View from the Spire: Design by committee

The wisdom of crowds is something that has always intrigued me. The case where the collective many are significantly smarter than the few is something that certainly appears to be true. Brainstorming is the case in point here.

When it comes to design by committee, this is a style of design and its resultant output that has applications in, amongst others, technological arenas where there is diversity and independence of opinions and information can be drawn from specialised or local knowledge.

On paper this sounds like the perfect diverse collection to wade into to create the perfect shared output – especially when through aggregation, what is initially a private opinion can then be turned into a collective “committee” decision. However, design by committee can be most prevalent in the presence of poor and incompetent leadership where needless complexity, inconsistency and a lack of overall vision are the trademark characteristics.

Design by committee can deliver however it is too often a mismatch and the poor choices made by said committee are oft made merely to appease the egos of several individual committee members – not for the greater good of the organisation nor necessarily in line with the overall strategic vision.

Let’s take, as I often do, the business of sport. Sport is a sector that is often driven by egos (Ken Bates, The Glazer Family & Simon “Fake Bake” Jordon as three fine football examples); it is over littered with committees and all too often the root cause of all heartache and common failings – is managed by poor and incompetent leadership.

While sport can be the most attractive, interesting, passionate and rewarding sector to work in, the downside is caused by the exact same reasoning. What keeps us all interested as spectators and participants in football, golf, tennis, swimming, rugby keeps egos, committees and unqualified senior managers in blazers but the minute poor performance is demonstrated, the very same strength of passion and loyalty from supporters is questioned and that forces changes to be made by the controlling committees.

Just today, I had a meeting with an intelligent lady who has a hard task in a multi funding stakeholder set up, to drive forward what is a national (UK wide) programme – delivering and managing the growth of the Community Sports Hub. This programme is the single most important development in all of sport in recent years as this will significantly grow and make each sport sustainable for years to come.

As a business target – the strategy should be relatively simple to create and to be understood by all. Creating the theoretical model will be a (relative) walk in the park. Actually delivering the strategic aims and engaging the right stakeholders, I think will be nigh on impossible.

What lurks as the foil to these grand plans are the committees. Committees set up over decades to take collective decisions where individuals existed with no self belief were unable to make the final say. Committees where individuals have egos, vested and conflicting interests and (far from playing the protagonists) dig feet into the ground where change is concerned are actually the antagonists.

This set up has been all too long been involved in football and golf (and many other sports that I know about) and for years have held back any significant development of clubs, leagues and governing bodies.

This has had the overall effect of reducing commercial opportunities significantly (lessoning self sustainability – making supporters pay more); preventing technology and “new-ways-of-doing-business” playing a part in the further development of these “businesses” (“oh, we don’t like change”); delivered a focus on the elite performance, not on the grassroots development of all of sports (“lets buy that foreign player and forget the home grown talent”); all of which has reduced participation across the ages, contributed to the National obesity problem but really when it comes down to it, most importantly (for some) it has kept the old bumbling blazer brigade in well paid “committee” roles which to be fair – makes it all right then doesn’t it?

Currently hot in the Scottish sporting news is a popular calling for an end to the SPL split – except that is, the SPL committee – whose job it is to keep the league interesting and fair for everyone at every level. Everyone that specifically includes the four top tier clubs who financially gain from a windfall playing the Old Firm at home three times a year (not just twice as the lower split tier do!) plus it’s best not to rock the boat too much for 33% of your member clubs and the Old Firm isn’t it?

Let us not mention any (un) necessary involvement of the disciplinary, referee, supporter and remuneration committees likely also involved in this process in some convoluted way but until the specific SPL committee meet and a quorum actually reached regarding any change – nothing will be done. But who in their right mind made the decision to change it to this ridiculous set up in the first place? Let me guess…..

Also, in yesterday’s news – Gordon Smith, Chief Executive of the Scottish FA resigns citing personal reasons. Really? Honestly? After three years at the helm has the ill health of his parents really lead him to part ways or is it that as former footballer and part qualified IFA, he is grossly under qualified for the Chief Executives role, can’t take the stress, does not possess the right skills and is not strong enough as an individual to deliver a vision working with the legions of committees which exist to deter even the most willing or capable CEO?

Whether we will ever really know the reasoning, remains to be seen but what is known is that the next victim to fall through the constantly revolving doors at Hampden has to be empathetic of the same bumbling blazer brigade committee who make the final decision regarding Smiths’ successor.

While I have succeeded in doing my blogging job of highlighting just a few of my gripes of committees, pointing out decision making inabilities and their an unnecessary place in sport, at this point I also need to wag the naughty finger at the supporters who apply unnecessary pressure as fuel to the fire.

What has happened in recent years in football is the ideal demonstration where due to a short spell of poor performance, XYZ committee determines that changes need swiftly made to first team managers and replacements found. At this point, the spiral starts which has only lead to the revolving door of managers in football where supporters complain about the board not making decisions, the board react by changing the manager (where the fault lies solely at the table of the committee), for them to expect quick changes in results – for expectations to not be met and the whole circus fuels itself once again.

At core, what has happened is that the committees are joined around the big mahogany table by a new member – the mass of supporters whose voice is greater than any and who with one effort can generate enough bad PR to alienate even the strongest of Platinum Club sponsors. This threat, has become a power so strong that supporters have become as unrelenting in their (oft poor) decision to change managers at the slightest sniff of a goal less draw let alone the threat of mid table mediocrity. And therefore what about the great idea of Club ownership – does anyone actually remember Ebbsfleet?

So where do we go from here? We need to get proven business individuals in to run the Clubs, Leagues, Governing Bodies – and strong individuals at that, capable of disbanding committee’s instantly, to listen to the supporters gripes, to not listen to the supporters gripes, to empower colleagues to live (and die) by their respective departmental decisions, to absolutely focus on the here and now – delivering success at the highest level to inspire the next generation of athletes.

But we also need the same focus towards the future working on the grass roots levels, to attract the next generation of supporter, participant and elite athlete. This elite and grass roots focus will grow into big numbers on a database; the big numbers will attract big commercial opportunities for big commercial guru’s to manage, the guru’s will deliver sizeable revenue, reducing the necessity for the supporter to pay as much in following years – which in turn will grow the supporter base by looking after the customers, and this will make sport more accessible for more supporters. And so the cycle continues and grows and delivers and becomes sustainable – especially if Clubs (football in particular) start to reimburse players appropriately.

This will develop further community opportunities for the masses, local businesses, charities, schools through initiatives driven by sport that engages and touches most, if not all of the community.

Then dear colleagues, we have the appropriate epicentre of the community sports hub network. At its core – you and your club. As Kitchener once stated to the Nation….your club needs you…

David Jenkins is no Kitchener, although he does love to play chef, for more recipes visit here else review David’s CV and understand how we can assist you here.


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