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Business lessons from the All Blacks

New Zealand All Blacks World Cup 2019

The All Blacks have been an exemplary team for many years, and this does not look like changing any time soon. Amidst the 2019 Rugby World Cup, it’s interesting to reflect on this extraordinary period of sustained success.

What can be learnt and transferred into other fields from their culture, performance and ethos? Can this translate to business, or is it specific to the world of sport?

I was part of a discussion recently over the pressures on coaches. It was an AFL game that was on, and the question posed was, “Where else can your success depend on 22 young people that you can’t directly influence during the game?” I said, “In business.”

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In explaining my reasoning, I said the parallels are strong. The counter comment was that, in business, the CEO can make decisions and still be involved in the process.

I pointed out the similarities are actually stronger than people think. Like the coach, the CEO can influence training, development and decision-making, but when the customer-facing staff are with clients, it is up to them.

Like a coach, you can send a message or a signal, but the staff member dealing with the customer performs as they see fit, and only in the review can the performance be analysed. So, can we learn lessons from the All Blacks in business? Definitely.

The following principles are distilled from the book Legacy by James Kerr. After spending time embedded with the All Blacks, Mr Kerr was able to discern a number of factors that contribute to the ongoing success of this team.

Very little of what he discovered has to do with processes, systems or structures. It is all about people, and isn’t that what doing business is all about? You can develop the best system in the world, but it will fail if the people implementing it do not believe in it and activate it well.

If you accept that culture equates to the behaviour you see, when no one is looking, then this is very much about people. Systems and computers do not create culture, and culture creates success.

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Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, said, “From self-knowledge we develop character and integrity. And from character and integrity comes leadership.” The only way to gain self-knowledge is through self-examination that arrives through feedback. Research shows that performance = capability + behaviour.

You can have the most talented group, but without the behaviours that lead to habit change and a new culture, the performance lacks.

Graham Henry, the All Blacks coach, wrote, “Whether it’s a business environment or a sporting environment, it’s about developing people. So, if you develop your people, your business is going to be more successful. It’s just a matter of creating an environment where that becomes a happening every day.”

The All Blacks believe that the way you behave will either bring out the best or worst of your capability, and this applies to businesses and teams as well as to individuals.

“Leaders create the right environment for the right behaviours to occur,” says Owen Eastwood, lawyer for the All Blacks. “That’s their primary role.”

Behaviour is in two parts: what you do in public and what you do alone. Public behaviour is visible and measurable. What you do alone is where you confront your habits, limitations, temptations and fears.

The aim of team behaviour is to harness non-public behaviour, so it matches and complements the public behaviour to enhance team performance.

The winning formula

A primary mantra of the All Blacks is to ensure they select for character before talent and skill. As in business, select for character, train for skills and you will be more successful.

The structure created by the All Blacks focuses on behaviours that develop and grow characters who contribute to sustained success. They have a policy of no tolerance. What they expect, and grow, in their team is humility, respect and excellence. “No one is bigger than the team. The team always comes first.”

To achieve this, the All Blacks seek humbleness through their leaders. They look for continuous improvement and they encourage leaders to grow leadership in others. Theirs is a learning environment where the bar is constantly raised, and ways of reaching that bar, trained, practised and implemented. Practice is done under pressure, so they train to win.

At the heart of their core is knowing yourself, being honest and supporting each other to grow through feedback. They are required to understand the why.

Like Simon Sinek proclaims, organisations who know why they do what they do are more successful than those who simply say what they do, and how they do it.

The All Blacks understand why it requires sacrifice, giving everything you have to creating a legacy, and then learning to give more. If you can carry this through to your business, there is no reason why you cannot create the same level of sustained success.

Steve Stanley is the director of The CEO Institute.

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