Lessons from Rugby by Chris Bentley

True north

Culture is a massively used term in rugby union. The top teams love to refer to theirs and the losing teams aspire to get it. There are many ways to define the culture of a winning team but the best way from my time was simply the team closest to finding their True North.

Different from magnetic north and grid north, True North is the direction along the earth’s surface to the north pole. We used to substitute our team goals for true north and then explore the behaviours that would get us there.

If everyone can identify the target and agree on the behaviours that will get there and those that won’t it suddenly becomes very clear. However, this list can often be quite broad, by coining a cover all phrase like true north we were able to have a reference point to consider actions and behaviours… ‘is that true north’ we could often ask one another when perhaps behaviours suggested otherwise.

Having worked as a team to agree on the direction we could then self-police one another and create a peer led culture rather than one with direction from above. This made it easier to adhere to (after all, we’d designed it) and created an arena where the critical mass stayed on task.

Stab in the belly

‘Et tu brute’ – the immortal last words from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar as his close ally joined the assassination party. It was at this moment that his will to fight back erodes and he bowed to the Machiavellian plot. Being stabbed in the back is a term that still exists today and can cause a huge amount of problems with trust eroded, reputations tarnished, and teams damaged.

In sport as in business things go wrong and people make mistakes. This isn’t a problem but dealing with things going wrong often is.  Its human nature to deflect and try to play down problems, nobody likes to be told off or have mistakes highlighted but this can be turned to a positive if you are on the same wavelength and willing to face issues head on.

During my time in rugby the culture was always to ‘stab in the belly’ and highlight problems you can foresee as early as possible. This wasn’t a freedom to cause consternation or have arguments but a strength of character to give and receive criticism, appreciate that it’s for the good of the team and move on.

This maxim only works if the team has the trust to accept, as well as give, honesty. Quite often the challenge is to be robust enough to take a criticism on the chin, appreciate its aimed at a ‘true north’ goal and move on positively.

Opinion piece by Chris Bentley, Client Relationship Director, Air Marketing Group. 

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