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In the world of rugby, we spend 90% of our time in training and only 10% playing the game. As a ‘player’ in the business world, those numbers are often reversed. While we need to be mindful of this difference, there are some elements that rugby does well that business can learn from – and with the world’s eyes on rugby right now, we thought we’d take a look at these learning opportunities.

Quick time growth: 

Rugby teams are constantly finding ways to improve and better themselves both in relation to their own targets but also in relation to other teams. Hours and hours of opposition analyses, cunning plans and clear strategies are created. These strategies often change on the fly. Ireland employed a rush defence – that takes fitness and also suits their desired style of play. So what did Japan do?  Firstly, they realised that one of their competitive advantages could be to “out-fit” other teams and, secondly, they attacked in a way that negates the rush defence. They won! It is also known that the Australian senior leaders spend a lot of time ideating on the fly during training – in fact even more so than the coaches.

Does the corporate world have a way of analysing, learning and re- strategising all in the space of a week? Are you able to grow week-in week-out or do you wait until the annual strategic off-site? In rugby, one has to be learning and evolving all the time – in quick and real-time. If rugby has found a way – there must be an approach in the business sector that could work. 

Something to consider: What do you need to change in your process in order for you to learn more quickly than your competitors?

Humour and fun: 

Big rugby matches bring big pressure. Huge amounts of spectators, millions wanting you to succeed and millions of others wanting you to fail. If that intensity is maintained all the time, cracks will show – in teams, and in individuals. Sports teams find ways to keep the vibe up and break that intensity. Short team rituals are introduced to create some lightness in an otherwise intense environment. Examples from two environments I worked in – “Ten-minute Monday”  is used at the Stormers and the Rebels used “Pick our Pimp”. Short, sharp energy creating sessions. Almost daily, coaches and leaders are finding ways to bring humour and fun into the world of high-performance sport – almost as a matter of course. Without these elements, things can become tiring. Does business do the same thing? Is fun seen as an enemy or a crucial ingredient in high performance? This fun doesn’t always have to be frivolous, it can have more depth, however, it needs to be something that is more sustainable than just the annual ‘team-building’ day. 

Something to consider:  What is your story about fun and enjoyment? Do you put it at the forefront of what you do?

Outside stimulators and non-core attention:

Eye doctors, yoga instructors, breathing experts, dieticians, manners and language instructors, and forensic psychiatrists – all examples of specialists brought in to stimulate the team and develop skills beyond the rugby field. These skills needn’t only be addressed in annual workshops and these specialists can be brought in sporadically to address very specific challenges.  

Sir Clive  Woodward, the former England rugby union player and coach, talks about the  “Critical Non-essentials”. This was an idea he inherited from an Australian dentist – Paddy Lund. Woodwards’ thinking was that certain things may not have a direct impact on rugby prowess (such as what hotel you stay in, how you treat staff or what your team manuals look like) but have a huge impact on the feeling of the environment – and therefore the mindset of the players. He ensured that every little detail and extra help required was offered to his players. He believed that by doing this he would emphasise to his players that they were world champions, deserving of lifting the Web Ellis trophy, which of course they did in 2003, under his leadership. Also, he would give them every chance possible to develop a skill that may lead to excellence.

Something to consider: What type of message do you send to your staff and customers based on what you pay extra attention to? What other elements of your team’s potential do you develop so their contribution to your team is holistic? 

Outcome focus:

A focus on outcomes does not mean that there isn’t a focus on process, it just means there is a relentless drive towards a specific result. Everyone is very clear about what needs to be done and the deadline by which it needs to be achieved.  In his writings, Patrick Lencioni says that one of the key issues with dysfunctioning teams is inattention to results and outcomes. Business can often get caught up in processes and levels of engagement, however, in rugby, the challenge is clear and everything serves the challenge. The team is not trying to get on for getting on’s sake. There are no policies and procedures for the sake of having policies – they are all designed to ensure the team wins. For the South African Springbok coach, Rassie Erasmus, if a player does not hit specific fitness and skills goals, they are not selected -it sounds harsh, but the standards required are clear. In this instance, simplicity creates intensity. 

Something to consider: Do you take the time to outline what you need to put in place to  ‘win’ and do you remain relentlessly focused on these elements in your business?

There are many other elements in both leadership and performance where the business and sporting worlds can offer each other learnings. With rugby as a key focus for many people right now, these four areas offer some insights as to why some teams are more successful than others.

Use it or lose it! 

Tom Dawson-Squibb

Tom Dawson-Squibb

Tom Dawson-Squibb is a Senior Associate at Lockstep. Tom has a deep commitment to nurturing up and coming leaders as culture champions within their organisations. He is also the lead facilitator for the Aspiring Leaders Programme – a bespoke 5-month programme designed to develop young leaders and harness their power to positively impact an organisation. For more on the Lockstep Aspiring Leaders Programme, click here.

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