Every New Zealand youngster wants to be an All Black. The country’s representative rugby team has a proud history. It consistently tops the international rankings, and has the Rugby World Cup in its trophy cabinet alongside trifles like the Bledisloe Cup and Investec Rugby Championship. Many of the dynamics that make the All Blacks a consistently high performing team have always been there. But since international rugby became a professional sport, this team more than its competitors has embraced principles that any business can adopt with profit. Here are seven key things your business can learn from the All Blacks.
1. Unswervingly singleminded
The All Blacks machine is focused on the success of the All Blacks. Individual players may vie for starting positions within the squad, coaching staff may be ambitious for more senior roles, but the entire organisation is fixated on only one thing: the success of the team. “Success” encompasses winning the next game, but it extends far wider than that: it includes protecting the brand and positioning the team for the future.
Is everyone in your business singlemindedly focused on its success?
2. Speaking with one voice
The All Blacks machine is kept in shape by a coaching team, medical team, media team and specialist assistants. Most support staff are readily available to the media, as are the players themselves, but it’s rare to hear a conflicting voice. When strategy is agreed on, care is taken that everyone in the organisation understands what it is and why it is. More than that, everyone also understands what can be talked about and what is only for internal discussion.
How well can your team members articulate your business strategy?
3. Fostering relationships
Rugby is renowned for its cameraderie; it’s said that life-long relationships are formed at the bottom of rucks. But the All Blacks management doesn’t rely on this happening naturally; it works to foster it. When the team tours, players are assigned rooms together and combinations are changed regularly. This ensures players get to know and appreciate others they may not have a natural affinity to: it prevents the development of cliques within the team. The breadth and depth of these off-field relationships strengthen commitment under pressure.
Does your business have cliques and divisions?
4. Grooming ambassadors
Although New Zealand is largely an urban society, the All Blacks team continues a tradition of including back country farmers: hard, strong men of steely resolve and few words. Every All Black is not a natural communicator, but the management team invests in their off-field skills and appearance. Why? Because when the media spotlight shines, regardless of the occasion, any All Black should be able to do the team proud.
How many of your staff and confident and competent if asked to represent your business?
5. Maintaining respect
No-one plays sport forever, and an All Black career lasts only as long as the incumbent is the best contender for his position. The team understands this, but players still speak proudly of those who’ve worn the black jersey in the past, regardless of the number of games they’ve played, regardless of how their playing days came to an end. The Maori word is mana. Once given, it can’t be taken away.
Do your team members respect the effort and achievements of their predecessors?
6. Preparing successors
There’s no shortage of players who want to be All Blacks. One of the critical tasks of the management team is identifying and aiding the development of future squad members. For every one of the fifteen positions on the field there’s a constantly refined list of understudies to the incumbent. And for each match, with a limited pool of 22 players, there’s a strategy to cover multiple, unexpected injuries. Before it happens, the management team knows what positional moves they’ll make to maintain maximum strength with the resources available. No-one is irreplaceable.
How deep do your contingency plans and succession strategies go?
7. Transcending differences
A point of difference for the All Blacks is beginning each game with a haka. The haka is a Maori challenge: a call to war intended to put steel into the team and fear into the opposition. Traditionally the haka is reserved for Maori warriors as they line up for battle. But in the All Blacks, you don’t have to be a Maori to do the haka. The whole team lines up on the park and gives it their all. The opposing team doesn’t face Maori or Pakeha … just All Blacks.
Do customers feel they engage with your business, or with separate individuals and departments?
There are object lessons for business in most top sports achievers, but the All Blacks consistently exemplify a high level of commitment and strategic thinking. There are things all of us can learn from them.