5 Uncommon Rugby Lessons for Building Stronger Teams in Today’s Unpredictable Business World
By Matt Odle, Solutions Architect, cStor
Rugby is a fast-paced, no gear outdoor sport akin to American Football that originated in 1823 during a football game (aka, soccer) at Rugby School in Warwickshire, England when William Webb Ellis decided to pick up the ball and run with it. By 1863, a band of boarding schools and clubs in the area decided to formalize the rules, and by 1871, the Rugby Football Union was formed.
Like every team sport, rugby is founded on a core set of teamwork principles that make the group far more effective and successful when they work together than any one person trying to be the lone hero. And so it is in business, especially in today’s unprecedented environment where working as a team can mean the difference between beating the competition or eating their dust.
“Individual commitment to a group effort–that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” —Vince Lombardi.
If you’re still with me, you’re probably thinking this is another ‘RAH RAH’ message on teamwork, and I’ve heard it all before. Well, let me convince you to keep reading by asking some tough questions:
- Have you looked at your company’s attrition rate lately?
- If you know your rate, is it high, low or about average for your industry?
- Are your employees happy?
- Do employees feel like they are valued contributors or cogs in a wheel?
- Do employees feel like they have a path to grow and advance?
The truth is, the questions are endless. If you’re suddenly paranoid about your attrition rates, check out this helpful article from Zenefits that digs in deeper. The important point is that building a strong culture of teamwork can actually reduce attrition, improve employee satisfaction, and in turn, improve customer satisfaction. So here are five uncommon guiding principles to help build a corporate culture of teamwork that will stand the test of time.
1. Sweep the sheds.
In other words, never be too big to do the small things that need to be done. After every rugby match, the entire team stops to help clean the locker room.
In the business world, while my role as a Solutions Architect is well-defined, that doesn’t mean I don’t step out of my box on a regular basis to help with sales, financials, installs, even yes, blogging! 😊 While some of those roles I lead, others I follow as a capable wingman, ready to help with the assist. Our leaders have given us the autonomy and the authority to step outside the boundaries of our defined roles to help get the job done.
2. Play with purpose.
Better people make better All Blacks. The All Blacks are the New Zealand rugby team that is arguably one of the most indomitable teams in the sport. Check out what I mean in this All Blacks Haka ritual dance before their France matchup in 2011… they mean business! It’s clear from this kind of dedication and comradery that the All Blacks have a singular purpose that empowers them to take ownership, both individually in their contributions and as a team, to the greater vision of winning as a team.
In the business world, when I’m working with a client, I always keep the bigger picture and a clear purpose for our engagement in mind when evaluating their needs and making recommendations. In one example, a client was overly concerned with the cost of a new solution over whether or not the solution would solve their challenges in the long run, so much so that he was willing to sacrifice doing the right thing. I was able to help them understand the bigger picture of “why this solution approach made more sense, and ultimately he agreed and was able to work with management on his budget concerns.
3. Pass the ball.
Shared responsibility means shared ownership and a sense of inclusion, and effective teams make it everyone’s responsibility to own the problems and the solutions.
Have you ever worked with someone that refuses to delegate? They may think, “it’s better if I just do it myself.” The reality is, collaboration is an important key to success on every single team, and it builds strength, trust and confidence between teammates.
In rugby, everyone’s pushing, it’s “spines in a line.” We have to push together in the same direction for the best outcomes and chances to win. If there’s a ‘weak link,’ others are right there to close the gaps. Of course, the goal is NOT to screw up, but when you do, you have confidence your teammates have your back. So, when someone calls for the ball, pass it.
4. Create a learning environment.
Successful leaders are both learners and teachers. I equate this to the belief that we should all “plant trees you’ll never see by being a good ancestor.” That means it’s important to have some foresight around what you’re doing and why, and how it will impact future leaders. Mentoring makes you a better co-worker, leader and human, while doing the same for them. Passion also helps you train and teach people in powerful ways that allow you to pass on your knowledge so it can grow and evolve over time.
Sometimes it’s easy to get comfortable where you are. I would argue that being comfortable is the antithesis of always learning, and in the business world, the best solution is often not the last one you implemented… it’s the one you haven’t thought of yet.
5. Embrace expectations.
Building a culture of expectation enables the asking and re-asking of fundamental questions, such as: how can we be better? How can we take calculated risks that could pay off? How can we shift our expectations of the outcomes, and the client’s expectations, in positive ways?
This kind of constant iteration of questions and expectations, without losing sight of the bigger goal, helps you, your team and your customers better understand when and why to try a new approach. It also helps you more accurately assess if your approach is truly the best way now, or if it is just the way you’ve always done it in the past.
I coached a rugby college team that was, by all measures, smaller, weaker and poorer than all of the other teams in our league. That meant we had to figure out innovative ways to overcome our obstacles rather than playing victim to them, so we developed a never-before-used offensive attack strategy that put the stronger teams on their heels and gave us a huge advantage, game after game. It was a risk, but doing something that different and unexpected paid off… for about a year. When other teams began copying us, we shifted once again.
That continual innovation in our strategy never stopped, and it shouldn’t stop. It became part of our fundamental game plan: outwit the competition, and when they figure out what you’re doing, outwit them again. Strong teamwork helps create a foundation of continual innovation that will keep your company thriving.
What are some of the best teamwork and team-building strategies that worked in your company? If you’d like to explore more on Rugby and the mastery of teamwork, check out one of my favorite books, “Legacy,” by James Kerr (Amazon), it’s worth the time.