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  • Brendan Shaw

A right balls-up: organisational decision making under pressure

If anyone was in any doubt that culture, teamwork and leadership were crucial to good organisational decision-making and success, just ask the Australian cricket team.

Here is a team of talented individuals that was, by any definition, a successful organisation. They’d won the cricket World Cup in 2015 and had just come off a very successful Ashes test series defeating again England 4 - 0. They are currently ranked 3rd best test team in the world.

Today they are a team dealing with the fallout of some of their members, including the captain and vice-captain, being caught in a ball-tampering scandal that is, arguably, the worst crisis in Australia’s 240-year cricketing history.

Australian cricketers were caught red-handed cheating in real time under the gaze of television cameras.

The Australian captain and vice-captain have stood down and been banned for 12 months and the player involved banned for nine months. The Australian coach has resigned. The Australian media and public have condemned the actions from the Prime Minister down. Broader questions are being asked by former Australian captains about a team culture that sanctions regular sledging of the opposition and an aggressive win-at-all-costs approach to the game.

This has all happened in the space of a few days after a few moments of madness in the middle of a cricket match. To their credit, in their emotional, tear-stained press conferences those involved have acknowledged their responsibility.

While the actual cause of cheating was a little piece of sandpaper hidden in someone’s trousers, in coming weeks and months I suspect reviews are likely to find that the fundamental cause of the cheating was a troubling organisational culture, poor decision making under pressure, a lack of teamwork amongst talented individuals, and a lack of strategic long-term leadership.

The ultimate test of a team’s character, culture and decision-making is not when things are going well, but when things are going wrong. When the team is under pressure in a crisis or when the wolves are at the gates are the times these things count. It shows the importance of instilling the right organisational values, building teamwork and trust and having good leadership before things go bad.

These things are tested at times of extreme pressure and adversity, whether it is the Battle of Britain, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, Facebook’s data management saga or the Australian cricket team’s ball-tampering scandal.

The good news is that these things can be developed and learned. In‑depth team analysis, regular open team discussions, individual and leadership development programs, simulations and constructive team exercises can all help here.

Most important of all is taking the time to do it.

There are many questions that organisations need to take the time to ask themselves and discuss as a team. Setting aside serious time to reflect on these things is important.

What kind of organisation do you want to be? Do your people understand that the long-term viability of your organisation hinges on them being able to discern right from wrong? How does your organisation make decisions in a crisis? Is your organisation good at tapping into and using the talents of your team? Are your co‑workers in agreement about what sorts of decisions are right and wrong and how they are made? To what extent are people in your team free to speak up if they feel something wrong is being done? Is your organisation investing enough in developing good leadership and decision making? What role have you as leaders of your organisation played in facilitating conversations in your organisation on these issues? What can you do as a team to make your organisation one you can be proud of?

Failure to have these discussions leaves you open to only finding out the answers when the proverbial stuff hits the fan.

I suspect the Australian cricket team will be asking itself these sorts of questions in the coming weeks and months.

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