By Dr. Rudi Webster
On May 24, 2018, an interesting and enlightening article, headlined `Vague Leadership’ appeared in the Barbados Today.
In that article, a distinguished member of Cricket West Indies (CWI) defended the operations and performance of his board while complaining about CARICOM’S input and commitment to the development of cricket in the West Indies.
He also expressed concerns about what he perceives to be CARICOM’S real intentions concerning the governance of West Indies cricket, and the impact that its proposed legislative framework might have on the functioning and performance of CWI.
A few years ago, the board stated that the measure of its administrative performance would be tied to the on-field performance of the senior men’s team.
But, that measure backfired because the team descended into a steep and ever-increasing failure spiral from which it could not escape.
West Indies cricket and the performance of CWI are now at an all-time low. This stunning decline was painfully demonstrated a few months ago in the qualifying tournament for next year’s World Cup when the team lost to Afghanistan and then avoided elimination by the skin of its teeth with a lucky victory against Scotland.
At the end of that tournament, I contacted and congratulated a member of the Afghanistan squad on the team’s outstanding performance especially its three convincing wins against the West Indies.
He thanked me but then added, “Nowadays, beating the West Indies is no big deal.”
How right he was.
West Indies is at the bottom of ICC’s ODI rankings just above Afghanistan and is just ahead of Zimbabwe in the Test rankings.
Afghanistan has made remarkable progress in the last few years and it would be interesting to find out exactly what contribution its war-torn government has made to the team’s development and success.
I would hazard a guess and say that its contribution is miniscule compared to the input that CARICOM has invested in West Indies cricket.
There are more important factors in team performance than contributions from government.
In an effort to divert attention away from its shortcomings, CWI has acquired the bad habit of blaming circumstances, people and other organizations for its problems and poor performance.
CWI is not alone in that respect.
Other organizations are also guilty of this. But, if CWI were to undergo an honest self-examination of priorities, beliefs, skills, actions and learning strategies it would right away discover the true source of its disruptive circumstances and inadequate performance.
When an organization blames others for its poor results and points its finger at them, the hand it uses has three times as many fingers pointing back at the real source of its problems and circumstances.
Unsuccessful people are always blaming circumstances for what they are. Successful leaders who face the same challenges and circumstances as everyone else hardly do that. Instead, they choose where they want to go and what they want to achieve and then find a way to get there. When they can’t find the circumstances they want, they usually create them.
For years the board has resisted meaningful change. Several factors, including inadequate leadership, a failure to master the basic skills of good governance, refusal to restructure itself, and poor teamwork, have prevented it from achieving success. Its leaders have repeatedly made the common mistake of trying to change the organization without first changing themselves.
However, the greatest obstacle to the board’s success is its attitude and its adversarial mode of thinking.
These two things have resulted in destructive conflicts and hostile relationships with its players and just about everyone else.
The fight mode of thinking which seems to be the board’s preferred style creates conflicts, not harmony and cooperation.
In the fight mode or clash system of thinking, one side attacks while the other side defends. With time each point of view becomes more rigid.
The two sides get aroused, withdraw their antennae and stop listening to each other.
Neither side makes an attempt to develop an idea or approach that is different from the two that are clashing. There is no exploratory thinking.
A lot of time, energy and cost are then spent in the stand off. In the end, one side wins and is happy, and the other side loses and is resentful.
A win/loss outcome is usually the end result of this type of thinking.
Negotiating an outcome in which each side gives up something in order to arrive at a compromise is usually better than fighting but it too has its limitations.
In battles and disputes, CWI has always been reluctant to use this method to find solutions to its problems.
Problem solving is better than fighting and compromise, but it too has its drawbacks. In this thinking, the problem is analysed, its cause is identified and is then removed or put right. In the case of CWI there is a danger of focusing on a specific cause that is easy to identify and remove, while ignoring the rest of the situation. Remove the president and West Indies cricket will bloom! Complex systems do not work that way because while the cause was in action the adjustments were so widespread that it may no longer be a matter of problem solving by just removing the cause of the problem. But, what happens if we find the cause of CWI”s problems and can’t remove it? Do we just throw our hands in the air and give up?
What then is the best way for CWI to change itself, manage its conflicts and improve its performance? It must change its attitude and its style of thinking and must engage in creative or design thinking. Design thinking is not just about removing a problem or getting a compromise. It creates something that is not yet there and is always directed to the future. Argument, compromise and problem solving are directed to the past, on what is already there. We cannot change the past but we can change our interpretation of the past. More importantly, we can design our thinking to create the future we want and the results we want to achieve.
With design thinking, there is a sense of purpose and sense of fit. Things and people are brought together to achieve a particular purpose. It usually results in win/win outcomes, something that CWI, its coaches and players are desperately in need of. Then and only then will the team get back to winning ways. As Sir Garfield Sobers once said, “The main difference between the great players and the others is not just physical skill but rather the capacity to identify the challenges in the situations they face, the commonsense to think clearly and simply about them and the capacity to tailor their skills and resources to fit those challenges.” Notice Sir Garfield’s emphasis on purpose and fit.