ARCHIVE: Play to win – just like The All Blacks

(*Originally written October 2016 – this is an updated version of a deleted blog)

This weekend The All Blacks achieved a massive milestone in Rugby History. They achieved a new world record, 18 Test Wins in a row. This achievement got me thinking about winning in the context of agency new business. What is it that makes some businesses win new business opportunities over and over again and others, despite being great at what they do, don't achieve the same level of success?

 Let's first unpack why The All Blacks win so consistently. Why they are arguably the most dominant team in sport today. (That's right, in ANY sport in the world, not just rugby. They currently (as of October 2016) have a 93% win rate, a figure any business would love to achieve in their pitch conversion stats.). Why they, despite representing a small country, punch way above their weight amongst some pretty fierce competition. It's not like they are winners against rubbish competition is it? Australia, South Africa, England, Argentina, Wales, Scotland, France etc. are not s**t teams on any level. They don't make it easy at all for The All Blacks to win against them.

 As a country New Zealanders have huge amounts of passion for their favourite sport. From a very young age everyone is encouraged to love the game and get involved, whether it's to play, coach, referee, watch or support the game. And the game is put front and centre, even having an entire television channel being dedicated purely to the game of rugby. So a culture of dedication and passion are clearly key ingredients. (Interestingly football in England also has dedicated channels and there appears to be a lot of passion for the game, yet the win rates don’t seem to be the same, is that because a team needs more in the mix than passion and culture? We think so.)

 New Zealand is a small country in comparison to their main competitors from a landmass, GDP and population perspective, with only 4.5 million of them. So, it appears size and economic clout aren't contributing factors.

 New Zealand Rugby is renowned for it’s innovative culture and applying that innovation to tactics they are brave enough to trial even in the big stakes games. Innovation in the way they play was seen in games in the early 20th Century and that innovation has continued to this day, evidenced by the revolutionary preference for running the ball out from within the 22, as opposed to the more conservative kicking for touch strategy.

 They have strong Captains and Coaches, that first of all lead their team; they inspire, encourage, mentor and lead rather than 'manage' their team. As Simon Sinek says "There are leaders and there are those that lead. Leaders hold a position of leadership and influence. Those who lead inspire us".

 The have a humble confidence. They believe in themselves. There is a well known story told that the team once found written on a white board in their team room: ‘We are the most dominant team in the history of the world.’ So it appears that part of their success has been built on an utter belief and confidence in themselves to achieve success. What's interesting about this confidence is that, when you watch any of them interviewed, they are unbelievably humble. They have earned their place in sporting history, yet they aren't cocky with it.

 They work as a team. Although as individuals they are some of the most skilled rugby players in the world, they play as one unit. No player is above another. Divas aren't tolerated and they trust each other implicitly. It is magical to watch a player throw the ball behind them, looking in completely the opposite direction to that throw, as they know their team member will be there to catch it. It is at that moment you know you are watching a true team playing at it's finest. Interestingly Simon Sinek talks about the concept of 'Together is better', "A team is not a group of people that work together. A team is a group of people that trust each other”, “We'd achieve more if we chased the dream instead of the competition". We agree wholeheartedly in that concept and as businesses it is indeed good for thought isn't it?

 What is of further interest is that players and coaches come and go, yet, their results remain consistent. Is that because The All Blacks also act like a brand, their values, ethos and beliefs staying consistent?

 They train like demons. They win because their fitness is phenomenal. They play as hard at the end of the game as the do when they start. They play to win right up until the whistle blows and never take their eye off winning, even if the other team is leading. So many times they score during the last few seconds of a game to go on to win. They are constantly working on improving their capabilities. Good enough is never good enough. They never rest on their laurels and even when they win a game they critique the play, look at what they can do better next time and train harder than ever. 

 So what has all of this got to do with business? Well, when you look at businesses that win consistently in the pitch scenario, when you look at them closely they have very similar attributes to The All Blacks.

  1. They don't let size/budgets/location stand in their way. Even if they are up against bigger businesses, with more people, time, resources etc. They don't use that as an excuse.

  2. They have a culture that is truly passionate about what they do; new business is a priority for the entire business, and not just the responsibility of the MD or new business person. The whole business gets behind the new business efforts. We call this 'having a new business culture'.

  3. They have an innovative culture; brave enough to try new approaches and new tactics, even when the stakes are high.

  4. The people at the helm of these businesses lead, inspire, mentor and guide their people towards a shared business vision and towards 'the win'.

  5. They believe in themselves. Are confident in their business vision, their people, their capabilities and ability to win. They have a humble confidence rather than a cocky arrogance.

  6. They work as a team. They put ego's aside, trust each other and rely on each other to achieve a common objective.

  7. They have built a brand, with a clear set of values, vision and mission and most importantly behaviours, which means, what they believe will never change even though the people, the tactics and capabilities will over time. They can stay true to themselves this way, yet can continue to adapt to the game.

  8. They never rest on their laurels and work hard to learn and improve; even when they win.

 Ultimately they play to win, every single time, just like the mighty All Blacks. So, as businesses, we can learn a lot about how to build a winning team that consistently wins over and over again from the Kiwi's. We believe these eight things are a winning formula if you wish to build a world class, commercially successful business with the brand reputation to match.