Blog - March 2010 - Is Making Tea (not war) the Key to Leading a Team to Glory?

Is Making Tea (not war) the Key to Leading a Team to Glory?

Adrian Birrell, Coach to the 2007 World Cup Qualifying Irish Cricket team talks to the Venture Business Network about how making tea, not war, can help separate the men from the boys.

“If you are cold, tea will warm you. If you are too heated, it will cool you. If you are depressed, it will cheer you. If you are excited, it will calm you.“

Gladstone, 1865

On St. Patrick’s Day in 2007, when Ireland watched the 9pm news and learned that the Irish Cricket Team had beaten Pakistan, ranked 4th in the world - the average Irish reaction was:

“Wha? We have a cricket team?”

And puhllesse, ladies and gents, don’t pretend you knew better.

Even I thought that. And considering that I had dabbled even with cricketing greatness (well I had played for two seasons in Trinity). My coach told me I had “potential.” But so did my social life you see, and that seemed to incur a rather higher rates of quick wins.

And - while I tried to be happy on the outside for our sporting heroes, I couldn’t ignore the little voice on the inside which wished I had the capacity for time travel and having been closer to a bookies earlier that day. What had the odds been?!?

And my last thoughts were... why don’t these sportsmen wear shorts? I’m sure some of them have nice legs. They would have much more groupies; and groupies = sponsorship deals. They could move from amateur to professional. Do you think Rob Kearney would be the poster boy he is, if he turned up to play in baggy yoga pants? “Exactement”, as the French man would say.

And just like all the Hollywood blockbusters, we all love to see the underdog triumph (particularly when they’re Irish).

Having worked for slick and polished change management consultants, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a successful “change manager” talk about success in its simplest, and purest forms. Adrian Birrell doesn’t use Gantt charts, matrixes or Harvard Business school strategies, but what he does wax lyrical on is the value of relationship building and that each team member always making a contribution, acting on feedback and commits 100% to taking responsibility for his own success.

In a world where you can easily feel disconnected or passé if you aren’t spending every spare micro-second tweeting, blogging or vlogging (sounds naughty doesn’t it? Try not to be too disappointed by the explanation at the end*) it was refreshing to hear a red-blooded alpha male speak of the value of relationship and trust building, specifically “of sitting down and having a cup of tea.”

Adrian sat down and had a cup of tea with every player. He sold each player a dream, that glory could be theirs; but that each cricketer needed to make cricket and their commitment to the team, their number one priority for 18 months.

And then Adrian sat down and had a cup of tea and a chat with each player’s boss and their domestic operations managers (wives or girlfriends) and told them that they would be second fiddle to cricket for the 18 months as they prepared for the 2007 World Cup.

When Adrian moved to Ireland in 2002, he admitted to being initially very daunted by the fact that most of the Irish team seemed to view him as a ‘saviour’. And while he did not come with incense, myrrh or any other dusty substance, he did not disappoint. Within a few short years, the Irish team had beaten Zimbabwe, and the West Indies. Soon they had qualified for the 2007 World Cup.

When Ireland beat Pakistan, ranked 4th in the world, this brought us in into what is called the ‘Super Eight’, causing what some call the biggest surprise in the cricketing world -ever.

Until later that evening.

That very night, the world-famous Bob Woolmer, who coached the Pakistani team was found dead, allegedly strangled in his hotel bedroom. While the verdict of murder was never proved, it was never disproved either. After 26 days of court deliberation, the jury delivered an open verdict meaning “The person died in suspicious circumstances, and they believe it to be a crime, but they lacked adequate evidence to attribute it to any one individual.”

It was alleged that Wolmar was killed to stop him blowing the whistle on illegal betting, which is rumoured to be endemic in Asia.

But conspiracy theories aside, Adrian had some very interesting insights into achieving greatness.

  • You achieve success in small increments.
  • You can only go forward if you play out of your league and against people better than you.
  • You must not be afraid of losing.
  • There is no glory without hard work.
  • If you strive for perfection you will never achieve it, but you can achieve excellence.

He attributed team success to 7 success factors.

1 – Positive Attitude.

2 - Clear, unreasonable ambition.

3 - Winning Strategy and team work. (Everyone had to play their part – he tolerated “no passengers” so even if players were not playing, he would ask them to be re-filling water bottles, tidying up the changing room.)

4 - Driving for Higher Standards.

5 – Self Motivation.

6 - Feedback (being open to feedback and acting on it). He cited an example of telling one Irish bowler that he would be dropped if his bowling didn’t improve. That bowler was rated the third best bowler in the world in 2007.

7 - PRIDE (personal responsibility for every individual).

And Adrian’s interesting mix of nurturing-but-tough-bedside manner certainly worked. What I learned most from his talk was the need to:

  • Be motivational – but to set tough goals.
  • Flag early on when a person is not reaching their potential and give them a chance to improve.
  • Get in the support of all the stakeholders who affect a player, (his boss and partner).
  • Get people excited about the dream. Get them to buy into it and commit.

And as to why he gave up coaching the Irish team? He and his wife Susan (a partner in Deloitte) have a young family, and prior to the World Cup, he had indicated that it was just too much juggling two big careers like that.

And while this is unusual in a man to make such a statement, it’s admirable (but hardly surprising for a man who values the cup of tea.)

But I guess second thoughts he might have had to continue – would no doubt have been quashed when the coach whose team he had defeated was murdered in cold blood in his hotel bedroom, and Adrian he had the luxury of an armed guard camped 24/7 outside his hotel room.

Well I know if that were me, I would certainly return to the safe haven of cups of tea.

After all, every day should have its golden moments.

Adrian Birrell is now an in-demand public speaker and does some consultancy work.

*Vlogging is video blogging, where the author instead of writing a blog, takes a video of himself and puts it online to be viewed like a blog.