Winning in Business


Winning in business

Competition for the 2019 Rugby World Cup has kicked off in Japan.  Every 4 years, 20 national teams compete in this gruelling physical contest.  Qualification is a long and difficult process, with every international match affecting a team’s world ranking. 

Conditioning and training are essential elements of their preparation.  Adapting to changing situations both off and on the field of play require coaches and players to be flexible and decisive.  Utilising the skills and attributes of the available players is the key to success. Physical and mental fitness are crucial.  Adherence to the rules and ethics of the game are highly valued.  Respect for the authority of the match referee reflects the spirit and values of the game of rugby. 

As in business, a strategic (4 year) plan is necessary if a team is to reach its peak at precisely the right time.  Then, there are many barriers to cross between qualifying and winning the Rugby World Cup.  Firstly the teams are split across 4 “pools” in which the 5 teams all play each other.  The top 2 teams from each pool then enter the knock-out stages, when in each match the losing team is eliminated.  These are the quarter finals. 

The remaining 4 teams then play in 2 semi-finals and the 2 surviving teams play against each other in the final.  Those 2 teams will have played 6 previous matches in 6 weeks.  The final battle will be a brutal test of strength, skill, stamina and determination.

The winning formula

One country – New Zealand – dominates the sport of rugby globally.  How can a nation of only 4.5 million people continue to produce a world-beating squad of men with such consummate skill, power and confidence?  What are the factors that make their teams so hard to beat?  There must be lessons for strategic business and performance management in New Zealand’s winning formula.

In June 2017 Jamie Smyth of the Financial Times published a long article describing the many reasons behind the sustained performance of the All Blacks in world rugby.

This is a summary of the significant factors:

  • New Zealand play a more expansive game than other teams, according to Beauden Barrett, the 26-year-old New Zealander who was named world player of the year in November 2016.  He said “It makes it easier to go out and score quick tries if needed. It certainly helps playing that brand of football and having the belief that it is not over till it is over.”
  • Public expectation is very high.  They do not countenance failure and that must translate into a very strong positive mental attitude amongst the players.
  • The All Blacks perform the haka, a Maori ceremonial war dance, before every game begins. This cultural and spiritual connection with their community and history has inspired and motivated their players to sacrifice everything for victory on the rugby pitch.
  • The game is part of national life at the grass roots level, in schools and clubs across the nation.  The resulting large pool of talent, trained and encouraged from a young age, gives New Zealand the ability to out-perform bigger countries regularly and consistently.
  • An egalitarian attitude prevails, where every player and coach is expected to contribute equally to the team effort and every person is equally valued and respected.  That ethos must help to forge unity and mutual support across the entire organisation.

In simple terms, the strategic lessons that business can take from the winning ways of the All Blacks are:

  • Build an organisation with deep roots and a broad support network
  • Develop talent from within and invest in the necessary resources and training
  • Adopt and promote an inclusive, positive culture of respect and pride
  • Celebrate success and encourage self-belief
  • Allow individuals to shine but always put the team first.

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