Why I banned swearing at the Perth Wildcats and here’s what followed…

In early 2009 I was assigned the task of managing the Perth Wildcats, a professional basketball team in Western Australia.

Given my lack of basketball or even sporting expertise, I had to rely entirely on my management experience to turn around what was a failing organisation.

There are very few benefits of practicing as a consultant – particularly in turn-around management. Of note, however, is the fact that some, if not many, of the existing practices have not worked, or may have even contributed to the failings. In such circumstances the turn-around management consultant is often given some latitude to effect change.

It quickly occurred to me that sport, not unlike many other industries in today’s fast-paced world, can be a very high-pressure environment.

A significant proportion of time is spent in a constant state of disruption – reacting to the unexpected challenges and opportunities and constantly seeking to exploit the changing landscape.

All of this, of course, relates to what happens off the court!

In game things are moving even faster.

Given this, it is important to ensure people are encouraged to perform with the right information, empowerment to execute and an understanding of what the objectives are.

Put simply, effective and efficient communication is critical. As is a safe and trusting workplace.

None of this can co-exist with offensive language or behaviours. It just won’t work!

As Peter Drucker noted in his 1973 article – Managing Oneself, “If the analysis shows that brilliant work fails again and again as soon as it required cooperation from others, it probably indicates a lack of courtesy, that is, manners.”

Working in teams – however large or small – requires an underlying commitment to a set of values that is conducive to achieving the shared objectives.

All the talent in the world, will not compensate for bad manners. “Bright people – especially bright young people – often do not understand that good manners are the “lubricating oil” of an organization,” Drucker wrote. “It is a law of nature that two moving bodies in contact with each other always create friction. And manners are the lubricating oil that enable these two moving bodies to work together, whether they like each other or not.”

The introduction of this basic rule, transformed our entire culture overnight. Whilst it took some getting used in the early days, it forced everyone to express themselves better. To be more understanding and empathetic. It improved communication in a deep and fundamental way across the organisation.

There were a multitude of changes introduced in that momentous year, the results of which are self-evident in the results on and off the court. They were all based on the three key areas of Purpose, People and Performance.

However, in terms of defining our underlying culture and values, there was none more pivotal than the discipline of good manners.

“Simple things like saying “please” and “thank you” and knowing a person’s birthday or name, and remembering to ask after the person’s family…”


Nick Marvin practices as a consultant in Turn-around management and Team Performance (Getting People, Culture & Values right in your organisation). He can be reached on +61 8 6110 4665