or aggressive language). A few more people send in their plan (and they are all quite shoddy) but most continue to ignore.

A big hammer is needed to break this wall of apathy. A meeting is called where the CEO pounds the desk about the criticality of the initiative for the future of the company and warns defaulters with dire consequences. Within a few days, most of the defaulters have sent in their work but the quality of their work is pathetic. The CEO is again called but this time the business teams push back saying that they have done what was requested but that the template is too confusing or too broad/narrow and doesn’t take into account the “special” needs of their business, etc.

The CEO plays the mediator and brokers peace by asking the KAP team to provide extra support but as soon as her head is turned, the finger-pointing starts again. This goes on for several months and after a couple of years, the enthusiastic KAP team is a shadow of their former self. They now conduct reviews in a robotic manner and churn out Red/Amber/Green reports which are ignored by the CEO (who has now put her weight behind Innovation or Design Thinking or Digital Transformation). You can’t blame the CEO either because she feels like the person at the center in the picture below.

Sound familiar? Been here? Done this (in some form or format)? You can substitute KAP with several other initiatives – Productivity Improvement, IP creation, Employee Engagement, Innovation, Reusable Component Creation, Knowledge Management and the story remains the same.

Rather than talk about a solution to this problem directly, let me talk about one of my favorite transformation stories – how a young man with little experience took up an initiative to transform the culture of a huge, well established organization and succeeded despite all odds. I am talking about the story of Andrew Leipus and what he did for Indian cricket back in 2000.

When he first took over training the Indian cricket team, they had suffered a series of losses and the morale of the team was low. Almost every player was injured in some way and the embattled team was worse for the wear. Leipus submitted a 6-page report to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on the physical condition of the players.

This report detailed the key issues of poor medical management and lack of appropriate workouts and physical conditioning. In addition the report highlighted the issues with infrastructure and management of the team. In his recommendations, Leipus suggested setting up support teams (like specialist medical advisory board), and adding another wicket-keeper to the team to ease off the pressure on the one wicket keepers.

As coach Leipus worked closely with the cricket team’s management, fitness trainers (Adrian le Roux, Gregory Allen King, and John Wright) and each player to understand and tailor fitness training (endurance, flexibility, strength and power, speed, and agility) and cricket specific testing (running between the wickets and throwing accuracy), and high-intensity conditioning.

The result was nothing short of spectacular – the overall form of each player improved. He was also responsible for upgrading the team’s fitness levels and medical conditions, improving facilities and treatment options.

In my next article, I will outline how functional teams can imbibe lessons from Andrew Leipus to achieve the best possible business outcomes. In the meanwhile, kindly share your thoughts in the comments section for my read.


By Anand Parameswaran | September 1st, 2016

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