Yet another IPL related long piece this week. But this is neither about the game nor the economics of it. This piece is a Master Class in building teams with a people centric culture which all of us in our professions, business or otherwise can draw lessons from. This piece was published before the IPL final when the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) pulled off an incredible victory to be champions for the fifth time, joint highest with the Mumbai Indians. In addition to the five titles, CSK hold the record for the highest number of final appearances – a record ten out of a possible 14. That’s incredible consistency in what is an unpredictably random format of the game – T20. Hence the relevance of this piece trying to figure out the method behind the madness. And in CSK’s case, a lot of it comes with consistency at the top – captain MS Dhoni and coach Stephen Fleming have been there right from the first season and are credited with establishing a culture of believing in the people, supporting them and given them a long rope. Hence, players old and young have gelled together to deliver consistent results for the team over long periods of time. The theme resounded this week as the iconic TV series Ted Lasso about a fictional football team built on human connections, aired its last episode.

The article starts with the perspective from Robin Uthappa, who finished his career at CSK after having played for five other franchises.

“It was Dhoni, his former India captain, who called Uthappa in 2021 and told him frankly that he had nothing to do with Uthappa being traded from Royals. That same honesty would greet Uthappa upon arrival at Super Kings. Dhoni once again told him upfront that he wouldn’t walk into the side.

Every session is optional, by the way, at CSK. No training session is compulsory. So the onus is on you. ‘You want to improve as a cricketer, it is your responsibility. You turn up at practice. We’ll help you if you turn up, but you have to come halfway as well.’ I turned up for literally every session.”

Super Kings’ coaching staff, including the physio and trainer, Uthappa points out, are mindful about what they say to players. “What has always stood out for me is that the clarity in their communication and follow-ups is second to none. There is a role that is defined as soon as you enter the set-up, and that role is defined or redefined for you, or reiterated to you, constantly through the season, and they check back with you. It’s a phenomenal side for youngsters to be a part of, not just for experienced people.

“For any good player, what they need to thrive within an environment, is clarity of role, security, and just communication – and that line of communication being open. And that is something Stephen Fleming and his band of coaches execute with panache. They don’t muck around, they don’t take it for granted.”

Having someone like Hussey, author of some great T20 knocks, a great listener and motivator, helps too. Uthappa says Hussey and Fleming believe in one-on-one chats that allow them to get to know a player and vice-versa. “He [Hussey] will take you for a walk after batting, he will have a cup of coffee with you, and he will discuss a game. He will discuss your goals with you. He will ask you how you want to be communicated with. Do you want a lot of communication or not? It is customised for each player, which is amazing.””

And after he delivered a couple of good knocks for the team, “…The coaches did not forget to thank Uthappa at the end. “There was a level of appreciation from them and subtle gratitude. It showed me that I was valued, and my patience was appreciated, because they understood me as a person. They understood how I functioned as a human being and they appreciated the effort that I put in from my end.”

The article goes on to give several other instances of how the leadership’s trust in people has brought out the best in them. The comparison with Ted Lasso is uncanny as in one of the episodes this season when Pep Guardiola, arguably the world’s best coach, makes an appearance to say “Don’t worry about wins and losses. Just help these guys be the best versions of themselves on and off the pitch. This at the end is the most important thing”. There’s a lot we can learn from CSK and Ted Lasso when it comes to managing people and teams.

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