Conflict And Collaboration

Part 1: Conflict.

If you are of the persuasion that conflict and adversity brings out the best in an organisation, you may not be too upset by what is going on at Chelsea the moment.

On the other hand, if you believe that collaboration is the way to achieve your aims, the events of the previous week may leave you with a sour taste.

Conflict always exists within a football club. Inherent in the nature of professional football clubs are two similar but quite distinct and widely divergent aims. These are:

  • running the club as a sporting success; and
  • running the club as a business success.

Clubs meet with varying degrees of success as they steer the narrow but precarious path between these two aims. Balancing the ambition of on-field success with the aim of running a successful business must appear at times to be arduous, if not impossible.

The problem is that the two aims are not always compatible and are frequently in direct conflict with each other.

Given the choice, many fans would opt for sporting success. Cup wins, league success, promotions and bragging rights are worth spending on.

Most boardrooms I guess would opt for business success; a nice tidy profit for the club, for board members and shareholders, and the promise of another few seasons of participation in their league.

After all the alternative is too dire to contemplate.

Look at the many clubs that have to sell players just to continue existing as a business. Read the health warnings that come with clubs like Portsmouth or the two Sheffields, who have had to sell players and forego success and still cannot ensure their businesses will continue.

On the other hand look at clubs who have achieved success during the past ten years or so. Their business models as self-sufficient companies leave a lot of room for improvement.

Look at Man U and Liverpool and their debts. An unattractive business proposition anyone? We are in this same half of the pitch, too, though in our case we have an awesome benefactor in Roman who quite blatantly has the club at heart.

Chelsea of course have trodden the path of cash-funded sporting success, and very successfully too I’m happy to say. Now, the clubs aspires to evolve into a successful business whilst maintaining success. Roman is the man leading us into a commercially successful future. And let’s be fair, he knows a thing or two about business, does our Mr A.

It was the club’s stated aim to achieve a measure of self-sufficiency by 2010-11. This has only partly been achieved. The ball was rolling, but the departure of Peter Kenyon and the arrival of Ron Gourlay has given that particular ball extra impetus.

It is now rolling at a much faster pace, with progress being seen to be made on a number of fronts, including sponsorships and global partnerships. No doubt unseen progress is being made on ground development, ground names (Samsung Stamford Bridge anyone?) or even (dare I say it?) moving – if only to accommodate ground rebuilding.

I am sure that the board are investigating every possibility in these scenarios, plus other possibilities for revenue we haven’t even thought of. To evolve successfully every single possibility, however unwanted or unlikely, must be investigated thoroughly.

Part 2: Collaboration?

Hand in hand with that evolution goes “Restructuring”. Now, “restructuring” is business-speak for reducing expenditure and/or increasing income. And it is perhaps likely to be the aim of reducing expenditure which has swung the axe in the direction of Ray Wilkins.

(I don’t want to speculate on any other causes for Butch’s demise. To do so would be pointless, backed up as it would be with absolutely no hard evidence. And let’s face it, we have enough uninspired guesswork and conjecture rammed down our throats by the national press as it is.)

So here perhaps is a lesson for our club’s hierarchy. As in any business, the decisions at boardroom level affect the whole of the business.

The board must learn that their actions resonate at all levels of the club.

It is the responsibility of the Chief Executive and the boardroom to make those difficult decisions, but it is also their responsibility to present them in such a way so as to not affect the day to day running of the club and the team.

This has obviously not been the case, and I present as hard evidence for this the following scoreline: Chelsea 0 Sunderland 3. I also present as evidence the manner in which it was achieved.

So, did the sacking of Ray Wilkins affect team morale to such an extent that highly motivated, professional players lose it on the pitch? I would suggest that sacking a well-loved and respected individual will always have repercussions at all levels of the club, including the first team.

However, in this case the situation is likely to have been exacerbated by the manner in which it happened.
Whatever the causes of Wilkins dismissal, the way it was carried out, if reports are to be believed, was banal and unintelligent.

(For those of you who don’t know, or those of you – like me – that find the manner of it hard to believe, he was reportedly told he was no longer required at half time of a reserve game… three days before a tough first team match).

Once the shock of the termination is over, the ripples still spread out. What should Carlo think? Of course, he has to “respect the decision”: the decision is not his to make, or it would perhaps be different. The Board makes the decision, he is an employee who is well paid to carry on with his work.

Should he think “Am I next to go?” or should he think his job is safe. Either way, unless he is told, there is uncertainty and uncertainty in the job market breeds fear and fear leads to under-performance.

What of the players? If someone as well-respected as Wilkins is thrown out, what of the higher earners. Will Drogba go to help balance the books? He can’t help but wonder, and will that uncertainty affect his performance?

What of Kalou? Essien? The same applies. JT perhaps. Unthinkable? He is English, and we need our quota in Europe don’t we? Yet we have our potential quota coming through in numbers now, don’t we? But surely not…?

The thing is, unless they are told, there is uncertainty. And uncertainty leads to…under-performance.   All because of a poorly timed and badly presented decision. It could have proved to be divisive. It was unthinking and foolish in the extreme.

The Board could have and should have known that this would be the reaction. Thoughtful, intelligent decision-makers would have considered all these potential scenarios and acted accordingly. Perhaps waited until after a senior match to let the axe fall.

Perhaps bought the players together there and then to explain the decision. Perhaps, dare I say it, worked in collaboration with everyone to ensure that the club evolved through this difficult decision.Perhaps not created more conflict amongst their employees.

After all there is enough conflict within a football club as it is. Isn’t there?