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People Wednesdays >>> Building a Winning Team Culture: Lessons from the All Blacks



New Zealand's All Blacks rugby team are one the best sporting teams in the world. Their successes both on and off the field stem from a set of simple yet revolutionary principles that anyone can replicate and follow, in business and in life.


To create a better understanding for those that aren't avid rugby fans, the All Blacks have won the last two Rugby World Cups, holds the record for most consecutive wins, and is the only international team to have a winning record against every opponent. Any team or company that strives to manifest the same success can follow a basic set of 15 principles, as derived from James Kerr's book called Legacy: 15 Lessons in Leadership:

  1. Character: There must be a sublime balance between self-sacrifice to your team or business, and the pursuit of personal achievement and excellence. The fundamental question to ask is "how can we do this better?", a marker for constantly building character and promoting the right culture. In a nutshell, character in the smaller things can culminate towards character in the bigger things.

  2. Adapt: After a major loss in 2003, the All Blacks went through a transformational phase. In a four-step process, the team adapted their culture to come out stronger than ever. These steps included: making a case for change, developing a gripping image of how you want the future to be, creating a sustained, and easy-to-execute process for change and finally, forming a credible plan to execute. A continuous cycle of assessment and reflection is vital, even at the height of organisational success.

  3. Purpose: Although it is pretty self-explanatory and seems simple, many people tend to forget the "why" of it all. It is important to know your purpose and direction at every step in your journey.

  4. Responsibility: Rugby is a team sport after all, and so it is important for each and every player to hold accoutability, maintain trust and create ownership amongst one another. Sometimes a top-down hierarchy may not always work and it is important that responsibilities are shared, where people are working towards a common goal, thus generating the desired results.

  5. Learn: Through minute and incremental improvement, organsations, teams and indiviuals can see an upward trend in performance. Learning does not limit itself to teammates, but applies to leaders too.

  6. Whanau: The Maori term which means "to be born" or "to give birth". It refers to the extended relationships people foster. Based on this, the All Blacks culture measures constant peer to peer enforcement, and submerges ego, so that teammates can help each other achieve their fullest potential.

  7. Expectations: Set yourself internal benchmarks so that you are driving towards your goals at every moment. These expectations mean that failure is not an option. So cultivate that aversion to failure as a means to reach that benchmark.

  8. Preparation: The All Blacks practice with a mentality known as Train to Win. This is where you throw in a frenzy of problems and scenarios during practice, which inadvertently prepares you for anything on the field. This sort of pressure helps deal with conflict and tension at any given time. Continuous and rigorous practice is the key to mastery.

  9. Pressure: The author James Kerr, says its best to keep a "blue head". One that is expressive, cool and calm, in the moment, and on-task. This is vital because instead, you can find yourself with the alternative, a "red head". Meaning, you are results-oriented, aggressive and anxious. This is something to avoid.

  10. Authenticity: Stay true to your core values, whatever they may be.

  11. Sacrifice: The All Blacks are known to give everything to their team. Be it the countless bruises or a few broken bones, it is a small price to pay for the one thing these kiwis would pledge their life to.

  12. Language: All elite teams and businesses have compressed their ethos into mottos, chants, metaphors and slogans. We are all too familiar with Nike's 'Just Do It', Coca Cola's 'Open Happiness' or even L'Oreal's 'Because you're worth it'. These are just a few examples which prove that power lies in words.

  13. Ritual: The haka. There is nothing more unique and intimidating than watching the All Blacks perform this ceremonial war dance at each and every game. By weaving in ritual into culture, leaders can create a spirit that exists beyond generations, making the untouchable and intangible something real.

  14. Whakapapa: One of the fundamental responsibilities of being an All Black is to "leave the jersey in a better place". Like so, it is important to work towards a better collective outcome, for those that will be your successor and for generations to come. Each individual's time and commitment is vital in ensuring the ebb and flow of a business in both the short-term and long-term. Nevertheless, there is a much bigger picture and we are just small contributors.

  15. Legacy: In the last 10 years the All Blacks have changed the haka to reflect a more diverse set of teammates from various backgrounds. Just like they have done, don't be afraid to write your own legacy.






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