Winning Business Strategies from the Six Nations Championship

After six weeks, 15 games and 1,200 minutes of unflinching action, the 2015 Six Nations Champions have finally been crowned, following the most dramatic and exhilarating of finishes.

While (to my bitter disappointment) Wales didn’t win, at least the team figures in the match of the tournament. Who can forget their amazing fourth-round game where they dashed Ireland’s dream of a grand slam with a wave of superhuman physical effort that just kept coming?

For me, the top moment of that match–in fact, probably of the whole tournament–was the absolutely deafening roar that greeted referee Wayne Barnes’ decision to award a penalty for Jonathan Sexton going over the top.

The wall of sound got me thinking. In that moment, with all the raucousness, how does a coach–meters away from his players–get his team to focus and pull together? As a schoolboy rugby player and competitive sportsman myself, I can assure you that a team’s behavior and psyche in those vital seconds between a penalty being awarded and taken, are completely dependent on the preparation, collaboration and communication between the players and their support staff.

This observation rings true in the business world, too. A truly successful team, on or off the pitch, combines both communication and collaboration to become fully engaged. Let me explain.

While communication is necessary if players are to be effectively instructed and inspired, we should remember that it’s not a one-way street. A coach who doesn’t listen to his players can’t keep in touch with morale or feedback with solutions to problems affecting the team. It’s the same in business. Collaboration is about enabling colleagues and peers to work together.

The engagement part is important, as it’s all about creating value from that collaboration.

It requires leaders to encourage all team members to take an active role in working toward their shared goal.

It also requires consistent, reliable communication that can support innovation and problem solving. Engagement is the result of strong communication and collaboration, combined with shared experience across the whole team, and external stakeholders too.

In the Six Nations Championship, this involved physiotherapists, coaches, fans, even sponsors. In a business context, think customers, colleagues external to your team or even suppliers.

Statistics that quantify the impact of team engagement on the rugby pitch are hard to come by, but according to PWC, the most engaged workplaces experience 2x higher productivity and customer loyalty, enabling them to grow 3x faster than their competitors. Gallup has also found that 59 percent of more engaged employees say that work brings out their most creative ideas, against 3 percent of less engaged ones.

At the beginning of the Championship, I said that regardless of who triumphed in this year’s tournament, the team’s collective engagement was certain to be one of the keys to their victory.

Watching Ireland play on Saturday, I felt vindicated in my comment. There is no doubt that their focus and commitment was due to an incredibly high level of team engagement. Engagement enabled the team to be greater than the sum of its parts: delivering on set pieces, yet showing creativity and flair–all with a hearty dose of determination.

Much to my chagrin as a Welshman, I find myself thinking that leaders in all fields should be taking a leaf from the Irish playbook.

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