The All Blacks embrace a values-based team culture that evidences that above all the physical and mental toughness, as with any business team, culture is a key driver of success. Author, James Kerr, documented a year living with the All Blacks in Legacy, a compelling book that delivers pragmatic and powerful lessons for today’s business leaders for building their own first team, from studying the All Blacks’ success.
How do you create a high-performance culture? How do you build a high-performance team? How do you handle pressure? Kerr created ‘The First XV’ – 15 All Black principles, based on the team being made of fifteen players who work together towards a common purpose - to win a game of rugby - and the principles outlined work in the same way for all businesses. Here’s a summary:
I Sweep the sheds Never be too big to do the small things that need to be done
Before leaving the dressing room at the end of a game, all the players stop and tidy up. They literally and figuratively ‘sweep the sheds’, an example of personal humility, a cardinal All Blacks value. They believe it is impossible to achieve success without having your feet planted firmly on the ground.
II Go for the gap When you’re on top of your game, change your game
The philosophy and focus on continual improvement and continuous learning leave no room for complacency. A team succeeds when each individual takes responsibility for both cultural and commercial outcomes, and even when at the pinnacle of success, look to go again.
III Play with purpose Ask ‘Why?’
'Better people make better All Blacks' is a core belief, and understanding Why? identifies the purpose of being an All Black. The power of purpose galvanises individuals in an organisation, what’s the purpose of yours?
IV Pass the ball Leaders create leaders
A central belief is the development of leaders and the nurturing of character off the field, to deliver results on it so that by game day the team consists of 1 captain and 15 leaders. Shared responsibility means shared ownership, a sense of inclusion unites individuals, and collaboration means advancement as a team.
V Create a learning environment Leaders are teachers
Mastery, autonomy and purpose are three drivers of All Blacks success - defined as modest self-improvement, consistently done. For the All Blacks, leaders are learners, are teachers, as Jack Hobbs, former captain said 'Get up every day and be the best you can be. Never let the music die in you'.
VI No idiots Follow the whanau
In Maori, whanau means ‘extended family’, symbolised by the spearhead. Though a spearhead has three tips, to be effective all of its force must move in one direction.
The All Blacks select on character over talent, which means some missing players never pull on the black jersey – because they don’t have the right character, they’re considered 'idiots', their inclusion would be detrimental to the whanau. No one is bigger than the team. The team always comes first.
VII Embrace expectations Aim for the highest cloud
A culture of expectation enables the asking and re-asking fundamental questions: how can we do better? Taking risks and responsibilities is one of the skills you learn from rugby, a contest of strength, skill and intelligence. Judge yourself against the best, what is possible, literally reach for the sky.
VIII Train to win Practice under pressure
Brad Thorn’s mantra, Champions Do Extra, helped him become one of the most successful All Blacks’ captains. The philosophy means finding ways to do more by preparation and practice. There’s a Maori saying 'the way the sapling is shaped determines how the tree grows.'
The foundation for success on a rugby field is built in training. You win games in training. The ugly truth is that in most cases you get the results of your weekly training efforts and commitments in the game at the weekend.
IX Keep a blue head Control your attention
One minute can decide the outcome of a game, as it can the outcome of a business situation. Avoiding poor decision making under pressure is vital. The All Blacks have a framework to think clearly and correctly under pressure:
- Red head, a state in which you are off task, tight, results-oriented, panicked and ineffective.
- Blue head, is an optimal state in which you are performing to your best ability, expressive, calm, in the moment.
In moments of pressure, the All Blacks use triggers to switch from red to blue. Richie McCaw grasps his wrists and stamps his feet, literally grounding himself, triggers to achieve clarity and accuracy, so he can perform under pressure.
X Know thyself Keep it real
Honesty drives better performance, attributed to Socrates, the phrase know thy self, is a key tenet of All Blacks philosophy. Believing that development of the authentic self is essential to performance.
XI Sacrifice Find something you would die for and give your life to it
Don’t be a good All Black, be a great All Black. Give everything you have – then a little bit more. What do you offer the team? What are you prepared to sacrifice? Champions give the extra effort and sacrifice to do something extraordinary. Treading water is drowning. What is the extra that will make your business extraordinary?
XII Invent your own language Sing your world into existence
There is a ‘black book’ for All Blacks’ eyes only. Its collected wisdom in the form of aphorisms still informs the culture:
- Leave the jersey in a better place
- Leave it all out on the field
It is a system of meaning that everyone understands, a language and vocabulary, a set of beliefs that bind the group. These have subsequently evolved to humility, excellence, respect as the three words at the core of the All Blacks ethos.
XIII Ritualise to actualise Create a culture
A key factor in the All Blacks success was the development of the new haka, Kapa o Pango. Rituals reflect, remind and reinforce the belief system to reignite their collective identity and purpose.
In business, team spirit, pride and respect create effective relationship bonds. Building a great team requires individuals who enjoy a deep degree of trust in one another, the trust that colleagues are not just dedicated but also up to the task.
Au, au, aue bā! – It’s our time! It’s our moment! the final line of the haka.
XIV Be a good ancestor Plant trees you’ll never see
The All Blacks task is to represent all those who have come before them, and all those who follow, a Maori concept called whakapapa – the rope of mankind, an unbroken chain of humans standing arm in arm from the beginning of time to the end of eternity. As the sun shines on you for this moment, this is your time, it’s your obligation and responsibility to add to the legacy – to leave the jersey in a better place. The legacy is more intimidating than any opposition.
XV Write your legacy This is your time
When a player makes the All Blacks, they’re given a small black book. The first page shows a jersey from the 1905 Originals, the first tour. On the next page is another jersey, that of the 1924 Invincibles, and thereafter, pages of other jerseys until the present day. The rest of the pages are blank, waiting to be filled, by the player himself.
The First XV shows how the All Blacks values-led, purpose-driven, high-performance culture powers performance. The result of this extraordinary environment is extraordinary results. In business, if we align our people around a compelling narrative and reinforce that story through leadership, culture, communication and training, the results will come, shaped by the desire to achieve and the desire to be part of something special.
Many of us are more capable than some of us, but none of us is as capable as all of us. The All Blacks show it in every game. Make sure your business has this heartbeat too.