The RFU – we all know what FU stands for

What happened during the World Cup was bad enough for those of us who are keen England rugby supporters. The constant flow of leaked stories since the team returned from New Zealand hasn’t made it better, but yesterday’s spectacular in The Times makes everything much worse. You have to ask if transparency is all it is cracked up to be.

The whole world now knows that the RFU was completely unable to organise our participation in the World Cup, and that the RFU Council, the Director of Elite Rugby, the Manager, the Coaches and Players, all in their different ways, let down their supporters, their backers, and most of all themselves.

Who could possibly have had access to all three reports (the RFU’s own, and those commissioned by the Rugby Players’ Association and the Aviva Premiership Clubs)?

What was the motivation for not just leaking them, but handing them over wholesale?

What has been achieved with the Six Nations just over two months away?

As a study of organisational decision making it makes both the Charge of the Light Brigade and corporate governance at Enron look like textbook case histories for MBA students.

It is hard to know where to start in terms of analysing which decision traps were particularly disastrous. Here are my starters for ten:

1. Any commercial organisation (and just because the RFU is the governing body of a sport, it doesn’t make it immune from working to business world rules) needs a viable structure, with defined areas of responsibility and accountability. The RFU’s management structure is totally ineffectual, and the team itself on the field (think factory for a manufacturer or store for a retailer) was out of control
2. The golden rule in decision making is to consider options before making any big decision, and in doing so to eliminate all options with a dangerous downside, however attractive the upside. The RFU, and its individual managers, clearly don’t even know the basics of risk assessment. Any decision maker has to ask “how is this going to look if it goes wrong?”
3. ‘Group failure’ is when experienced, qualified people convince each other that black is white
4. As noted here last week ‘Condemned to repeat the experience’ is the refusal to learn from mistakes
5. ‘Outcome blindness’ is the failure to accept bad news when you see it
6. ‘Delusion’ is convincing yourself you won’t be found out

But on top of everything else, the decision to commission three instant reports on what is already acknowledged to be an unmitigated disaster, while you are looking for new managers and coaches, and renegotiating sponsorships defies belief. Did whoever decided this (singular or plural) believe it would stay tight? Did they really imagine that interviewees and respondents to questionnaires (many of whom are already discarded and bitter) would keep it to themselves?

Any sensible organisation (let’s say one with a Chairman, a CEO, a Board with NEDs, and a management structure) would have written off World Cup 2011 as a failure, made swift management changes, picked a new squad and moved on.

After this nightmare, played out in public and in the most unsavoury way, moving on is going to be difficult. I also have news for the baying pack of journalists: firing Rob Andrew might be seen by his detractors as justice, but by itself it will achieve nothing.