What the First Video Replay-Enabled Rugby World Cup Can Teach Business Strategists

As the 2015 Rugby World Cup tournament runs from strength to strength, here are five fun facts to whet your appetite before the next match:

  1. William Webb Ellis is credited with inventing the game in the 1870s when he was still a student at Rugby school.
  2. Rugby Union only became a sport with professional players in 1995, following the success of the ’95 World Cup. It has since become the most played sport in the world – played in more than 100 countries across six continents.
  3. The 1995 World Cup, hosted and won by a newly apartheid-free South Africa, played an important part in healing divisions between black and white populations in the country.
  4. The current tournament is the 9th World Cup and has become the highest selling Rugby World Cup in history. England and Wales together are hosting 48 matches in 13 different venues.
  5. This is also the first Rugby World Cup to use enhanced video replay technology.

Video replay technology, first developed for brain surgery and missile tracking, and already used in numerous sports, has been causing no end of debate since the opening weekend of the tournament, where checking it added an additional 20 minutes to each match.

It even impacted last weekend’s long-awaited England v. Wales match – enough said about that game. Whether you think the television match official (TMO) system is unnecessary, needs to be refined or works as is, it highlights an important point: the vital nature of collaboration and communication between officials, players and support teams, and the way technology can facilitate  it.

How can officials on different sides of the pitch really collaborate? How does a coach – meters away from his players – get his team to focus and pull together, especially when the odds are stacked against them?

Do you remember the Rugby World Cup final in 2011? New Zealand was without their main man, Dan Carter, arguably the best player in the world at the time. Nonetheless, thanks to the engagement, teamwork and communication between the players and their support staff, on and off the pitch, New Zealand prevailed and won the Cup.

While communication is necessary for players to be effectively instructed and inspired, teams need to act upon what they hear and work together to achieve it. This is where collaboration comes in.

Collaboration is about creating an engaged team of colleagues and peers who pull together. The engagement part is important too, as it’s all about creating value from that collaboration. Engagement requires leaders to encourage all team members to take an active role in working toward their shared goal. It’s the result of strong communication and collaboration, combined with shared experience across the whole team, and external stakeholders too.

And this doesn’t just apply to sports: it’s the same in business.

In a rugby tournament, team engagement involves players, coaches, medics, fans and even sponsors. In a business context, think team members (regardless of where they’re based), customers, industry peers and even suppliers.

What’s more, the benefits of an engaged team are proven. According to PWC, the most engaged workplaces experience 2x higher productivity and customer loyalty, enabling them to grow 3x faster than their competitors.

While creating this culture of engagement boils down mostly down to culture and leadership, technology does have an important facilitating role to play. Like the TMO, which provides reassurance, back-up and a focus for discussion, unified communications and video conferencing technologies enable teams to communicate and work together more effectively and naturally, and then document the action they take as a result.

As the debate around the use of video replay in rugby continues, it’s important to note that technology can be a brilliant facilitator of team engagement as long as it is used appropriately. I hope that Chris Robshaw and the English team remember this in their match against Australia this weekend and the rest of their bid to take home the William Webb Ellis Cup on Oct. 31!

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