RESETTING BOUNDARIES: Cricket Wellington's Whole of Cricket Transformation


How Cricket Wellington is applying the Emotional Culture Deck to its whole of cricket approach

The Deck is disarming, says Jeremy, and that’s why it is so effective. It’s a fun, easy, non-threatening way to share personal stuff, especially at times of change. And that certainly proved to be the case as the Emotional Culture Deck was introduced to individuals in core teams at Cricket Wellington, then whole teams, ground staff and more.

Walk through the Basin Reserve buildings and it’s clear that this is a game that deeply values its traditions. They’ve been playing cricket here for more than 150 years …

So the arrival of Cam as CEO was something of an oddball: a professional administrator, with a background in football, brought in by the Board to right a ship that was struggling.

It didn’t take Cam long to work out that the trouble ran deeper than just the balance sheet. People were busy but the work didn’t align back to the strategic intent, there was no vision, no values and the silo-ed approach meant morale was low, the women felt relegated and the association was out of touch with its stakeholders.

One of the deliberate decisions that Jeremy had made early on in designing The ECD was to focus on what people needed going forward, not what had happened historically. Black ECD cards express what people want to feel while the white ECD cards talk to what they don’t want to feel but they might from time to time. The cards connect people through their desired and undesired feelings. Often the undesired emotions are more powerful connectors, says Jeremy, but many people choose carefully how they play the white cards because of their own emotional discomfort.

In 2017, Cam set his sights on introducing a “whole of cricket” approach:

  • Build a sense of community – at all levels of the game
  • Increase participation
  • And build bridges between the top teams – the Firebirds and the Blaze – so ALL of those at the highest level feel they belong.

Jeremy and Cam met by accident. But they connected over the importance of building a more vulnerable, open culture where staff and players could share how they felt both within themselves and within the team. As an ex-professional player himself, Jeremy understood better than most the pressures of needing to win.

Even so, a few eyebrows were raised when Jeremy first met with the CW team and proposed a card deck to help get to the bottom of what was needed. But as the game unfolded, and people revealed their cards, the atmosphere changed. The final cards that the team settled on in 2017 pointed to a culture that harboured deep doubts and insecurities. 

Jeremy had been more than a little nervous about the initial workshops with staff and players: many of teams had done more motivation and cultural sessions than they could count. Experts had been brought in from around the world. But, again, the Emotional Culture Deck more than held its own – removing doubts and helping people open up about what they needed.

Four key lessons over four years

Leading with the emotive conversations, says General Manager Liz Green, takes time, which makes it difficult for those searching for quick wins. But if you stay the course, the deeper connection has three profound effects:

  • The stories become richer and deeper, which builds real understanding between people
  • The flip from individual to a team focused conversations builds on what people now know about each other
  • And you can use all this to inform the other critical parts of the culture in ways that wouldn’t happen otherwise. Most teams start with overall values and behaviours, she says, but The Emotional Culture Deck uses the team environment and emotions to add new meaning to the culture of the team and connecting them to behaviours through stories that bring them out.

The temptation, says Cam, is to start with the cognitive culture. Leaders choose cognitive culture first because it gives them a rational structure and a chance to set and control the conversation. But The ECD Deck brought the emotions to the fore and enabled everyone to better understand the environment within which people were working. 

The second lesson is the huge power of using the language of the culture to reinforce gains. By taking cricketing concepts like the Honours Board, Backing Up and Test Matches and using them to highlight successes and achievements for the culture, Cricket Wellington was able to leverage the traditions that every cricketer holds dear.

The third breakthrough came with the personification of the values and introduction of symbols from the association’s and teams past that were donated and became part of the culture’s formal recognition programme. These were forms of recognition that spoke to all involved because they centred on ideas that every cricketer and fan shares. Rituals, behaviours and symbols are much more powerful motivations than many leaders realise. People come to truly treasure them because they add new meaning and a backstory to what people see around them.

There were all sorts of examples of these across the organisation, and each one was introduced to people in a way that did it full justice. For example, Ewen Chatfield represents Commitment for the Firebirds. Bruce Edgar represents Commitment for the CW Staff. Chats has donated one of his playing boots to the Firebirds team to symbolise the value of Commitment. While Bruce Edgar has donated an old playing cap which is awarded to the team member who best represents that value at the time.

If Jeremy was worried about how the staff and players would feel, he was equally concerned about how coaches, past players and ground staff would react to being asked to play The Emotional Culture Deck.

That was the final learning: you have to include everyone, and when you do, you may be surprised by the results. By gradually including more and more of the teams and other functions, Cricket Wellington was able to build a clear understanding of the emotional drivers within all the different parts of the ‘One Cricket Wellington Team’. Across the entire organisation, people came to see the value of the Deck once they played.

Four years in so much has changed so much at Cricket Wellington. The vibe is different. The conversations are different. And the results reflect an organisation that is connected to each other, to what they are here to do and what tomorrow needs to look like. Talking to people across the organisation, all you hear are good things.

  • “The Emotional Culture Deck has changed how we work. It’s made possible new rituals that we’ve now adopted as our own and that we follow regularly. Those rituals, in turn, give us regular soundings into our business – we discover opportunities and identify areas to address.”
  • “Without the Deck, we wouldn’t have been as connected, and we wouldn’t know each other like we do, at every level”
  • “Everyone who comes in here, including our sponsors, notices that our people are engaged with focus, belonging and autonomy. There is a positive word of mouth between players and administrators.”

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