Perspective: Rugby – the mirror of modern business management
What can business life learn from Rugby
Do team sports develop similar to businesses when it comes to organizational trends? Sport managers are quite often invited as inspirational speakers to business managers. There is some logic to that.
Rugby is to some extent the ultimate team sport. Each team consists of 15 players, all with unique skills for each position. Rugby players come in all possible shapes. Short players are often found in the front scrum row, while position 4 and 5 in the scrum are around 2 meters tall. The scrum half, number 9, is quick with his hands and feet sending the ball out to the running backs that quickly run with the ball. The winning team, gets all these individuals to work as ONE team.
When I played rugby in the eighties the positions were well defined and each player knew what was expected from him. The game was quite rigid in following a standard game plan where the flow of the game followed the different sections of the team. The scrum did the first part of the play, securing the ball. This was then transferred to the running part of the team, that kicked or ran with the ball towards the opponent’s goal line. If any of the players from the scrum happened to be misplaced and showed up among the running backs they would politely be told (yes, this is a gentlemen’s sport, rugby players are ALWAYS polite) to return to their scrum buddies. Rugby was played in a very functional way, trying to get the different parts working together with clear interface rules on how to move things from one part to the other. Then the game developed…..
Rugby today still consist of 15 players that need to have distinctive skills for each position. The difference today is that they ALSO need to have the ability to play all over the pitch. Understanding the total game, ready to fill in where there is an opportunity. Suddenly you realize that having a player from the scrum team filling in as an extra resource in the running part gives an advantage against the competition. Unanticipatedly you are one person more and have the chance to out maneuver the other team.
Looking at successful companies today I think they have done or need to do the same changes. It is not enough to “only” be a super competent production person, purchaser, sales, HR or in finance. The expectation is that you understand the total company and the environment you work in. Understanding how the company creates most customer values is key. Employees in R&D must be inspired by customer meetings, sales people needs to be able to talk to suppliers and so on. This gives an extra dimension to the company and a way to outnumber the competition, even if you do not have more resources.
Who is leading and who is following. Sports or business? Being a rugby nerd I’m probably slightly biased. However, I do feel that companies could be more innovative in driving change. Brave leaders will make a difference. Inventing a new game plan will win the championship, but unfortunately you need to reinvent yourself with certain frequency. That is if you want to continue winning the championship.