Five things we can all learn from Bazball cricket

If you don’t like cricket, read on. I’m not mad keen on it, but I do enjoy a sporting tussle with the Aussies, and I love tuning the radio to ‘Test Match Special’. For me, there’s no better soundtrack for my summer, along with the buzz of a bumble bee, the hum of my next-door neighbour’s lawnmower and the clink of ice in my Gin and Tonic.

By Jim Lusty.

With all the ‘bad news’ that’s continually clogging up our news feeds, there’s something very reassuring and restful about listening to some raconteurs, lightly keeping me abreast of a day’s cricket. 

Until now that is.

Where’s the relaxation in this exhilarating, nail-biting, exhausting rollercoaster that I’m being put through every day in this extraordinary Ashes series! (Ashes = 140-year cricketing duel between England and Australia, consisting of five five-day games). This isn’t how it’s supposed to play out…the commentary has become as dramatic and unpredictable as any Netflix hit…this just isn’t cricket!

Quick back story – England weren’t very good.Played 17, won 1. So, a change at the top. A new captain, Ben Stokes, a new coach, a New Zealander called Brendan McCullen but basically the same team. The result, before the Ashes started, played 8, won 7. And now the most exciting start to an Ashes series in its long and colourful history.

I’d like to imagine the newly appointed Ben and Brendan sitting in a pub garden somewhere, sipping a beer, chewing the cud, and coming up with the philosophy of ‘Bazball’ (the term for England’s new brand of cricket and Brendan’s nick name). 

I’m writing this blog because I think the corporate world can take some inspiration from some of the simple principles that have defined Bazball and made it such a successful and exciting story. 

With that in mind, here are the five things we can all learn about Bazball cricket to help you get the energy right in your team:

  1. Permission to be you. Test cricket is a pressure cooker environment. It can be a stifling, stressful and lonely place (hence why it’s called a ‘Test’). Players often struggle to perform. Brendan McCullen and Ben Stokes have given their players the permission to just be themselves. If they want to go out there and play a certain way or try something different out, they have the express permission to do so. They have the total backing of the team. They’re encouraging their people to play what’s in front of them with freedom. We’re all different and if we all try to ‘fit in’ then we can lose some of the specialness that’s got us this far. It’s the same in business. We strive to belong and in doing so, we disconnect a little from who we are and our unique talents. This particularly happens in times of change and uncertainty. The highest performing teams and award-winning cultures are where there’s an express permission, either through structures, comms, rewards, or role modelled leadership, to be yourself, to ‘play what’s in front of you’ without second guessing your boss’s reaction. 
  2. No consequence. And when things don’t go according to plan in Bazball, there’s no consequence. It’s dismissed, it’s not dwelt on. In fact, it’s celebrated that you tried something new. It’s one thing to be given permission to play things as you see it, it’s another to give your total backing and support when things don’t work. England players used to be ‘scared of their own shadow’. Chastised in the press and critiqued by pundits. With this freedom and permission to play, whilst being backed to the hilt by your team, players are blossoming and entertaining the crowds. Sounds easy but when times are tough, numbers are down and the future uncertain, it’s easy to baton down the hatches and play safe. Risk is implicit in any innovative and creative organisation. If you want your people to take risks, to back themselves and take more ownership, then when things don’t work, you need to be smart about your reaction. Your team will be watching. Separate the work from the individual. Take the learnings from the work and congratulate the person on experimenting with a new way to grow the business. 
  3. Praise the little things. Praise isn’t just given to the batsmen who score 100 runs or the bowler who gets 5 wickets. The culture of Bazball is to praise the little things. Being early to a training session, supporting a player in their drills, a moment in the field (a cricketing expression) or words of encouragement to a team member. It fosters a culture of positivity. It primes your selective attention, so that you start seeing the good. It self-perpetuates. Positivity breeds confidence and belief, that as all sportsmen and women know, has a clear correlation to performance. At work, we’re often busy, running from meeting to meeting and can forget the experiences we’re creating around us. As a leader, people look up to you. They emulate you. They role model you. If you prioritise busy – if you’re running from meeting to meeting – you’re creating a particular culture. If you want to create a culture where people feel valued and appreciated. If you want them to feel good about themselves and the work they do, simply dial up appreciation for your people. This is not fluffy stuff, it’s a hard-edged leadership skillset that can have a resonant impact across your company. You’ll notice it feels good to start praising more, your connectivity with your team will be deeper but most importantly your people will believe in themselves. It’s a no brainer.
  4. Make it fun. Above all else, Bazball’s mantra is about enjoyment and fun. This mindset in Test cricket is refreshing. Brendan encourages players to not lose sight of ‘how great Test cricket is’, ‘how amazing the cricket ground is’, ‘what a special day this is’ and ‘how lucky they are to be here’. The players are constantly raving about what a relaxed and fun environment they’re in. That they’re backed to go out and enjoy themselves…the results tend to follow. No surprise that at Upping your Elvis we prioritise fun over most things. We know that when we have fun we relax and then we have better ideas, make better connections, are open to new stimulus and have better energy. You can only role model this in your own way. Fun at work needs to be authentic. But prioritise it, reward and celebrate it, praise it and it will become an integral part of your culture. You’ll find it easy to retain talent and effortless to recruit the people you want. A third of our days are workdays. No one wants to waste them working somewhere that’s no fun.
  5. Simple and consistent. Boy oh boy can we make business complicatedTo do good work you need to prioritise otherwise you get busy on the wrong stuff. Busy is easy. Having the discipline to know your priorities and manage your time and energy accordingly, that’s the real skill. People crave simplicity and consistency. Bazball’s message is simple and consistent. Go out and win. Don’t play for a draw. Play attacking cricket, back yourselves and go for the win. If we lose, then at least we played an exciting brand of cricket. The first two tests of this summer’s Ashes where nail biters that went to the wire. Brilliant, entertaining cricket. England narrowly lost them both. Did their mindset or attitude change, under the growing pressure. Of course not. Same consistent message. No deviation. The third Test was another edge of the seat spectacle, and this time England were victorious. Setting us up for a wonderful fourth Ashes Test, that starts today. All to play for. 

I’d encourage you to sit in a pub garden (optional) this summer with a like-minded colleague and think about an exciting new work philosophy for your team. Your ideas don’t need to be around wholesale change, often it’s the small, everyday things that make the biggest difference. I’d suggest not writing any of your ideas down after pint two. And then experiment, find out what works and what doesn’t. To keep the cricketing analogy alive, time in the practice nets to hone and refine…and before long you’ll be knocking it out of the park! And on that cheesy note, it’s time for me to tune into the cricket…Ashes game number four, day one has started…it promises to be a humdinger! 

Upping your Elvis helps businesses get their energy right. Similarly, to the principles explored in Bazball, our belief is that when the energy of a team or organisation is right, then the people, the work and the culture shine and success tends to follow. If you need a bit of help to get your people’s energy right and shake up things a bit, then get in touch for a chat.