Nick Robbins, 44’s Account Director and part-time cricketer of no repute, thinks there are lessons to be learned from England’s freewheeling ‘Bazball’ approach when it comes to moving the IC profession forward…

If Oxford Languages is looking for a new word of the year, it could do worse than opt for Bazball.

It’s been everywhere this summer thanks to a gripping Ashes contest, but its reach has expanded beyond the context of cricket, where it was born. You’ll see the term gaining traction across a range of topics, from other sports, like football and cycling, to politics. Yes, Prime Minister and cricket photo opportunity maximiser Rishi Sunak has previously been described as a ‘Bazball Chancellor’. It’s even made it to winemaking.

But what is it, and why should we start Bazball-ing internal communications?

Bazball defined

In the public consciousness, Bazball is as nebulous and hard to define as it is endlessly applied. It’s decried by the man who gave his name to it, doubted by its opponents and adored by its fans.

Bazball is both a specific approach to playing Test cricket that eschews and challenges some long-held monoliths of the game and also, to use the modern parlance, a vibe.

It can be seen as the embodiment of the late, great Shane Warne’s tweeted (X-ed?) advice to: “tee off (not recklessly)”. And it can manifest as the most skillful fast bowler of all time giving post-match interviews in a bucket hat, and also as a statistically significant phenomenon that is seeing the current England Test team redefine how quickly teams can score in Test matches.

Cricket writer Chris Stocks created the Bazball manifesto, which, with almost no changes, could be applied to any organisation looking to undergo a cultural transformation:

  • A less reflective environment
  • No negative chat
  • A win-at-all-costs mentality
  • No fear of failure
  • Praise – even for the little things
  • Simplicity of message
  • Embracing mental freedom and fun.

Bazball-ing cricket

The Bazball focus has allowed the England Test team to challenge conventional wisdom, long held assumptions and, crucially, win.

The team had won just one in 17 games before coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes came together. Now, the record under them stands at: 18 matches, 13 wins, four losses and a draw (when the rain denied them a chance of victory).

If this continues, McCullum and Stokes will have long and storied post-retirement careers as management consultants or guest speakers, à la Sir Clive Woodward, with senior business leaders desperate to get them in to Bazball their listing organisations.

But why wait until then? There are lessons regarding culture change – because that’s what this is, of course; turning a losing, negative culture into a winning one – that we can start to take away.

Bazball-ing internal communications

Looking at the recent Institute of Internal Communications’ IC Index, we can see that there is a clear disconnect with how senior leaders view the success of their internal communications and those being spoken to. For example, 81% of seniors rating their IC as excellent, but just 56% of those without managerial responsibility doing the same. That gap is where dissension lies.

The players and coaches speaking about Bazball have frequently referenced that they are focused on playing entertaining cricket for the fans, and reconnecting them to a version of the game that was facing an existential crisis. It’s what led coach Paul Collingwood to earnestly say: “Our vision as a team is far greater than just results.”

Bazball is not just about winning, but about engaging with an audience. In focusing on its fans, English cricket is gaining more column inches, more impressions and crucially for its future, more bums on seats at matches. It is, to borrow the classification from the IC Index, shifting unconvinced cynics and miserable moaners into informed cheerleaders.

If IC can bottle that magic and do the same, that’s something worth investigating. Ask yourself: what is IC missing as a profession that means it’s doing a better job satisfying the higher-ups than the majority of the people it’s trying to engage?

Simplicity is key

As concepts like Bazball gain traction in the public consciousness, its central tenets of challenging the ‘way things have always been done’, emphasising fun and keeping the message as simple as possible (see ball, hit ball) will continue to echo in the heads of employees around the country.

When a third of employees think they receive too little information about strategy, and nearly half find that what does come isn’t clearly communicated or easy to understand, the calls to ‘Bazball things up a bit’ might become ever louder.

You might not like the term (you wouldn’t be alone), but people crave simplicity. And if two blokes can simplify Test match cricket to such an extent that a single word has come to signify a new approach to a centuries-old sport, perhaps we have to start thinking of ways of doing the same with our own approach to IC.

If you’d like to continue the discussion or are looking to explore how we can support you in developing your culture, why not get in touch?