An Ashes Winning Team

Friday, 21 January, 2011

There is nothing an English cricket fan enjoys more than seeing England win a test series. Other than winning an ashes test series against Australia.

In Australia. By 3 tests to 1. For the benefit of my non-cricket loving followers, England have just completed a historic feat by beating Australia on their home turf for the first time in 24 years. I won’t confess to being hardcore enough to stay awake and watch the matches live, as the time difference between the UK and Australia was not too sociable, but what caught my eye from watching this ashes series unfold (albeit in its edited highlights) was the sense of team that England had. And in contrast, a lack of unity in the Australian camp.

I have had the opportunity to work with a number of Scrum projects over recent years. Some of these projects were delivered by teams. Some were delivered by a group of individuals. I saw the same patterns emerge in the ashes series this winter.

Inconsistency leads to uncertainty

England went into this ashes series as a squad of players that had been largely consistent for the last 12-18 months. This consistency allowed the teams to bond over long periods of time and form strong relationships as not just teammates but also as genuine friends. The batting order (particularly the top six batsmen) largely picked itself before the first ball was bowled. Knowing the team’s natural structure promotes a sense of calm in the camp, where the team ethos and ‘rules’ are known not only by the first eleven players picked for each game but also throughout the squad.

The formbook did suggest that the Australian side were struggling more. But I believe the constant change in the squad and starting line-up added more problems into the mix. Only seven Australian players who started the first test in Brisbane, started the final test in Sydney six weeks later. Some of those changes may have been forced due to injury, but changing the team members changed team dynamics. And from my experience of Scrum teams, that can lead to a drop in productivity.

"Form is temporary - class Is permanent"

England made minimal changes the their teams, and only those forced by injury. Even after a heavy loss in Perth, the England selectors kept faith with their team only making a single change to the starting line-up. The player under most scrutiny was Paul Collingwood. A senior player in the team, averaging over 40 runs as a test batsmen, but woefully short of form with the bat. The easiest thing to do as an England selector would be to replace Collingwood. But much to the media dismay, Collingwood retained his place throughout each of the five test matches despite only averaging 13.83 runs. But Paul Collingwood is still an outstanding cricketer and a vital part of a winning England team even when he is not scoring runs. He is regarded as the best fielder and slip catcher in the team. His ashes contribution in the field of nine catches including a vital (and impressive) diving slip catch to remove the key wicket of Ricky Ponting in the 3rd test in Perth.

The shows the value of diversity in a team. Whilst a Scrum team member may be lacking in some skills, they may still have value to how the team itself functions. Bear that in mind before you break team dynamics by removing or replacing them.

The Value of Generalising Specialists

I always preach to those who attend my training classes about the ideal Scrum team being made up of generalising specialists. These are people who are technically excellent in a specialised field, but have a base level of understanding in several other disciplines integral to the team’s definition of done. These are people who can grab just about any task of the sprint backlog and help the team by completing it.

Kevin Pietersen is a recognised English batsman with a test average of 48.42 chipped in with 360 runs over the five ashes tests. As a part-time off-spin bowler, Pietersen was thrown the ball during the closing stages of the fourth day of the 2nd test in Adelaide. This bowling spell captured the prized wicket of Australian vice-captain Michael Clarke with the final ball of the day. This wicket swung the momentum of the test back in favour of England by removing a settled top-order batsmen at a key point in the game, and exposing fresh weaker batsmen to England’s bowlers when play resumed.

England’s wicket-keeper Matt Prior is another example of a specialist contributing the team’s winning performance by not only doing his duty in taking 23 catches behind the stumps but also by adding 252 runs at average of 50.40.

In a scrum development team, this is something to strive for. Actively promote and encourage behaviour in cross-functional working. Reward teams who demonstrate that behaviour. Look for individual who show increasing interest in new or overlapping skills.

Constructive Leadership

The comparison between the two opposing cricket captains was very interesting during this ashes series. Andrew Strauss (England) went into the series as England’s first choice leader. A batting talisman at the very top of the order. Although it wasn’t his runs that won any one test match, he is clearly respected by his teammates and always seeks counsel from the other experienced professionals in the team. Somewhat conservative in his style at times, he led his team to a historic series victory.

Ricky Ponting was a captain under pressure. Woefully short of form with the bat, his leadership came under immense criticism from the Australian press that clearly had an effect on him and his team. This came to a head in the 4th test in Melbourne where Ponting remonstrated with both match umpires about a not-out decision that had even been verified by video replay. Ponting was cracking under the pressure and this disrespectful outburst is likely to be something that people remember him for, rather than the decorated captain he has been for some time.

ScrumMaster’s have to cope with extreme amounts of pressure from all angles, internally from the team and externally from the organisation. It’s takes character to point out problems but remain professional. Respect is something a good ScrumMaster will earn, and a good ScrumMaster will work hard to maintain that respect.

The Team “Sprinkler” Dance

Something that the England Ashes squad of 2011 will be remembered for is a unique celebratory dance. Apparently the brainchild of off-spinner Graeme Swann, the whole England team entertained the crowds at the Melbourne Cricket Ground after securing the Ashes. This is a testimony to the team spirit that the squad had built up over time. It unified and identified them.(If you haven’t seen it yet check it out here http://bit.ly/hnBx5v)

I see good Scrum teams coming up with there own unique rules and practices that identify them. Whether it’s the “Build-Breaker wear the Pink Sombrero” or “Story Points equals Pints”, these team foibles are something which shouldn’t be quashed as pointless but encouraged as part of a healthy team culture.

Cricket Stats Sources:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/cricket/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Pietersen