Five lessons business can learn from rugby


Five lessons from rugby

John Neal will be writing a weekly blog throughout rugby’s biggest competition. His blog will offer an insight into what businesses can learn from the highs and lows of the competition and the experience of the teams taking part.

Added on 25 September 2015 by John Neal

In just about every world cup there are some big surprises and shocks. Sometimes an individual player does something daft or maybe the whole team doesn’t perform as expected.  Regardless of the circumstances, if there’s a world cup shock the headline writers like it.  This year, in rugby, it’s the South Africans, who fell to the minnows of Japan, who have come under the media spotlight.
All the focus has been upon the South African team and the usual post-match analysis has focused upon the coach, selection and particular players who may or may not have made a mistake. As the anger at the loss develops, so do the recriminations and the tidal wave of loss floods into even wider areas like the structure of the game, the culture of the country and in many cases results in the Prime Minster or President making a statement!
There are a valuable number of lessons for business here.

Change the focus from who lost to who won and why

Very little has been said about the Japanese and how they won. We often focus on losses and create a data base of what not to do rather than what to do.
Business lesson….Spend as much time working out why you won a contract or a pitch as you do analysing those you lost

Leave the past in the past

The game is over and there is nothing that either team can do about it, win or lose. The important issue is the next game and how both teams respond. Quite often, as Japan discovered, it is hard to look forward when things have gone so well. Recovery time and a little relaxation or too much relaxation can slip in. For the South Africans, they now have a great motivation to spur them on to the next game.
Business lesson…if you have a great win (or a loss) remember that your people need to rest and recover before the next round.

Don’t get carried away

It is only one game. Decisions made in the emotion of a post-match win or loss are often very poor. Stick to the process that you developed when you were calm. If it has been well planned, which it usually is, then do not deviate too much from the plan in the post-match panic. It disrupts the players and confuses them, causing them to have issues around confidence and trust, which are the two most critical elements required to get the next win.
Business lesson… in business, as in sport, emotions can cloud judgment. Make sure that you apply your logic and leaning at the right time and leave the passion for when it matters.

Stick together

Strange as it may seem there will be some members of a losing team that are happy!
Why? Well because the loss may give them a chance to be selected for the next game and be part of the world cup. This can lead to some selfish and negative behaviour. We often use the term “win together lose together”.  Remember it’s just one game and the purpose of the team and the squad has not changed. It is shared purpose that keeps everybody together.
Business lesson…there are teams within teams and team within companies. Make sure that all the teams work together towards a common vision and purpose and that they understand that their goals and those of their colleagues are all pulling together and not apart.

Communication is key

People react differently to emotional events. Some go very quiet while others want to scream and shout. It is vital that communication stays open and that there is plenty of talking and checking in to see where people are and how they are thinking. Discuss what happened and discuss what is GOING to happen and how for the next game.
Business lesson… go beyond the appraisal system and make contact with people as human beings. Don’t send an email.. go and chat to them. A text is not always the best idea, especially if you are trying to motivate and inspire people to give of their best.

John Neal is also Director of Ashridge’s Sports Business Partnership which explores and applies the transferable lessons between business and sport creating powerful analogical learning experiences in the classroom.