The England Cricket Team’s historic World Cup win has been written and talked about in tomes, including on the role of diversity in the winning squad.
But the untold story here is actually not about diversity. It’s about what happens when you assemble a high-performing team who were truly appointed on merit and importantly, the role of the leader in creating the right environment of inclusion for the diversity in that team to flourish.
Choosing teams on merit
Sport is probably one of the few professions where the leadership team is almost always appointed purely on merit. Only the best make it to the top of the game, you don’t get promoted based on being in ‘in the club’ or on the perception that you are the ‘right fit’ to be a leader. It’s all about performance.
But assembling a team of high performers is one thing. Getting them to perform together is another.
What the English cricket team have demonstrated is their ability to embrace their differences as strengths and to align around a common purpose despite those differences in religious beliefs, cultures and perspectives.
Let’s have a look at that winning team’s cultural makeup: It includes two England-born Muslims of Pakistani origins; two players born and raised in South Africa; one player from Barbados, one from New Zealand, eight born in England, and an Irish Catholic Captain.
The way that the Irish-born English Cricket Team Captain Eoin Morgan used this difference to settle his troops in a high-pressure moment in the World Cup final speaks volumes about the level of trust, inclusion and respect within the team.
When asked at the post-final conference whether the ‘luck of the Irish’ got England across the line in their tied final with New Zealand, Morgan said:
“I spoke to Adil Rashid (spin-bowler), he said Allah was definitely with us. I said we had the rub of the green. It actually epitomises our team. It has quite diverse backgrounds and cultures… to actually find humour in the situation that we were in at the time was pretty cool.”
Lessons on inclusion for the corporate world
The fact that the English cricket team has clearly managed to build a high level of inclusion in one of the highest-pressure workplaces of all is something that the corporate world can learn from.
Creating inclusive teams comes from a strong foundation of trust and it all starts with the leader.
Trust is the critical foundation for high-performing teams because it creates an environment of inclusion that enables individual differences to be embraced and for individuals to truly feel like they belong.
Having a sense of belonging in teams goes to the heart of inclusion because it enables our strong human desire to connect with each other, which has remained the same despite thousands of years of human evolution.
But building trust in high-performing teams is not always easy – especially in high-pressure work environments.
Four key behaviours of inclusive leadership
So how do leaders like Eoin Morgan behave to encourage trust and inclusion in their teams?
According to research I use in my Inclusive Leadership programs, it’s all about consistently demonstrating these four key behaviours:
- Empowerment – empowering team members to stretch and grow, come up with new ideas and develop new skills.
- Accountability – holding team members responsible for aspects of their performance that are within their control.
- Courage – standing up for what’s right even when it means taking a risk.
- Humility – admitting mistakes, learning from criticism and different points of view and overcoming individual limitations by seeking contributions from all team members.
I don’t pretend to know the Captain of the English Cricket team Eoin Morgan well.
But what I do know is this.
In that high-pressure cooker environment of the World Cup Cricket final on Sunday night, Morgan was humble in how he led his troops.
He didn’t dismiss different beliefs about what would get England that win – whether it was “Allah” or the “rub of the green” didn’t matter to him. What really mattered was that under immense pressure, the team stuck together, they didn’t seek to blame each other for mistakes and no one opinion was more or less valued than another. They were all focused on the same common purpose and for Morgan that’s all that really mattered.