Rugby in the Workplace

Posted by jlubans on October 19, 2015

UPDATE: October 31, 2015 All Blacks win (34-17) the World Cup over the Wallabies of Australia at Twickenham, London, UK. Back to back championships, the first rugby team to do so!

Caption: New Zealand’s revered silver fern appears on the All Blacks, all black, uniform

A friend recently recommended a teamwork book* about New Zealand’s All Blacks, (AB) rugby team. Rugby is just a notch less violent than open warfare; a tough game. Played all out without pads, it’s thrilling to see one team sweeping down the field with lateral passes while the other pushes back, no holds barred. The All Blacks team is among the winning-est sports teams of all time, claiming a 75% win record over a hundred year run.
Naturally, it’s of interest to people like me how that kind of success comes about. What is unique about this team? Why does it win consistently? And, of course, do any of those identified “drivers” for success transfer to non-sport organizations?
The book, published two years ago, is back in the news because the AB team is bulldozing to another Rugby World Cup. Last week it topped the French team, 62-12, and qualified for the semi-finals.**
The book lists out and applies some 15 leadership lessons.
I’ve not read the book, but I’ve read a couple of recent essays
by the book’s author, James Kerr, in which he elaborates on several of the ABs leadership lessons. A few of these appeal to me because they are contrary to what goes on in many sports and organizations these days:
“Sweep the Sheds.”
At game’s end, the senior players clean up the locker room. It’s an act of humility, one of several values in the AB culture and a constant reminder for not believing all the media hype. How would this core value play out in the workplace? Quite well; it’s what servant leadership is all about.
“No Dickheads”***
If you are a jerk you won’t play for the All Blacks. A jerk would undercut the Maori concept of whānau or the “extended family” of the team. There's a Maori saying that sums up the meaning of the whānau for the individual in a team: "My strength does not come from my individuality, my strength comes from many."
Those of us working in established organizations may have to deal with jerks hired before we came along, but we can make a point of not hiring any new jerks. Too often I’ve seen people hired for technical skills not for attitude or people skills. Instead, flip it around, hire attitude, train for skills. “The All Blacks select on character as well as talent, which means some of New Zealand's most promising players never pull on the black jersey …, their inclusion would be detrimental to the whanau.”
“No Team Talk”
The pre-game ritual in the locker room, a time when some coaches seek to emulate the “Win one for the Gipper” speech, is, for the All Blacks, the team’s own. When an organization confronts a challenge, exhortation by the boss is rarely as effective as employees having a say about and a go at the problem.
A “Philosophy of Marginal Gains”
Kerr refers to the “marginal gains” concept when he writes about how the ABs follow the mantra of “Champions Do Extra”. It applies to forever seeking to improve one’s skills in tiny ways. Over time those incremental improvements add up to huge gains. This notion of marginal gains, as practiced by the biking team, Team Sky, (among other organizations) is well worth thinking about when it comes to changing any organization. Wholesale change, from top to bottom, will likely fail; incremental change, building on small wins (even a 1 percent improvement), may well, over time, transform an organization in positive ways.

* James Kerr, Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life. 15 Lessons In Leadership (Published by Constable, 2013)
**UP NEXT: Sat Oct 24 2015
Rugby World Cup 2015, Semi Finals, Match 45
Semi Finals
South Africa vs. New Zealand
Twickenham, London, Kick off: 16:00 UK time
***Oxford Dictionaries’ definition of dickhead, noun, vulgar slang: “A stupid, irritating, or ridiculous person, particularly a man.” In other words, a jerk.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015
« Prev itemNext item »


No comments yet. You can be the first!

Leave comment