Articles From the Team

The Rugby World Cup Final 2019 and team buy-in

Nearly four years ago, I wrote a blog that highlighted (what I felt) team managers could learn from the demise of previous England rugby coach Stuart Lancaster; followed up by (a couple of years later) another blog on the lessons we can learn from England’s improvement under (then world rugby coach of the year), Eddie Jones.

As England prepare to face South Africa in Saturday’s World Cup Final, it seemed prudent to revisit the theme: what lessons, for those building elite teams, can learn.

Firstly, we should note, not all has been plain sailing during Eddie Jones’s tenure. Only 12 months ago, questions were raised around whether he should remain in the role. Critics highlighted player burn out, a seeming revolving door of coaching staff and Jones’s refusal to consider certain players. It now transpires he had a ‘master plan’ after all.

In businesses, as in sport, it’s often tempting to focus on the short term – weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual results – rather than looking at the bigger picture. This demonstrates the importance of creating a plan, retrieving buy-in from team members and not being panicked into ‘tearing it up’ if instant success isn’t forthcoming. Another very successful sporting coach, Alex Ferguson, took several years to win his first trophy at Manchester United.

As a side note, the inclusion of certain players in the team is always interesting in a sporting contest. A serial offender such as Manu Tulliagi seems to be rehabilitated and is now one of the key members of the squad. In contrast, Danny Cipriani (arguably England’s most talented player) has never been able to shake off his penchant for getting into trouble, and so despite his talent, is viewed as being surplus to requirements.

So, in addition to getting the right plan in place and sticking to it for the long term, we also have to be willing to sacrifice people who are the wrong character but rehabilitate people who have the potential to fit in. That’s a fiendishly difficult line to walk, particularly as most of us don’t have the luxury to sack someone for a short period and bring them back when they’re willing to fit in. Perhaps what this speaks to is the need for an overarching culture, and once again, buy-in from team members.

Genuine buy-in is one of the hardest things to generate in a business environment. Yet, it’s immediately obvious it’s one of the key components for building successful teams.

People within a team are often at different levels of engagement (for reasons often outside of management control). The innate hierarchical nature of team structure (even in companies that claim to have no hierarchy) can limit feedback and even good leaders can get stuck – trying too hard to sell ideas to employees and team members.

Often, it’s only when things go wrong or an idea gets pulled that we get to hear that half the team “knew it was a bad idea all along” – even if we think we’ve asked for and received feedback. While an element of this could be timing, we also need to look at whether team members genuinely feel empowered to question and suggest changes – do they really feel engaged enough to ‘buy-in’?

Slightly less than circuitously, this takes us back to the start. A fully ‘bought in’ England team have followed, trusted and executed a complex plan (under extreme pressure). As a result, they comprehensively beat a team that’s often held to be the pinnacle of world sport (the All Blacks), and now have the chance to become world champions. 

So, how do we get ‘buy-in’ from our teams? We recruit the right people of course!

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