Posts Tagged ‘Teams’

Rugby World Cup lessons on leadership

Monday, December 14th, 2015

I have written a lot about leaders recently, and in these rather ego driven times, it is trendy to link success, or should I say results, with the leader.  If you remember England’s rather inglorious exit from the Rugby World Cup, the papers decided to barbeque Chris Robshaw, as if he were solely responsible for their results.  As a keen rugby fan & Englishman, of course I was disappointed by what happened.  However, if I step back, and put on a more objective hat, then I always knew that New Zealand were the best team in the world, I strongly suspected that Australia would contest the final too.  Most people who knew anything about the sport would have said that South Africa would be a safe bet for the quarter finals, leaving every other team contesting that fourth slot.  So realistically, England, Wales, France and Ireland were all battling it out for a single place, and we have yet to win the 6 Nations recently, so it has to be said it was reasonably predictable that this result was on the cards.  So why was it one man’s fault? 

The answer of course must be that it was not.  You can certainly question whether the critical penalty call in the match against Wales when Robshaw chose to go for a line out and glory rather than going for a more conservative, safe choice of kicking for 3 points.  Both courses of action had a chance of failure, kickers and throwers both miss.  He consulted some of his senior players and they agreed, go for glory.  He is a man who always gives his all, and no one was more upset with the final outcome than Chris. 

My main point is, regardless of the rugby, this result was the consequence of how the collective performed, not simply the choices of one man.  Rugby, like businesses is dependent of key people stepping up and leading in their specialist areas.  A business requires everyone to do their best, to focus on the plan and deliver their bit of it.  Most leaders, like everyone else, have areas of their job they are good at, that they enjoy, and others which they tend to neglect or do worse at.  To some extent, they are then dependent on their team to compensate in these areas to ensure that they are properly covered.  A good numbers person, needs a people person at their elbow, and so on.  You may or may not like your leader, but you need to play your part in the team if you want to be part of a win.

It is amazing what a bit of trust can achieve

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

I admit it, I’ve become a diehard rugby fan, and I support Harlequins.  It seems I became a supporter at a pretty good time because in the last three years (since I have been going regularly) I have seen them first win the Amlin cup, then the Premiership last year and this year the A League and the LV cup.  So why am I sharing this with you?

Well I think that there is a very interesting story behind this year’s win.  This tournament is intended to encourage clubs to give their younger players exposure to the pressure, and the thrills and spills of knockout rugby, but it is not mandatory to field youngsters, as the prize entitles the winners to an automatic place in following year’s premier European competition, the Heineken Cup.  There is therefore a temptation to bring more experienced players in as that prize gets closer.

This year we stuck with the spirit of the LV cup and fielded a very young team, 15 of the match day 23 were under 23, and I think we had a single international on the bench.  By contrast, Bath in the semi-finals and Sale in the final  fielded their first teams, full of seasoned international players as they were desperate to qualify for Europe next year.  Conor O’Shea, the Quin’s coach, said after the win:-

“I’m just over the moon for the group. It is a long way into the season and we face a massive next nine weeks but, for those players, that is something that is a reminder to everyone coming back in the next couple of weeks. There is a good vibe in the dressing room and a lot of very proud parents of young men but it sets us up to really attack what will be ups and down in the coming weeks. We know that.  They have won a national trophy and we said before the game not to take anything for granted because you never know when you will get there. We have been very fortunate to be in a number of finals in the last few years and to have come away with a trophy.”

However, he was quite happy to back these youngsters whom had trusted to get the club to the final, and they repaid that faith with an unbeaten run and really fine performances against much more experienced players.

Trust is a very powerful thing and can transform people when it is well placed.  I witnessed another example of this when working with a client the other week, who told a group of people lower down the organisation that he was trusting them with previously confidential information and looking to them to help him drive performance in their teams.  It is an act of leadership to encourage others and help them grow, to see potential and nurture it.  It is possibly one of the key roles of a good leader.  So next time you have a challenge, ask yourself if it is an opportunity to grow tomorrow’s star players.

Feeling a little koi

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

We went out today and bought four new koi for the pond; they were a little smaller than I had expected so I was just a little disappointed, but once they were added to the pond they really added something to the community.  I guess you don’t have to be a star to add to the overall ‘team’ performance.

We are brought up in a culture that seems obsessed with stars, whole magazines are devoted to who did what with whom.  Yet in business we are told it is all about teamwork, and yet, and yet we still pay more attention to the star performers. 

We can’t all be stars all of the time, and some of us never do.  Does that make us any less important?  Or is a team, or an organisation or even a shoal of koi made up of all sorts with a beauty and a performance that outshines any individual?   Today might be a really good day to notice and enjoy the role and contribution played the ‘little guys’, and perhaps you could even take the time to tell them so too…

Pond Life?

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

I have always wanted a pond since I was a little boy; I remember being fascinated by one my grandfather had.  Eventually, once our kids were old enough for it to be safe, my son and I built one and it gives me huge pleasure every day.  I was recently given a number of beautiful fish and had to upgrade the filtration to handle these new fish.  The thing is that fish generate waste that poisons the water and you need to make sure that there are enough plants and microbes to convert the waste from poisonous ammonia into harmless nitrogen.

When you gather  people together in close proximity they also generate ‘stuff’ that needs processing and you need to create a healthy environment and systems to handle this.  You need to provide space, time and opportunity for them to communicate both their good ideas and their peeves.  In a properly balanced team environment the bits that one person leaves behind will be picked up by others.  One person’s weakness will be balanced by another’s strengths.  As a leader, you have to take responsibility for creating an environment in which your people can thrive….

“Language screens reality as a filter on a camera lens screens light waves”

“It is your human environment that makes climate”   Mark Twain


The Smallest Particles part 2

Monday, September 15th, 2008

I posted the other day on the CERN experiment to explore the tiniest parts of our universe and try to learn something of our nature. I was thinking about this further and don’t feel that I made the point as clearly as I could.

Imagine you had never seen an E-type jaguar, or perhaps even that you had little idea of what an automobile was, and in order to explain it to you I shipped you out every single nut and widget that went to make the car in one great big box. You tip them all out and there you are, staring at all these bits and trying to envisage how they fit together.

Now if you are clever enough and patient enough, you might end up working out how they fitted together and you would indeed have learnt some about an E-type. However you couldn’t possibly learn about all the non-physical things that surround this object. What the Jaguar brand stands for, its history, the teenage dreams it might represent.

Objects and systems are so much more than just their physical components and perhaps one of the sad thing about our times is that we spend so much time in studying the bits and never get around to understanding the systems that they are part of. One only has to look at the state of modern medicine to see this. On one hand we are bringing about miracles and literally helping blind people to see, on the other, we are ruining thousands of lives with poisonous drugs.

By all means look at the component parts and their interaction to try to increase your understanding but never make the mistake of thinking that these bits add up to the whole.

The smallest particles

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

The press is full of the stories about the CERN particle collision experiments that began yesterday; some folks were suggesting this could create a black hole and potentially bring about the end of the world!  The best reaction I heard was one enterprising young lady who thought this meant that homework was now not required.They are trying to see if they can learn more about the nature of creation by literally smashing atoms to their constituent parts.

The thing about complex systems such as companies, is that there is always a bit more to them than just the sum total of their parts.  The true art of management and leadership is to create this kind of magic whereby 1+1+1 equals more than 3.  During takeovers and acquisitions or cost cutting regimes, people try to slice out bits but sometimes the heart is removed as well.

Trying to understand a living system by just examining its ‘bits’ doesn’t necessarily work as it misses the impact of the ‘ghost in the machine’.

“Where the spirit does not work with the hand there is no art”  Leonardo da Vinci

“There are only two forces in the world, the sword and the spirit. In the long run the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.”  Napoleon Bonaparte

Team, Leadership, SPIRIT!

Saturday, May 10th, 2008

Last night I was watching a TV programme about a group of 12 young people, all of whom suffered from various disabilities, who, for reasons that were not totally clear to me, had decided to hike across the Andes. This would be a serious challenge for anyone, but they were young, inexperienced and severely physically challenged.

Initially, they had to push a couple of four-wheeled wheel chairs up a pretty steep trail strewn with massive boulders through the mud! These people include folks with one leg, one arm, deaf, cerebral palsy, and dyspraxia to name just some of their problems, and some suffer from multiple challenges.

In business today it is de rigueur to talk about team spirit, but what this group demonstrated was the power of Team and the power of Spirit. If you are able to create a challenge that moves and inspires people they will shift Heaven & Earth to achieve it. This group chose this incredible, seemingly impossible challenge. Why? Because at some level this gave them something in terms of Life experience and self image that was more valuable than any bonus or profit share could ever be. How often have you succeeded in creating such an inspiring, work-based challenge?

“Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.” Bernice Johnson Reagon

Whilst they have an expedition leader, Ken, who is ex-special forces, he isn’t really in charge; he is more of a guide. The team knows what their task is, and they seem to organise themselves (and I use the word organise in the loosest possible sense!) Each contributes according to their abilities and takes what they need from each other. Is it perfect, neat and efficient? Certainly not! Did they get up that hill? Indeed they did!

The thing that literally moved me to tears was seeing the impact of the contribution of one girl, Julie. She is 21, deaf and has cerebral palsy so has to walk with sticks. She not only struggled up this track, with never a complaint, but once they reached a road (still going up hill) she actually pulled one of the chairs up too! Her contribution and the spirit of her contribution were such that she transformed the team. Dissension fell away, the group stopped complaining and focusing on their own (significant) problems and looked outside themselves. This was real leadership of the ‘Show me’ school.

It was profoundly moving and inspiring to share their journey. I think that business needs to learn from this and recognise the power of an inspiring and worthy challenge, and the sort of leadership that comes from example and true commitment rather than position. I watch, appalled, those idiots on ‘The Apprentice’, who all seem to think that leadership consists of being a bully who never listens and just orders people around… What a contrast! A video cassette and record button could save you a fortune in Leadership Development courses.

“Mountains cannot be surmounted except by winding paths.” Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Most businesses are really little more than the sum total of the people in them plus a bit of money, and yet I would suggest that most people go to work half asleep and seldom wake up. What could be achieved if you were able to get them to show up and commit like these young people? How do you do that? Ask them; and then add a little faith and lot of imagination.

Do you want to transform your business or just settle for little incremental changes here and there….

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I… I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost


BBC2 Friday 9pm, Beyond Boundaries – Across the Andies