I’ve been working with a great leadership team this week. There has been much debate about the need for a set of team values that offers more than just a generic list of phrases that could be adopted by any other similar organisation; values that are actually going to mean something to all of the team members.
Then, last night, I found myself watching the former Australian cricket captain, Steve Smith, break down in tears during a press conference. During the televised statement, the cricketer reflected on the impact of his actions in the recent cheating scandal in South Africa on those around him. I’m not sure how sincere he was, or whether it had simply dawned on him that he’d just blown his vision of a golden future in the world of international cricket.
Following the interview, I was intrigued to understand what part ‘values’ play in the ethos of ‘Cricket Australia’, the national governing body of Australian cricket. I took a tour of their website and found myself drawn to the ‘Mission and Values’ page, where I found neither a mission statement, nor a set of values. To be fair, I did find a graphic, which contained the line, ‘Our Purpose: To inspire everyone to love cricket’. That’s working well then.
But there were no values. There was a link to the ‘2017/2022 Australian Cricket Strategy’ document, which surprise, surprise, doesn’t include a set of values. There’s lots of talk in the strategy document about elite performance, sustaining revenue and ‘Giving audiences what they want and growing the Big Bash’. There’s also a statement labelled ‘How we Play’, which reads, ‘Be real, smash the boundaries, make every ball count, stronger together.’ But nothing about values.
The whole document contains nothing about integrity, nothing about honesty, but plenty about winning. So, who sets the moral compass that guides a set of players, when the focus is on winning at all costs.
Well, then it is all about authentic leadership, and there has been a distinct lack of authentic leadership throughout the Australian team. There has been no-one on the ground with the team, who has been calling the players out on their unsportsmanlike behaviour. This is why the team coach, Darren Lehmann, ultimately had to resign. This was his culture.
When you have a team that is lacking leadership and a value-set that everyone has bought in to, rules get broken; people turn a blind eye; people start to collude and before you know it, it’s okay to tamper with a ball in order to win, or it’s okay to use doping as a means of gaining an advantage. A culture of winning at all costs is still a culture, and if that is what is important to you as a team it’s easy to uphold that culture and to train the next set of players that cheating is what is expected of you, if you’re loyal to the team.
Agreeing a set of values matters, in sports, as it does in business. Team values are what you stand for when all else breaks down. They remind the team members and the outside world who you are as a group of people. When it comes to making a decision that you think you might later have cause to reflect on, your values point you in the right direction.
The Australian national cricket team wasn’t the first professional team to be caught cheating and it won’t be the last, but maybe there are some lessons to be learnt from the lack of a set of values, and the culture that was built as a result.