Haka to Success
What the New Zealand rugby team can teach us about teamwork
I have loved rugby since playing at school and I’ve really enjoyed the last few weeks of a hugely entertaining World Cup. Aside from the obvious disappointment of England’s early exit, it has been a showpiece of world-class talent, high drama and, as ever, incredible sportsmanship. On Saturday, we saw a remarkable turnaround by the New Zealand team, behind by five points at halftime with a player in the sin-bin against a strong and determined South African side. The players emerged for the second half five minutes early to practice their handling. What followed was eleven minutes of rugby that saw the All Blacks put ten points on the board to reverse the deficit and gain control of the match.
For me, the New Zealand rugby team have been a cut above the rest in this Rugby World Cup and I fully expect them to win the tournament at the weekend and become the first team in history to retain the trophy. Win or lose however, what fascinates me about the All Blacks is not just how effective they have been during this tournament, but how effective they have been for the last 100 years. They have won 412 of their 537 test matches (76%) and are the leading test match point scorers of all time. Their win ratio puts them amongst the most successful teams of any sport in history.
So what do the All Blacks have that we can emulate in our approach to business and in the creation of successful teams of talented individuals?
There is no doubt that there are a number of factors that have contributed to their success — rugby is the national sport of New Zealand and they live and breathe the game. They naturally possess the skills and passion that are vital ingredients for the individuals of any successful team. With skill and passion comes the trust between members of the team to each play their part to the same high standard and this leads to a shared sense of belief.
Driven by Desire
The belief that the team can succeed is the first psychological milestone, but it isn’t enough to bring success on its own. Belief is nothing without desire.
It is the desire to win, to fight for each other and to succeed at all costs that drives this skilled collection of passionate rugby players to enjoy repeated success. This desire to fight for each other is never more evident than in the majestic performance of the Haka before each match.
Whilst originally performed as an act of intimidation, the Haka evolved in 2010 into ‘Kapa O Pango’. It was made specifically for the All Blacks team and is more about harnessing their individual strengths and coming together as a team. The galvanising effect is plain to see.
I believe that re-creating this sense of shared desire in a working community is crucial. It’s not enough that we all believe ourselves to be talented individuals capable of high achievements; we must desire the same success as a team.
For me I’ve always felt that while they’re performing the haka, the New Zealand team are proving to one another that they stand together in the approaching contest. Of course this isn’t the only thing that brings the tribe together, but it is the key instant when they present their combined strength to their opponents, the spectators and each other. They bond in the moment and lean on that bond when the high-pressure moments arrive in the match to come.
To make successful teams at work, we need to make time for our own ‘Haka’ moments; to actively show each other our desire to succeed at all costs. Assuming we trust in each other’s skills and share the same passion, this visible display can be the behaviour that brings us success as a team.
I have lots of ideas about potential ‘Haka’ moments for working teams, but I would love to hear yours too. In the meantime, here is a little bit of the haka itself to give us some inspiration…
(Slap the hands against the thighs)
(Puff out the chest)
(Bend the knees)
Hope whai ake
(Let the hip follow)
Waewae takahia kia kino
(Stamp the feet as hard as you can)
Ka mate! Ka mate!
(It is death! It is death!)
Ka ora! Ka ora!
(It is life! It is life!) …
Alex Hirst is a Co-Founder of Huckleberry Partners and believes in measuring a team’s success by the quality of their output. He lives two miles from Twickenham Stadium and played rugby for his school team in Stamford, who had an unbeaten record, albeit 17 years ago.