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Back in Black

We normally steer away from sport analogies mostly because we have never reached the level of elite athletes and also because that space is well catered for by those that have. However, those of you familiar with the recent British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand will know what a daunting task that was for the touring team because the New Zealand All Blacks are simply the best rugby team in world rugby and in fact have the winningest record of any sporting team, regardless of the sport, in recent history.

We like winning teams and most importantly we like to understand how teams win and particularly how they win in the business world. We often talk about high performing teams and their characteristics but they remain a fairly rare thing in the corporate world. So we did some digging to see if we could uncover the All Black’s secret and if there is something to be learned from what they do.

First the statistics – New Zealand have won 77% of all matches since 1905, they have been ranked number one in the world for twice as long as the rest of the world combined and have never been ranked lower than second. They currently hold all the available silverware and from 2001 to 2014 they pushed their win percentage up to almost 95%. They have literally transcended the sport.

Now clearly there is not one secret that has delivered such success and if it was simple, many other teams would have replicated their achievements, but two things of note for us stand out. First is their mantra to leave the jersey in a better place and second is their doctrine that performance equals capability multiplied by behaviour.

Capability and behaviour focuses on both the physical and psychological and whilst we say that business is a contact sport, for most of us it is not generally a physical challenge to survive and thrive in business. On the psychological front it clearly is. In All Black terms the level of the team’s performance is equivalent to their talent which is multiplied by the way they behave, the way they prepare, the way they communicate, commit and contribute. Teams like the All Blacks create the culture to shape and inform the right behaviours and clearly they do it better than anyone else.

The parallels for us in the corporate world are clear. Turning up to a meeting ill prepared, unwilling to commit and incapable of contributing for example will end in failure whereas the opposite will see us move forward. Thinking about how we behave in every given situation will enhance our performance if we then behave in the right way regardless if we are having a bad day or not.

The second mantra around leaving the shirt in a better place also has parallels that we can draw on. When contributing to a team as a leader or otherwise, if we perform on a daily basis so that when we move on the team is in a better place than it was when we joined it, then we can look back with some satisfaction. If all members of every team employed the same philosophy there is no end to what that team may achieve. But what does this mean in practical terms?

Well we still see performance objectives that are just regurgitated job descriptions. Doing your job is an expectation not a goal and maintaining the status quo is unlikely to drive performance up nor scare the competition. Goals should be set that stretch people, drive innovation and move the organization forward. If at the end of the year everyone achieves or exceeds their goals then the team should be performing better. The All Blacks don’t want to leave the jersey as they found it, they want to improve and leave it in a better state. It should be the same for us in the roles we perform each and every day.

So, in breaking our rule of not quoting sports philosophies perhaps we have now got that out of our system. Regardless if you are a rugby fan, or even a sports fan, what the All Blacks have achieved is quite remarkable and if we can replicate, even in a small way, some of their thought process then we can surely improve our own team performance and leave it in a better state than when we joined it…….

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