New Zealand’s ‘All Blacks’ top the World Rugby rankings and are widely regarded as the ultimate sports team. Business leaders can learn valuable lessons from their approach to consistently developing effective teams and delivering high-performance.
Head coach Steve Hansen revealed the secret of their success when he told The Guardian, “If you think you’ve arrived you probably have and it’ll be the end of the destination. If you keep striving to be better then you’re going to search for ways to do that.”
This ethos characterises what I call a purposefully developmental organisation (PDO). In business, US investment giants Bridgewater Associates display similar attributes. These type of organisations have three core priorities.
Three core priorities of a purposefully developmental organisation
1) They make their people aware of their purpose and future major objectives.
2) They create an environment where everyone is empowered to make personal progress by developing small, new helpful habits.
3) And they help their teams relate all behaviour to the organisation’s overall purpose.
This creates happier people and a more successful organisation.
Scientific analysis and financial results show the PDO approach is the perfect antidote to the challenges of our volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world (VUCA).
The VUCA world demands innovation and change. We must adapt quickly. But this is at odds with what humans have evolved to do.
Significantly, our brain is a major obstacle to us consistently innovating, adapting and being our best. Evolution means it focuses on survival, and not on health, happiness and performance as we measure them today. Limbic regions of the brain concentrate on keeping us alive, how we are perceived by others, and conserving energy. Scientists believe that at least 98% of behaviour is habit, meaning it is largely unconscious or mindless. The less energy something takes, the more likely we do it.
But the PDO approach makes it easier for people to build more new helpful habits and flourish in the VUCA world. This is because the PDO approach creates workplaces where resilience, adaptability to change and critical thinking become part of the culture. This promotes continuous evolution of products and practices. It helps organisations succeed and stay ahead of the competition. People feel and perform better.
Rugby teams also operate in the VUCA world. Technology is changing elite sport too. For teams to stay competitive they need to adapt.
Analysis from the 2018 Autumn rugby internationals, when the All Blacks’ loss to Ireland, suggests that Northern Hemisphere teams are adapting more successfully than Southern Hemisphere rivals.
So the All Blacks needed to adapt faster. But they are in transition. Since the last World Cup, world-class leaders like captain Richie McCaw have retired. In the short-term, this has arguably had a negative impact on their purposeful developmental approach.
Insight for business leaders into the All Blacks performance secrets
The Amazon Prime fly-on-the-wall documentary ‘All or Nothing’ highlighted this. In episode four, the All Blacks are accused of complacency after a poor performance against Australia.
Before their next game against Argentina, Steve Hansen asked players to stand up in the meeting, if they had completed some individual video analysis work required of them. Only three out of twenty-five could say they had viewed the clips of opponents, which are vital for preparation.
Hansen responded by asking his squad to consider and improve their weekly habits.
He said: “What I need you to do if you want to be a great All Black is to have a look at your habits from Sunday to Friday…Saturday [match day] is just the fun part… Every time you look in the mirror you ask that man, am I doing what I need to be doing… It is not about the talk boys, it is about what you do.’
Form and results showed the All Blacks – like all PDOs – need to continuously improve. If you stand still in the VUCA world your competitors will overtake you. No organisation’s ability to be purposefully developmental is perpetual.
Will the All Blacks adapted fast enough to stain their reputation as the ultimate sports team?
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