Anil Kumble resigned from the position of Head Coach of the Indian (senior men’s) cricket team in June 2017, because Virat Kohli, the captain of the Indian team and some team members did not like his style of working and the relationship between the captain and the coach became ‘untenable’. It is not for the first time that the head coach of the Indian team had to leave the job for differences with the captain.
The head coach’s responsibilities include developing the overall coaching plan and monitoring the performance of the coaching staff, finalising the playing eleven and formulating strategy in consultation with the captain before a game and ensuring that fringe payers are ready to take the field when required. The head coach should be able to take a position and advise the captain if he is wrong.
If, we go by the writing of cricket journalists, the head coach of the Indian cricket team survives only if he gives freehand to the captain in selecting the playing eleven and formulating strategy, and goes soft with the captain and star players. In Indian cricket, head coach is placed a rung below the captain. Some argue that it should be so, because cricket is a ‘team game’ and the team belongs to the captain, who leads the team in the field and formulates strategy under pressure during the game. However, others differ.
The relationship between the captain and the head coach is similar to the relationship between the board of directors (hereafter board) and the CEO. In cricket, the goals of both the captain and the head coach is the same, which are to win matches and to build a team that will continue to win matches. Similarly, the goal of the board and the CEO is the same, which are to achieve vision and mission of the company and to continuously create shareholder value, while being compliant to applicable laws and social norms. As in cricket, the relationship between the CEO and the board comes under stress when the board engages with the CEO in the management of the company. Often, the CEO perceives it as intrusion in his/her territory and interference.
The key question is what should be the level of the engagement of the board in the management. It is determined by the environment, in which the company operates, and board’s power and knowledge.
In cricket the engagement of the head coach in the management of the team is likely to be high for a team, which plays large number of matches every year in different locations, like the Indian cricket team, because players suffer injury and sometimes star players are to be counseled to sit out based on the ground condition or his fitness or form. Similarly, board’s engagement in the management should be high in a company that is operating in VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment or is going through a crisis.
The board gets the power from the laws and regulations, and the articles of association. In Indian cricket, the head coach lacks power because the Board of Control For Cricket in India (BCCI), in practice, has placed the coach one rung lower than the captain. The situation is reverse when it comes to knowledge. The head coach has an expert knowledge of the game. Unfortunately, most boards lack adequate knowledge. Exemplary boards ensure that the board has adequate knowledge by selecting right individuals as directors and through training.
If the coach fails to engage in team management, ultimately the team suffers. Similarly, if the board shies away from engaging in management when required, ultimately the company suffers. An exemplary board supports CEO, but also intervenes, when required and before it is too late.
The relationship between the board and the CEO should be that of trust. Exemplary boards develop corporate governance policy, in consultation with the CEO, in order to maintain healthy relationship between the CEO and the board. It is usually in writing. It clearly articulates areas that are reserved for the CEO and those that are reserved for the board and the expected level of engagement of the board in management. For example, it may articulate in detail the board’s involvement in crafting, implementing and reviewing strategy.
It will be good for the Indian cricket if BCCI develops a document like corporate governance policy and place the coach a rung higher than the captain, as it is in other sports. Managing business is a ‘team game’ and the board is placed a rung higher than the CEO.