Sunday, 28 September 2008

More Ryder Cup reflections

Following on from yesterday’s entry, there are a few other lessons that seem to come from the way that the American team won the Ryder Cup last week.

The principal issue is teamwork. This has been claimed by the Europeans as the decisive factor in their run of victories in recent Ryder Cups. The argument being that they worked better as a team, even though the Americans had the more gifted individual golfers.

Well, this year I think that Azinger did a fantastic job of planning and managing his approach to team-working. It appears that he grouped his players into 3 groups of 4 – based on the way that they lined up in Sunday’s singles matches, and in the paired events on Friday and Saturday. He combined is ‘flair/momentum’ players (Kim, Mahan, Leonard and Mickelson); his ‘rowdy, Southern boys’ (Weekley, Holmes, Perry and Furyk) and his ‘steady guys (Curtis, Cink, Cambell and Stricker).

I surmise that his Sunday philosophy was that if the first 4 players could build the right momentum, then they would sweep away their European opponents – this was only partly successful. (Although, as an aside, I think that the success of Anthony Kim against Sergio Garcia was hugely significant in both the outcome of the Ryder Cup and in establishing Kim as a mega-star of golf in the very near future.) By contrast the second group of 4 were all successful, and they completed the victory (rout) by each winning their matches. The crowd were really into it with these players – 2 of them from Kentucky where the match was being played. Finally, for Azinger, if his first two cohorts didn’t finish the job, then he had his steady guys at the end to grind out the necessary points.

The lesson here is about planning ahead and creating contingencies for a variety of scenarios.

But in reality, the Ryder Cup was won on Friday and Saturday. Again, Azinger worked with the same groups of 4 players, but he further divided them into pairs – mainly a blend of (Ryder Cup) youth and experience. It has long been a hobby horse of mine that people work best in consistent teams. There is a need to hold your nerve and let a team blend together. A couple of years ago, we brought a team together to implement a new software system. There were some initial difficulties and tensions, and some calls to change the composition – from within the team and from outside of it – but we stuck with it and let the sort out their differences. In the need we had a very successful implementation, in fact, the corporate Head of IT said that no other project had ever been so well managed.

Anyway, Azinger decided on his pairings and largely stuck by them. In the 16 matches on Friday and Saturday he used 7 pairings. By contrast, the European captain Nick Faldo used 13 pairings – which didn’t exactly indicate a high degree of confidence in his players (or his own decision making?).

There are other lessons that I could potentially draw out – like developing individual talents, using resources wisely, and about making sure that you have the right challenge mechanisms within your team, but enough already!

Congratulations to Azinger and his team for a well-planned and merited victory. And just for the record, Faldo didn’t get everything wrong – his choice of Ian Poulter as a wild card wasn’t universally popular over here (I didn’t agree with it at the time), but he was the most successful individual in the competition!

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