Ashes to Dashes – Turning the Team Around

Turning around a team in the doldrums is not an easy thing. The outstanding and favourable reversal of form shown by the Australian cricket team in their thrashing of England in the current Ashes test series in Australia is worthy of reflecting upon in terms of how a poorly performing team whether in sport or in business can be turned around to achieve extraordinarily high performance.

Turning around a teamThe Australian team only a few months ago in its tour of England suffered a series of successive embarrassing defeats largely attributable to its own poor performance. Both in batting, bowling and fielding the team was only a shadow of what Australian cricket fans would have them aspire to. Facing a tour by the England team during our summer, Australian cricket followers had little confidence that things would improve.

(Image: Courtesy Getty Images)

Nevertheless circumstances have reversed dramatically and it is now England that have been made to look the poorer side.

There are many reasons a team that is down can be turned around and elevated to the top, but this is rarely achievable without significant self reflection by the team members and often a change in leadership. In some cases an existing leader can transform themselves and the team but most commonly such a turnaround requires a new leader to emerge.

The importance of Core values in turning around a team

Attaining new heights of performance or retrieving former best practice within a team requires concentration on some of the core values of what makes teams the best in their field. These values include unity, passion, commitment and attitude.

Belief in oneself and one’s team members is also a very important contributor to success. We often see in the sports world the effects of loss of confidence which can turn a couple of bad performances into a losing streak. It is the same in business when a few poorly judged decisions can undermine a manager’s confidence to the extent that ongoing judgement is impaired.

Maintaining the team values through mutual support, encouragement, perseverance and application to the task is a critical part of the building a culture of success.

Leading the turnaround

I have seen organisations whose performance has continued to spiral downward despite desperate efforts of an existing leader to find solutions. In such circumstances it invariably requires a change of leadership and very specific strategies to arrest the decline and set a direction back towards high-performance. Some of the more effective turnaround strategies of the new leader include:

  • Acknowledging but not dwelling on the past. Taking the stance that we are where we are, now let’s move on.
  • Avoiding recriminations of any particular individual but establishing firm expectations as to behaviour and performance and demanding accountability in meeting those expectations.
  • Demonstrating decisiveness commensurate with good decision-making. When Field-Marshall Bernard Montgomery took over field commandMonty of the retreating British forces in North Africa in 1942 he issued instructions that henceforth orders were for acting upon immediately, not for being discussed or debated.
  • Identifying leaders within the team and let them lead and make them take responsibility for leading.
  • Striking a good balance between discipline and freedom.
  • Seeking to reconcile individual goals with team goals and address any disconnect.
  • Establishing an environment of trust and mutual respect.
  • Showing the team not only what “good” is but what “better” looks like.
  • Establishing and maintaining high quality communication.

Field Marshall Bernard Mongomery (Image: courtesy

The turn around leader’s job is to foster enthusiasm, mutual trust, respect for others whether allies, supporters or competitors. This should be followed by counselling those who do not meet the required standards and rewarding those who do.

The turn around environment

A turn around strategy needs to provide a supportive and collegiate environment, a learning environment, a positive culture and one where every team member’s contribution to achievement is valued. Team members need to be chosen well, have skills to do the job, and possess complimentary skills – just as the cricket team needs batsmen, bowlers and fielders, business teams need a mix of skills for best effect.The environment needs to be one that keeps the team focused on the main objective, ensuring everyone is committed to the cause and that  the cause is a worthy cause.

There is an often used phrase that turning around poor performance is like “turning around the Queen Mary”. The allusion is of course to the fact that some change scenarios are not achieved quickly nor in a single direct manoeuvre and like turning around a large ocean liner the path to another direction is more of an arc than an angle. Patience and forebearance are key attributes for any manager seeking to introduce organisational reforms and even more so when seeking to remedy a long standing negative culture.

Consideration of the risks involved in managing turnarounds include always being alert to the fact that the failure of effective strategies can result in a further deepening of the malaise.

For the turnaround leader it is critical to walk the talk and never be caught breaching their own rules or transgressing their own values. Overall acknowledge that the recovery may not be without a little backsliding – ensure there is pride in achieving and learning in losing.

 (Queen Mary image: Courtesy

Queen Mary in New York

The Queen Mary on her first visit to New York 1936


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