A Lesson in Hand Shakes

“Rugby is a game for thugs played by gentlemen”

Let’s look at some of the goings on within a rugby match, as though we knew nothing, but simply noted down what we observed;

  • Players attempt to physically dominate each other within the confines of some shared rules and regulations in an effort to score points. The team with the most points after 80 minutes wins.
  • Players verbally and physically confront each other within those rules and regulations to physically and psychologically weaken their opponents and bring the best out of their team mates.
  • These behaviours are governed by an individual whom competitors appear respectful of. This person monitors their behaviour and permits a range of actions while rules other actions out.
  • Individuals get badly hurt and judged continuously.

Here is the weird bit. After 80 minutes of physical and verbal confrontation, what looks and sound like physical and verbal abuse, non stop critical thinking, implementation of an evolving strategy, collaboration, creativity, meeting deadlines, thriving or failing under pressure, small wins and small loses, learning quickly and ultimately a victory or defeat they shake hands, cheer each other and their opponents off the park and go for a beer …with each other!

Can we learn something about thriving in tough (horrible) environments?

Could we take something from this madness and apply it at work? Rugby teams and sports teams in general are known for their camaraderie and ability to achieve something special, something bigger than the sum of the individual parts, something inspired. What contributes towards this? Some say it’s intangible. But I think there are small things that contribute that we can articulate. I think the value/potential of each part or person swells in certain environments. But it is hard to exist in such conditions.

Imagine existing at the summit of a mountain, (the pinnacle of high performance) where the air is thinnest, the toughest place to survive and where people literally begin to die. How do we make such a place tolerable and even enjoyable. We need to pump more oxygen into this environment no so we can operate there for longer. The first step is being aware of how tough it is.

We can take some lessons from sport, in this case rugby in order to re-frame such a harsh environment, an environment that clearly has the ability to raise and realise the potential of its teams members. We could:

  • Established agreed standards, behaviours and values

Establish what great looks like across multiple domains, agree what should be achieved and crucially how the team goes about thier professional business.

“Ordinary effort ; Ordinary Results”
  • Have a team talk at the start and/or end of the day

Role clarity, encourage, devolve and empower; who needs to talk to who? Who needs a pat on the back who needs help?

This sounds simple but isn’t often implemented and can results in extra-ordinary depth to working relationships and pride in performance when team mates can calibrate them selves against the same descriptors.

“You are better than no one and no one is better than you.”
  • Regularly review and analyse forecasts

Is the original plan working? How close were we? Is their new information? What needs to change? What don’t we know? What opportunities are there now? Refine things.

Don’t result on your laurels and think you have ever cracked it.

Could these things improve togetherness, team-working, the sharing of behaviours and objectives or would people absolutely hate it? What if we also;

  • Got really annoyed
  • Shouted
  • Demanded more from others, demanded better
  • Were confrontational

What if we then never sugar coated things? What if we always acknowledged peoples mistakes? Would we hate it even more? Would we really want to come to work each day?

But teams that work like this are often incredibly successfully, sport is very much like this. So what if, in response;

  • We defended our team mates, stood up for them, filled in for them and shared responsibility, offered support?
  • Removed blame and recognised the need for the group to get better if individuals were falling behind or making mistakes?
  • Celebrated failure as a powerful learning opportunity and rewarded appropriate risk taking?
  • What if we had a team talk at the end of the day/week/month to acknowledge those who actually lived out our values and learnt something specific?
  • What if we acknowledged those who chose not to act and defended our team as much as those who took actions and earned us money or tangible things.

Sports teams do this every day and every week. Do we do it frequently enough in the ‘real’ world? Can we?

Sports teams are made up of individuals who agree to behave a certain way and make no apologies for it because they know they share it, they know they are part of something bigger than themselves but most importantly they own it at an individual level. That is the difference between being complicit and being engaged.

If we had days where we were challenged physically and mentally to the extent that rugby players are. If we received hard messages that made us uncomfortable, were asked to do things that we feared, if we were compelled to stand up for something that we could easily shy away from, if we were constantly under the spot light getting assessed and monitored and left each day in dribs and drabs not saying a word to each other would we enjoy it? Probably not. But this is how a lot of us leave work and often we haven’t experienced much of the above.

If we were exposed to all those things each an every day/week but got a pat on the back, an arm around our shoulder or felt compelled to do it for someone else, learn and grow as a person would we be able to operate in an environemt so challenging, driving each other to better and bigger things in a place where the air is thinnest?

What if we shook everyone’s hand at the end of the day, smiled and said “thanks for your efforts today Bob”, or Fred, or Sarah, or Karen.

At the end of a day/match a handshake and a beer gives players perspective and makes it all worth while as they share their experiences and are given an chance to reflect and be humbled by them.

Great sports and business teams are great for many reasons but I think there is a lot to be said about the awareness we have of the working environment and the impact of a handshake at the end of a game, after all has past before it. It makes all the things that squeeze greatness out of people worth while, bearable and perhaps even enjoyable.

I am reminded of what my Dad used to say to me each day before leaving for school…

“Work hard, play hard and dont let any body push you about”

There is something in that somewhere.

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