Netball, mending washing machines and recruiting new people

Mikki Austin, the Surrey Storm Director of Netball and Centre

Netball netball Mikki Austin
Mikki Austin, Director of Netball at Surrey Storm

This article was written during the 2021 Vitality Netball Season

Alignment is the key to organisational success

Until recently I’d never seen a competitive netball game. In the last fortnight I’ve watched three (all Surrey Storm) and they’ve given me an introduction into how netball’s played. That said, I know that I know relatively little (a ‘known unknown’). The nuances of the sport will take me years and years to appreciate. That’s because sports players and coaches take a lifetime to learn their sport. Watching a few games has taught me the basics, but simply knowing the basics won’t lead to an elite performance in anything. There’s a culture in netball that takes time to understand. This learning process has been a useful reminder about tackling something new.

In my job I get to visit different working environments within business, sport and education. My role is to help re-set and re-align an organisation’s vision, purpose and strategy. I get to help implement the ‘winning culture’ the organisation needs to support its planning. Being trusted to get inside an organisation is exciting and a privilege. 

In a re-set or re-build situation, having a clear, inclusion mission is the cornerstone on which a Super-tribe is built. However aligning everyone and everything behind a single mission is another. Thinking from a worker’s perspective, having a job description is one thing. Understanding how their job operates (and co-operates) with everyone else’s is on another level.

All teams are unique

My experience has taught me lots of lessons, but one is over-arching. Every single working environment is different. All of the organisations I’ve visited have been individual, if not unique. We might assume that similar teams operate in a similar way, but they don’t. We might think that if we remove the logo and brand colours they’ll all be the same inside. But they aren’t. Wherever you go, the culture and environment is always different. Difference is challenging but, when it’s used well, difference can be very powerful. It’s discovering how that matters.

Knowing that all organisations are different, should give us an important insight. Every time someone new joins your organisation, they are a stranger in a strange land. Every new starter needs to re-learn everything they thought they knew, from scratch, inside a new environment. How easy is that? The answer is ‘not very’. In fact it’s hard, very hard. Some people learn faster than others, but no one learns instantly. Unless their job application says they’re called Derren Brown or Mystic Meg, they’re unlikely to be a mind-reader. Even if they are, they’re still only as good as the other minds they’re reading.

How many employees really understand the vision, purpose, mission and values of their organisation? How many understand how their role fits in? How many know the history, heritage and traditions of the organisation?

What rules are we playing to?

Like every sport, the basic rules are relatively straightforward, but there are so many nuances that a novice won’t have picked up. To help me learn how netball is played I searched online. There are plenty of resources about netball out there. Having so many instantly available is incredibly helpful. One of those resources is a blog on a website called It’s a summary of the netball rules and positions. The descriptions are really helpful for a novice. The diagrams are even more accessible. A YouTube video called ‘The Rules of Netball – EXPLAINED’ by Ninh Ly is even better. At less than five minutes viewing it’s a great introduction. And there are plenty more website and videos to view too. Finding all of these resources with a few clicks, makes me wonder why new starters in business aren’t given more than a job description to explain how they fit in. The faster someone finds their footwork, the faster they’ll be performing well.

I didn’t just need to learn the rules, I also needed to learn how to play the game. The two have significant overlap, but the rules concentrate on what you cannot do and the way to play concentrates on what it takes to win.

Ask if you don’t understand, teach if you do

If we don’t know something we Google it. There are so many helpful videos out there for so many different tasks, from car repairs to garden tips, from fashion guides to history lessons. During lockdown, I’ve mended a fault on a washing machine, fitted a new seal on a freezer, baked a cake; and built a website using online videos. They can be extremely helpful. Yet how many YouTube style films does a new worker get to watch?

Giving new starters your organisation charts and job descriptions should be an absolute given. A ‘Day in the Life’ summary of the role is a helpful gesture. But that’s a pretty cold start. What about offering introductory videos of the team you’ve joined and their interests? What about a section on your intranet describing how your teams, departments or divisions work together? Do you provide flowcharts covering all your key processes? Are there sets of completed products, contracts and customer satisfaction reports to show what a great job looks like? Are there links to social events and local sports clubs? Is there a video from the last person in the role, giving helpful tips and guidance as a parting gift?

The fewer resources you provide, the longer the process of adapting will take. Being supportive doesn’t end at offer and acceptance. Work shouldn’t be a ‘fifty-fifty’ competition, it should be the art of collaboration.

Helping others helps you too

Coming to anything new is a daunting mental process. As soon as we’re operating outside our comfort zone, we work less accurately and less efficiently. Speeding up the transition from zero to heroine saves everyone time, money and stress. A new job has so many aspects to get to grips with. We shouldn’t under-estimate that. The more you help a new starter, the more you both get back. Both parties learn and improve from the experience.

Organisations should do everything they can before an employee takes her or his first centre pass.