Saturday, 6 February 2010

Management Conundrum

I thought I would never write a blog article about football, but there's always a first.

Of course, I refer to the long running scandal of John Terry. I am not really interested in the details of his transgressions but am more concerned about the management question - how do you handle such disharmony in a team? The reality that faces England Manager, Fabio Capello, is not dissimilar to situations which occur in business - probably more than we would like. In this instance, John Terry, who is a married man with a child, has had an affair with a former team mate's (Wayne Bridge) ex-girlfriend - the couple also had a child. To complicate matters, Terry was captain of the England soccer team which are in with a real chance of winning the World Cup this summer in South Africa - Bridge, while a lesser player, was expected to be in the squad for the tournament.

This is a familiar situation for business people. Team dynamics are always at risk by office romances. The parallel here is a scenario where a senior manager or director has an affair with one of their subordinates' spouse or partner. If you were the CEO - how would you deal with situation? To add spice to the situation, that team has to deliver on amazing numbers or a project that will make or break the company in the next few months. While the senior manager has transgressed, they are a vital part of the team and the subordinate is also important in terms of experience and skills to achieving the goal - though less important.

It is not a far-fetched scenario. While the focus of a World Cup is unusual, office romances are not. They have to be dealt with regularly and when they involve other team members, they are that much more difficult to handle.

Fabio Capello acted swiftly. Returning from a trip abroad, he made the decision to sack Terry by himself as soon as he could in less than 12 minutes - that was decisive and sensible. But the problem is only slightly alleviated. Terry and Bridge will still have to play in the same team. From a management point of view, Capello has made his policy clear - no man is bigger than the team and ethics are crucial to the well being. Sacking Terry was a clear sign to Bridge and the team that such behaviour is not tolerated with no exceptions and it was a clear signal in Bridge's favour - a basis for reconciliation. It was complicated in that Terry did not see what he had done wrong. Not only did he try to legally gag the whole affair but he did not resign and make Capello's life easy. That was a mistake.

But the two players will still be part of the squad an dressing room even if Terry is no longer captain. Clearly there is much larger job to do. If this was a parallel business situation, many managers would be very poor at dealing with the situation and, often, the whole dramas are left in situ causing huge team unrest and divisions. Capello has more to do - but what advice, as businessmen, can we give him? How would we deal with a parallel business situation?

It's a conundrum that's for sure and it's difficult not knowing the characters involved. However, Capello has many dynamics and unknowns also - not least that the girlfriend in question is being advised by a media expert in Max Clifford; the Sunday tabloids will be breaking more of the story this weekend and so press control is a huge factor. The fact that Terry seems oblivious to his wrongs is an issue. Fans will take sides - so will the team. Capello has a job on his hands - and having created a winning team and a well-run dressing room to date, he has a major challenge to deal with just months before the whole reason why he took the job; the World Cup.

My first take is that if I were in his shoes, I would be pleased I had acted so swiftly in sacking Terry as captain. That has has some immediate repercussions - I would not want Terry to feel that he has been sidelined and I would want the best of him but I want him to realise that his behaviour has threatened success. My next step would be to spend a good deal more time with him to educate him how his behaviour has jeopardised the team and the goal. I would want him to sideline all his private feelings and actions and remind him that the big picture is the World Cup - a once in a lifetime chance to prove you are the best in the world. The goal is too important and sweet to be trivialised by squalid stories and petty squabbles - this is the big time. I would advise him to think long and hard about what he has done to another man and woman and to his own family. I would remind him that inner weakness of that kind is symptomatic of successful people who believe they are beyond question from others and therefore they must question themselves. Such actions show weakness - and weakness will not achieve the goal.

Also, while values and ethics are clearly important, it is about the weakness within that Capello must tackle. Terry has shown he can get side-tracked. When the biggest goal of all is ahead and he is the leader of the effort to get there - he has let his ego and emotions get in the way. That has to be turned back on him. It's not about reaffirming his commitment to England - that's a given. It's about dealing with weakness and handling how that affects others.

There is a step here that Terry must make. Humility, contrition and ethics must enter his mind and he must look at himself long and hard and actually feel how he has let a team-mate and team down, as well as his manager and the public. When he sees that for what it is only then will he realise that he will have to face the demons in his personal life and be humble to both his family and to Wayne Bridge. There is a step here that will be private and beyond the reach of fans, that cannot be viewed in public, when Capello ensures that Terry meets Bridge in private and they talk about what has happened.

Capello will have had to have worked with Bridge before that too - the one thing that has struck me so far is that Bridge has not risen to the bait and gone public about his feelings. That is to his credit and it means there is great hope that a reconciliation can occur. Capello needs to remind both that the team is sacrosanct and that the goal is inviolate and these remain aloof of both men and their feelings - if they cannot understand that then they are both worth dropping as they simply do not get it.

The final piece in the equation will be to work with the team. While club affiliations and friendships may automatically create dividing lines, Capello will need to galvanise everyone around the England shirt and the goal of the World Cup. Club trivia and cliques are to be broken - the World Cup cannot be jeopardised for such insular thinking and the Terry/Bridge potential divide has to be papered over before it appears. Capello will need his team to be a part of the Terry/Bridge reconciliation as much as the two of them. The squad members must not take sides. For this, the lieutenants in Ferdinand (the new captain), Rooney, Lampard, Gerrard, Barry and others as senior professionals must show leadership. They must stand with Capello and uphold his views to make sure that from a leadership point of view there is one message, one goal and one direction they can go.

Finally, Capello must make his mind up quickly of what he must do if the cracks appear and the team starts to divide. As with 'player power' contriving to implode a Grand Slam winning Welsh Team in 2005 when players set the agenda when the World Cup was the goal ending in disaster at a time when the team could have kicked on to become special. England stand at that precipice too - the next few days and weeks could be crucial to their World Cup hopes and will prove the selection of Fabio Capello to be totally inspirational or ordinary.

You know what? I think he just may be the right man at the right time - this maybe when he really shines. Just imagine having that kind of leadership in business.

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