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Blog : Lessons from the field


Lessons from the field

England's outstanding Ashes victory in the cricket this year got me thinking about the parallels between successful sports teams and successful teams in business.

The English Cricket team has risen like a phoenix from the flames (or ashes!) during the last two years. Having been on the receiving end of some ‘absolute hammerings’ (a technical term for significant defeats) over the years and seemingly heading down a slippery slope, this all changed in April 2009 when Zimbabwean, Andy Flower, was appointed as Team Director.

Since Flower's appointment, England's stock has risen and is again seen as a force to be reckoned with in the world of cricket.

As so often is the case in business, a change of leader can bring about a new energy, new focus, new strategy and new goals. The hiring of Flower is clearly the 'Tipping Point' (book by Malcolm Gladwell in which he defines the tipping point as "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point”) in England's resurgence.

Hiring Flower is being viewed as a masterstroke by commentators. As a meticulous planner, holding the ability to spot talent and develop it, you might say Flower's role encompasses a mixture of CEO, learning and development, HR and public relations. Flower's task was akin to building a business, defining strategy and ensuring the right people were in place to deliver.

As an engaging and confident leader, Flower was able to secure investment in top class people, top class facilities, and top class development.

He selected and supported his team captain; Andrew Strauss the thoughtful, articulate, intelligent, and slightly risk averse professional that many organisations need but often overlook in favour of a more flamboyant candidate (we all remember Pietersen’s five minutes of fame as captain…)

Succession planning and talent management was key to Flower's approach. He highlighted the best, up and coming players outside of the England team and coached them into contention. A huge element to England's success in Australia was its strength in depth. Every position was covered and in case of injury or poor performance there was a highly coached professional ready to step in and make their mark.

In addition, Flower put detailed development plans in place for each player. Fitness, psychology and nutrition were all covered. As the tour approached, dossiers highlighting strengths, weaknesses and opportunities to exploit the opposition were also prepared and reviewed.

The leadership team gained popularity for their thorough approach and empowered the players to play with confidence and a smile on their face. Together, management and the team developed a common goal and an unbreakable spirit.

As success was enjoyed in Australia; Flower was not seeking plaudits or press coverage. Instead the Ashes were won and celebrated by the team, with the achievement largely credited as a great team effort.

England's achievement as the first Ashes cricket series victory in Australia for 24 years is rightly being applauded and there are some obvious lessons that many businesses could consider in their quest for success:

Leadership - As Peter Drucker says 'Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things'. A change in leadership for English Cricket was a bold move but Flower's thorough approach paid off. Are you and your leaders focusing on the right things?

Planning - No stone was left unturned and England's insistence on getting to know their opposition's weaknesses gave the team a head start in each game; with the research continuously being updated. How much time and energy do you give to researching your competitors? Have you ever thought about your people's fitness, psychology and nutrition?

Talent Management - Flower selected and supported his captain and team who all knew their roles and were aware of their contingency plans. The squad now has a strong future; with new up and coming players joining the first team on a regular basis. There is a succession plan for every role and enough quality for two teams. How often do you review your talent? Do you ever let your aspiring employees work alongside the top executives?

Coaching and Development - It astounds me that in sport players are coached on a daily basis in preparation for their big game. How often are your people being coached and how much time is being given to focus on developing skills? Should you be investing more in learning and development for your people? Our Training Director, Mary Jane Flanagan, recently wrote a fantastic article for Training Journal exploring the effectiveness of learning and development and I would urge anyone to read it.

What were your answers to the questions posed? Are your teams as successful as the England Ashes squad, or is there more you could do to support?

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